Along with the pandemic and associated health and economic concerns, climate change is driving the world's agenda. Business leaders everywhere are wrestling with how to respond to rising public and political pressure and align their systems and operations with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, established to keep global warming below 2°C and ideally 1.5°C. None more so than for hotels, that means reducing their emissions by 90 percent by 2050. Let's take a look at what sustainable hotel management means in 2021.
Why sustainable management matters for hotels
Along with hotels, the transportation and food and beverage industries are all major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to climate change. That's why it's essential that hotel managers find ways to address the issues—not only because it's a moral imperative but it makes good business sense. A study by Just Capital— an outlet that ranks U.S. companies on issues such as fair pay, equal treatment and ecological impact—found that companies that outperform their competitors on environmental indicators enjoy a median return-on-equity that is three percent higher than that of their counterparts.
In other words, sustainable management pays—both in terms of efficiency as well as brand loyalty and employee retention. Today's—and tomorrow's—workers and travellers are among the most powerful and influential consumers ever, and increasingly, they are supporting companies that are purpose-driven. Not only do millennials tend to seek out sustainable travel and dining options, but a survey by the Governance and Accountability Institute found that 40 percent of millennial respondents chose their employer because of their sustainability performance. And 70 percent of millennials are more likely to stay with a company with a strong environmental reputation and policy.
No matter the scale of the operation, managers can adopt a number of approaches—many of them inexpensive and accessible—to make sustainability a key aspect of their brand's management practices as well as overall ethos. From building design to recycling to reducing food waste, hospitality managers can systematically begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to achieve the Paris agreement objectives.
Who is doing sustainable hotel management right?
No matter where a hotel is in its sustainability journey, it's useful to take guidance and inspiration from those that have embedded sustainably squarely into their DNA. In 2019, the SAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment ranked the most sustainable hotel chains worldwide. Spain-based Meliá Hotels International was awarded the highest possible points in criteria such as Climate Strategy and Social Reporting. Meliá also became first International hotel chain to make use of environmental blockchain technology to offset its carbon footprint. In collaboration with Spanish start-up Climatetrade, it allows guests to spend their credits on initiatives against climate change "which help develop, protect and conserve natural ecosystems".
1 Hotels, a U.S. boutique hotel chain, focuses on sustainability from the start, designing their buildings responsibly and selecting furniture made from reclaimed wood, for example. Food and beverage operations rely on seasonal and local produce, and staff members as well as guests are encouraged to learn about and engage in environment-friendly practices.
Systematic steps towards sustainability in hotels
In any hotel, the areas with the most environmental impact are water, waste and energy use. Here are the 3 hotel management trends making an impact on sustainability in 2021.
Trend #1 Reducing Consumption
Many of the improvements in these areas are straightforward: reducing water pressure in showers, installing leak-detecting water systems and rainwater harvesting systems, minimizing water use for laundry and encouraging guests to be mindful of towel usage. The savings can be significant: Water-efficient bathrooms alone can lead to a 15% reduction in use.
Hotels can also conserve energy by replacing mini-fridges and coffee machines in each room with communal amenities—a change that many managers may choose to make post-pandemic. Investing in energy-efficient appliances, automated energy management systems and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency are also key to greenhouse gas reduction. And these efficiency upgrades typically pay for themselves in less than three years and generate energy savings of 5% to 15%.
One of the key areas for reducing waste and increasing efficiency is food service. Food production is the single leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss and water extraction. And with a third of all food wasted globally, we continue to use precious resources for no good reason. By growing food onsite, sourcing food locally, reducing plate waste and increasing the plant-based offering on their menus, hoteliers can help to drive positive change. The British firm Olleco, for example, collects food waste from restaurants and hotels and turns it into biofuel.
Trend #2 Use of Technology
While the digital revolution has been disrupting the industry for a number of years, the COVID pandemic has swiftly accelerated progress. Contactless check-ins, keyless room entry and guest messaging platforms are essential for reducing friction and keeping everyone safe. In terms of convenience, online apps provide guests with seamless ways to order room service, book spas and request additional towels.
But digital technology has important sustainability benefits, such as reducing paper and plastic. One report found that a single hotel guest generates about two pounds of waste per night; paper, plastic, and cardboard account for half that waste. Switching to a digital guest room tablet can produce immediate benefits, eliminating the need for paper menus, flyers, and in-room directories.
Hilton uses a high-tech system called Connected Room that enables guests to personalize and control every aspect of their stay from their smart phones. That means controlling energy use, for example, so that when guests aren't physically in their rooms - typically around 70% of the time - hotels can power down their lights, televisions, heating and air conditioning, dramatically reducing energy consumption.
Trend #3 Measure & Manage
Mobile technology also enables hotel staff to engage guests in sustainability initiatives. For example, real-time monitoring and reporting solutions like Aguardio allow guests to measure their water use and thus encourage users to reduce their consumption.
As management tools, digital platforms like fluttr and Con-Serve created by the Considerate Group, for example, helps hotels understand, measure and manage their energy consumption, helping to reduce electricity, water and fossil fuel use—and CO2 emissions. As the maxim goes: What gets measured gets managed.