The Paradox of ‘Sustainable Luxury’ in Ecotourism (Belle and Jonina)

At first glance, the phrase ‘sustainable luxury’ appears to be inherently contradictory. How can sustainability, usually associated with concerns over depletion of natural resources, be related to luxury which is often perceived as indulgence, excess and waste? Our news article explores this concept of sustainable luxury by introducing the concept of eco hotels – hotels which are advertised as a stress-free and organic environment for holidayers to escape the bustle of city life. Environmental activist Kazuhiko Nakaishi promotes the importance of running more environmentally friendly businesses as Japan is lagging behind in green tourism as compared with the world. He states that despite marketing the unique experience as well as healthy organic food as the selling point in eco hotels, the price-sensitive Japanese consumers are still focused on convenience. While the Japanese are interested in environmentally-friendly practices, the increase in price is still a deterrent. The issue prompts further investment in eco-friendly practices in Japan to change the country’s culture to be more sustainable. 

Japan is depicted as improving their stance on sustainable practices, albeit at a slower pace than intended. The article cites the Ecotourism Promotion established in 2007 as part of nationwide efforts to encourage both Japanese consumers and tourists to support ecotourism by visiting these eco hotels that offer organic produce and services. Nakaishi intends to increase the number of eco hotels where possible in order to normalise sustainable living practices as an improved lifestyle compared to what it currently is.

The ambitious goal to increase the amount of eco hotels and change overall local consumer trends to be more organic and sustainable can be seen as “green” as it not only raises awareness of environmental issues but addresses the need to change habits of both consumers and companies to choose more environmentally friendly practices despite the increase in cost. There is great emphasis on the fact that Japan is lagging behind in environmental awareness as compared to other places, and that it must be changed as soon as possible to keep up with the rest of the world. Interestingly enough, while Nakaishi invokes the notion of sustainability to encourage consumers to change their consumption patterns by purchasing ecotourism related products and services, he does not make any moves to urge people to curb excessive consumerism as a whole. 

This concept of sustainable luxury by which Nakaishi reconciles his dual roles as environmental activist and hotelier is an extension of Kirby’s (2011) ‘sustainable development’ paradox. Kirby argues that the term is inherently contradictory because the sheer amount of resources required to support the expansion of urban populations will inevitably do devastating damage to ecologies (163). For Kirby, sustainable development is a false compromise that appeases environmentalists while allowing businesses to pursue their commercial activities as long as they appear to be eco-friendly (163). While the article portrays eco hotels as a godsend to the tourism industry for both the environment and consumers who benefit from the ecologically conscious approach, the environmental benefits of the sustainable practices marketed by the eco hotel are contentious. The main focus is on promoting healthier living through strictly organic produce and marketing such organic produce as part of an “organic lifestyle” experience rather than other more important changes that need to be made such as reduction of use of plastic or reliance on environmentally sustainable means of resource acquisition. Ultimately, the message of this article is not that excessive consumption is undesirable, but that there is a way to assuage any guilt about the environmental impact of your consumption by supporting these eco hotels. 

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Kirby, Peter Wynn. “Constructing Sustainable Japan.” Essay. In Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, 160–92. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011. 

Yoshikawa, Mai. “Eat, Sleep and Stay Green at One of Japan’s Eco Hotels.” The Japan Times, November 16, 2019. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from