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Hotel sustainability: A full guide for hotel owners

  Posted in Resources  Last updated 22/05/2024

What is hotel sustainability?

Hotel sustainability refers to the practices and policies that hotels implement to minimise their environmental impact, promote social responsibility, and ensure economic viability. 

This holistic approach encompasses energy efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation, and sourcing ethically produced goods, all while enhancing guest experiences without sacrificing on profitability. 

This blog will tell you everything you need to know about hotel sustainability and how to get started on plans for your property.

Table of contents

Benefits of a hotel sustainability policy

Sustainability in the modern day is a no-brainer: it’s hard to have a business in a world that can no longer support it due to severe climate events or customers who have fully converted to a sustainable way of life. 

However, sustainability also has significant business appeal as well. By adopting sustainable practices, hotels not only contribute to environmental protection but also meet the growing demand from eco-conscious travellers, leading to long-term operational savings and a positive brand image. 

Here are a few of the benefits:

  • Energy efficiency: Sustainable hotels implement energy-saving measures such as LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances, and smart climate control systems. This not only reduces carbon emissions but also leads to significant cost savings on utility bills.
  • Water conservation: By installing low-flow fixtures, implementing water recycling systems, and encouraging towel and linen reuse programs, hotels can drastically reduce water usage, preserving this vital resource for future generations.
  • Waste management: Sustainable hotels prioritise waste reduction through comprehensive recycling programs, composting of organic waste, and minimising single-use plastics, thereby decreasing landfill contributions and ocean pollution.
  • Healthier environments: Use of non-toxic cleaning agents and organic, locally-sourced foods contribute to a healthier, more enjoyable stay for guests, aligning with the preferences of health-conscious travellers.
  • Unique sustainability experiences: Hotels offering sustainability-oriented experiences, such as eco-tours or farm-to-table dining, provide guests with unique, memorable stays, enhancing guest loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Cost savings: Long-term operational costs are reduced through energy and water conservation measures, as well as waste reduction strategies, improving the hotel’s bottom line.
  • Government incentives: Many regions offer incentives, such as tax breaks or grants, for businesses implementing green practices, providing financial benefits to sustainable hotels.
  • Market differentiation: Sustainability initiatives can set a hotel apart in a crowded market, appealing to a growing segment of eco-conscious consumers and corporate clients with green procurement policies.
  • Positive public relations: Sustainable practices often lead to positive media coverage and accolades, enhancing the hotel’s reputation and attractiveness to potential guests.
  • Local community support: Sustainable hotels often engage with local communities by sourcing locally, creating jobs, and supporting local sustainability projects, fostering goodwill and sustainable development within the community.
  • Global impact: By contributing to global sustainability goals, hotels play a part in addressing broader challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and social inequality, underscoring their role as responsible global citizens.

If that wasn’t convincing enough, there’s also the fact that sustainability policies and practices are becoming less optional and more mandatory in the eyes of not just customers, but investors, board members, staff, and Governments. Sustainability is not a passing fad for hotels – it’s an imperative.

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How can hotels be more sustainable?

The public interest in sustainability has only grown in recent years. As many as 69% of all travellers are now seeking eco-friendly travel options.

There are simple strategies all hotels can introduce that will immediately improve their impact on the environment. These include:

  • Reducing water pressure
  • Asking guests to reuse items
  • Installing leak detecting water systems
  • Dual-flush bathrooms
  • Grey water systems
  • Water bead laundry systems

Two major cost savers for a hotel would be to reduce energy and water usage. These are relatively easy changes to implement and also perfectly align with the sustainable tourism goals. Water usage is particularly high in the hospitality industry, at around 250-500 litres per day/per room.

Not only will this appeal to the growing number of environmentally conscious guests but it will also raise awareness for other guests and hotels to become more sustainable themselves, thus further contributing to the global cause.

Increasingly, guests are looking for authenticity and unique experiences over generic luxury so introducing sustainable practices at your hotel may not be as detrimental as you think.

A recent study reported 64% of people base their loyalty on shared values with the brand so in a world where travellers are more aware of the necessity of sustainability, becoming an eco-friendly brand could be a winning move.

Image representing hotel sustainability

Hotel sustainability trends to consider this year

As many as 79% of travellers worldwide say it’s important for them to book a hotel that has implemented eco-friendly and sustainable practices.

But despite the widespread use of signs encouraging turning off lights and reusing towels, some hotel guests are becoming sceptical, and a new report from Washington State University’s Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management suggests repeat custom could be at risk.

After studying 3,000 consumers, researchers from the university concluded that they’re becoming more savvy to these practices, and found a majority are willing to boycott a hotel if they feel misled over the hidden motive of profit.

‘Greenwashing’ is when a hotel promotes an environmentally-friendly programme while hiding ulterior motives. So what causes a guest to question the authenticity of your hotel’s corporate social responsibility policy?

  • Simply hanging a sign that says ‘we’re green!’
  • Failing to integrate green practices throughout – for example, advertising a linen reuse programme, but not having recycling bins available
  • Discarding disposable toiletry containers
  • Only changing the bedding and towels less often to prove eco-friendliness
  • Being a member of a sustainability accreditation scheme that doesn’t inspect the credentials of hotels

Interestingly, the university’s researchers found that consumers with a strong concern for environmental issues still felt morally obliged to engage with a hotel’s green practices – despite being suspicious about greenwashing.

Additionally, the researchers suggest hotels use positive word of mouth to attract customers by posting favourable reviews on social media channels, and by training staff to follow the green practices and inform guests about them.

The university’s research paper said hotels wanting to build credibility should look to develop a positive image – through certification by independent, approved associations such as the Carbon Trust in the UK, and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) in the US.

Hotel sustainability certification basics

Hotel sustainability certification is a formal recognition awarded to hotels that meet specific criteria for environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices. These certifications are designed to guide and verify a hotel’s commitment to sustainability through measures such as energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, ethical sourcing, and community engagement. 

The process typically involves:

  • Assessment: Hotels undergo a comprehensive evaluation of their operational practices, including energy use, waste management, water conservation, and social responsibility measures.
  • Standards and criteria: Hotels must adhere to established standards, which vary by certifying body but generally encompass a wide range of sustainability practices.
  • Verification and auditing: An independent audit is conducted to verify that the hotel meets the required standards. This may include on-site inspections and a review of documentation and practices.
  • Certification: Upon successful verification, the hotel is awarded a certification, which is usually valid for a specific period, after which re-certification is required.

Certifications such as Green Key, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and EarthCheck are among the most recognized in the hotel industry. These certifications not only help hotels improve their operational efficiency and environmental impact but also serve as a marketing tool to attract eco-conscious travellers, enhancing the hotel’s reputation and competitive edge.

Depending on where your hotel is based, there are a few different options in certifications:

  • Green Tourism (UK): A certification program that assesses UK accommodations, visitor attractions, and tour operators for their commitment to sustainable practices.
  • La Clef Verte (France): Also known as “Green Key” internationally, this certification is awarded to tourism and hospitality establishments in France for environmental excellence.
  • Green Seal (USA): An American certification for hotels and lodging properties that meet stringent environmental standards in energy, water efficiency, and waste management.
  • Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program (Canada): A graduated rating system that assesses the environmental performance of Canadian hotels, motels, and resorts.
  • EarthCheck (Australia-based, International): A leading environmental management and certification program that offers services to travel and tourism organisations around the world, including in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Green Hotel Certification (Thailand): Granted by the Thai government, this certification recognizes hotels and resorts that have significant eco-friendly operations and management.
  • Certificação de Sustentabilidade (Brazil): This sustainability certification, also known as the Brazilian Sustainable Tourism Certification, is awarded to tourism enterprises that meet sustainable best practices.
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified (Regional): While not country-specific, this certification is prevalent in Latin American countries, recognizing tourism operations that meet comprehensive environmental, social, and economic criteria.

Sustainable hotel practises hoteliers need to maintain

A sustainability strategy is only useful if it’s a long term solution. To make sure you can keep it up, your hotel will have to:

1. Measure and refine

Keep constant track of your progress and how much impact your efforts are having. Try to give your results some context. For example, how many olympic swimming pools does your water-saving equate to in a year?

2. Get your staff involved

The more aware your staff are the easier it will be to manage your strategies. They can educate guests but also do simple things like turn taps off in between washing up or cleaning etc.

3. Survey your guests

You need to find out if guests have an understanding of your mission and how well they think you’re doing, and what they want to improve

4. Gain recognition for your hotel

Registering with eco-travel sites and entering industry awards will help drive bookings and also give you more chances to take sustainable actions at your property

In the end, every individual hotel is different and some may be more equipped than others to balance guest expectations and corporate social responsibility (CSR). 

Lessons from sustainable hotel brands and how they affected the industry

There’s never been a more important time to talk about humanity’s impact on the environment and the dangers we face if we don’t start initiating more sustainable practices. A number of world leaders and public figures have spoken about the issue and many within the hotel and travel industry take the matter very seriously.

There’s a lot we can learn from the properties and brands that make sustainability a priority. Here’s a list of the most important lessons.

1. Sustainable doesn’t mean cheap and nasty

While some might have the image that a sustainable hotel has to be a treehouse where guests sleep on the floor and a room costs a few dollars per night, that’s not the case. Some of the world’s most luxurious hotels and resorts are also eco-friendly.

Take the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Fiji for example. Situated in one of the world’s most spectacular locations, the resort is the ultimate source of luxury. It also happens to be dedicated to an ecological mission, thanks to the legacy of its namesake who is a French oceanographic explorer, environmentalist, educator, and film producer.

The resort has low-energy light bulbs, no air-conditioning, and all the wood comes from certified local forests. The construction of high temple ceilings, thatching, ceiling fans and cross ventilation allow rooms to stay cool.

The hotel has an onsite farm, growing produce such as coconuts, pineapples and mangoes, and which uses only sustainable agricultural practices. Only pelagic fish (those neither near the shore or the bottom of the ocean) are sourced for food, so that the reef fish are left untouched.

Further to that guests are educated through memorable activities such as diving, snorkelling, and medicine walks about the virtues of environmentalism, so that they can take sustainable lessons home with them to put into practice.

2. Big brands can be eco-friendly too

Sustainability isn’t just for the boutique or the independent hotels. Big brands can achieve sustainability too and they are the companies which can have the largest impact on the rest of the world.

For example, Hyatt and Accor both have sustainability programs in place.

Hyatt has its Environmental Sustainability Strategy, designed around using energy and water resources more thoughtfully, building smarter, and innovating and inspiring. Hyatt is committed to examining how its hotels source, consume and manage natural resources to serve their guests.

It will identify ways for hotels to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, use less water, produce less waste and make more environmentally responsible purchasing decisions.

Accor has put in place Planet 21, an initiative outlining a number of positive environmental and social goals. Some of the strategies around this include:

  • Asking guests to reuse towels with the water and energy savings put towards tree planting
  • Sustainably sourcing wood, soap/shampoo, and cleaning products
  • Offering homegrown and locally sourced food, reducing food waste, and banning overfished species

3. Being eco-friendly doesn’t restrict who your guests are

Being a sustainable hotel doesn’t mean only environmentalists will want to stay there. The best eco-hotels provide the exact same experience to any guest that all hotels would.

The Iveagh Garden Hotel opened its doors with the desire to be Europe’s first sustainable hotel at the heart of Dublin City. The property works hard to deliver exceptional guest experience while also limiting its carbon footprint. 

A custom-built renewable energy system has allowed the property to achieve a decrease in energy usage of 78% and a decrease in CO2 emission of 81%.

As expected, it’s received great support from the millennial sector, but within the first six months it has also welcomed internationally recognised clients from the financial, technological, pharmaceutical and legal sectors. 

Attracting the business traveller with in-room integrations including; smart LED TVs, USB charging and low energy LED lighting, the Iveagh Garden Hotel is establishing a strong reputation amongst professional travellers in Europe, Asia and North America.

Ideas for hotel sustainability programs and initiatives

Embarking on sustainability programs and initiatives offers you a pathway to not only minimise your environmental impact but also to cater to the growing eco-conscious market segment.

These efforts can range from operational adjustments to strategic partnerships, all aimed at fostering a sustainable hospitality environment. Here are a few places to get started:

Energy efficiency programs

Your hotel can achieve significant energy savings by implementing energy efficiency programs. This involves upgrading to LED lighting, which consumes a fraction of the energy used by traditional bulbs, and installing smart thermostats in guest rooms and communal areas for optimal energy use.

The integration of renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, can further reduce dependency on fossil fuels, contributing to a substantial decrease in your hotel’s carbon emissions and operational costs.

Water conservation measures

Water is a precious resource, and hotels are in a prime position to lead by example in conserving it. Initiatives such as installing low-flow fixtures in bathrooms, implementing rainwater harvesting systems for landscaping, and encouraging guests to participate in linen reuse programs can drastically reduce water usage.

These measures not only save water but also lower utility expenses, demonstrating that environmental sustainability can go hand in hand with economic efficiency.

Waste reduction initiatives

Reducing waste is a critical component of hotel sustainability. Comprehensive recycling programs can be established to handle waste from guest rooms, kitchens, and operational areas. Additionally, you can adopt composting practices to turn organic waste into valuable soil amendments for their gardens.

Moving away from single-use plastics by offering alternatives like biodegradable or reusable options significantly cuts down on plastic waste, aligning with global efforts to tackle plastic pollution.

Sustainable sourcing

Sourcing products and services sustainably underscores a hotel’s commitment to environmental stewardship. This can involve procuring locally-produced food, which not only supports local economies but also reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation.

Using eco-friendly cleaning agents and toiletries minimises the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. Furthermore, choosing sustainable building materials for construction and renovation projects can enhance a hotel’s ecological footprint.

Certification and continuous improvement

Pursuing recognised sustainability certifications can validate a hotel’s environmental efforts and provide a framework for continuous improvement. These certifications (see earlier in this article for examples) often come with rigorous standards and regular audits, ensuring that hotels maintain high sustainability standards.

Engaging guests in sustainability efforts through educational programs and feedback mechanisms can also drive continuous improvement, creating a culture of sustainability that extends beyond the hotel premises.

Example of a hotel sustainability plan and roadmap

Creating a comprehensive hotel sustainability plan involves a strategic roadmap that outlines key objectives, actionable initiatives, and measurable goals.

This plan serves as a blueprint for integrating sustainable practices into every facet of hotel operations, ensuring a cohesive approach to environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic viability. 

Remember  that every hotel is unique, and this blueprint will almost certainly need some tweaking and adjustment to ensure that it fits your hotel, your goals, your audience, and your resources.

EcoStay: Your sustainable hotel

The sustainability plan for our hypothetical hotel, “EcoStay,” begins with a commitment statement that pledges to minimise the hotel’s environmental impact, support the local community, and provide a sustainable guest experience.

The roadmap is divided into short-term and long-term goals, with clear milestones and performance indicators.

Short-term goals (1-2 Years):

  • Energy efficiency: Conduct an energy audit to identify areas for improvement and implement quick wins like switching to LED lighting throughout the property. Set a goal to reduce energy consumption by 10% in the first year through these measures.
  • Water conservation: Install low-flow fixtures in all guest bathrooms and initiate a greywater recycling system for landscaping. Aim for a 15% reduction in water usage.
  • Waste management: Establish comprehensive recycling and composting programs, targeting a 25% reduction in waste sent to landfills. Begin phasing out single-use plastics, starting with straws and toiletry bottles.

Long-Term goals (3-5 Years):

  • Renewable energy: Explore the feasibility of installing solar panels on the hotel roof to generate a portion of the hotel’s energy needs. The objective is to meet at least 20% of energy consumption through renewable sources by year five.
  • Sustainable sourcing: Shift to 100% locally-sourced produce for the hotel restaurant and ensure all hotel amenities are eco-friendly and ethically produced. Develop partnerships with local suppliers and artisans.
  • Certification and community engagement: Achieve a recognized sustainability certification, such as Green Key or LEED, and actively participate in community environmental initiatives. Launch guest engagement programs that promote sustainability awareness and participation.

Monitoring and reporting:

EcoStay will establish a sustainability committee responsible for monitoring progress against these goals, using a dashboard of key performance indicators.

Annual sustainability reports will be published to communicate achievements, challenges, and learnings to stakeholders, ensuring transparency and accountability.

Employee training and guest involvement:

All staff will undergo sustainability training to ensure they are ambassadors of EcoStay’s sustainability values.

Guests will be engaged through informational materials, optional participation in sustainability programs, and feedback mechanisms to continuously improve the hotel’s sustainability efforts.

By following this roadmap, EcoStay aims to not only reduce its environmental footprint but also enhance the guest experience and contribute positively to the local community, positioning itself as a leader in sustainable hospitality.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of SiteMinder, the leading technology provider delivering hoteliers unbeatable revenue results. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at SiteMinder. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance and value for accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations achieve their goals.

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