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Eco-friendly and sustainability are similar terms but defined with differences.

Sustainability as a topic is often related to the environment but is so much more. The choices businesses make multiply their environmental impact a thousand-fold as sustainable travel became a powerful trend in the hospitality market.

Reducing water and electricity use, switching to high-efficiency fixtures and low-impact suppliers, and choosing sustainable internal business practices became something worth bragging about.

Eco-friendly and sustainability actions have evolved from marketing and green wash to serious business decisions criteria and need to be embraced as part of the business model. Hotel owners and operators, brands and or independents should set goals and then measurable objectives for implementation of eco-friendly and sustainable strategies that should improve sustainability efforts and contribute to the triple bottom line. Marriott, Choice, Hilton, IHG and Wyndham have or are in the process of setting eco-friendly and sustainability goals with specific and measurable objectives.

For example, Wyndham Green Certification is a self-measuring system designed to align with other green travel standards like Green Key and Trip Advisor Green Leaders. Wyndham's system parallels other certifications such as the LEED program. Hotel companies have addressed water reduction, carbon reduction, food waste and renewable energy. Additionally, utilizing sustainably sourced food and cotton and identifying sustainable supplier partnerships are part of the decision-making process. Other efforts include plastic-free hospitality, and sustainable guest activities and services.

Parameters for Eco-friendly and Sustainable

Eco-friendly hotels are at the foundation of sustainable tourism and a growing trend in the face of a global climate crisis. Also known as eco hotels, these hotels have accommodations and lean on green initiatives to limit their carbon footprint and environmental impact. Hotel operators and managers are now, more than ever, expected to have expertise in energy management, waste management and water conservation managers among other things, in their efforts to make their hotels more eco-friendly , more productive and be aligned conceptually with societal norms that connect guest preferences all culminating in their hotels being financially sustainable.

Additionally, there are many new operational functions and procedures needed to reach sustainable goals. Lodging company initiatives for example include creating a plastic free environment, offering sustainability training and education for employees, that can offer value added service and amenities for guests. Other examples of value-added service and amenities can be adding solar water heating, solar lighting , and adopting employee uniforms from recycled materials. Recent focus on eco-friendly and sustainability in lodging operations can include:

  • Renewable energy sources (e.g., wind, solar panels)
  • Electric vehicle charging stations
  • Interior LED light bulbs
  • In-room occupancy sensors connected to digital thermostats
  • Window films (for indoor temperature control)
  • Energy Star appliances
  • Recycling bins in each room
  • On-site composting for food scraps
  • Selling recyclable or multi-use plastics on hotel grounds
  • Reusable plates, utensils, and towels
  • Bathroom soap dispensers and hand dryers
  • Donating excess food and supplies to the community
  • Low-flow toilets in guest rooms
  • Rainwater collection
  • Optimally efficient faucets, showers, and bathtubs

The phrase "reduce, reuse, recycle" is in that order for a reason. In a broader sense, these tactical tools will be good for business, good for the community and good for the environment, targeting a small carbon footprint by lodging operations. For example, a resort that is eco-friendly works towards a carbon neutral footprint and having as minimal an impact on the natural landscape as possible. Sustainability places an emphasis on the local community surrounding the hotel and utilizes on-site processes for sourcing energy, water and other resources.

As the hospitality industry continues to prioritize sustainability as an essential component of its business model, hotels are taking significant steps to reduce their carbon footprint. A notable leader in lodging eco-friendly and sustainability is the Peninsula Hotel in New York City. It's "Life Lived Best" initiative includes meals made with natural local ingredients and community outreach and works with Earth Check for green certification and works to lower its carbon footprint and water consumption.

Additionally, some of the 10 best sustainability trends and initiatives for hotels relate to the following areas:

  • Energy conservation
  • Amenities
  • Waste reduction and efficiency
  • Promoting sustainable means of transportation
  • Choosing cleaning products wisely with minimum impact on the environment
  • Careful selection of local food products at the hotel restaurant
  • Encouraging guests to make sustainable decisions
  • Promoting ecotourism-inclusive of ecology, cultural and heritage foci
  • Water conservation, and other operational changes

Hotels and the Triple Bottom Line

What does the triple bottom line mean for lodging and hospitality decision makers? As previously noted, sustainability has been interpreted as recycling and or limited to green initiatives. These are all great efforts, but sustainability is much more than tactical and needs to be part of an operations strategic plans. The efforts of eco-friendly and sustainable plans need to be inclusive of what is good for their business, what is good for their community and what is good for the environment.

For example, sustainability in a community can and should include local workers, employment and sustainable jobs and positions in a community. A natural connection to employment will be a discussion of wages and benefits which can require a balance of efforts to enhance livability and also be good for visitation. Recalling a film directed by Robert Redford, the "Milagro Beanfield War" from 1988, the film focused on a small New Mexico farming town where a large resort with all the trimmings, e.g., facilities and amenities were to be provided, plus a second home community. The point of the film for this viewer was that if the resort took off and the resort community grew, the need for community services would grow and arguably the taxes to live in the community would rise, effectively forcing long-time residents of the farming community to consider moving because they might not be able to afford to live the community in which they grew up.

From where this author sits, this crisis and potential confrontation between the community and the resort in a real life scenario should and could have been avoided. The triple bottom line utilizes tools that help an organization measure, benchmark, set goals, improve, and eventually evolve toward more sustainable systems and models that are good for the business, the community and the environment. It is also essential for guests that are today who research and demand sustainability and eco-friendly operations at a hotel and or resort. A consideration could be to adopt or adapt the World Tourism Organization (WTO) Code of Ethics for operating a hotel, resort or hospitality business and align these principles with strategy for the business, for employees, managers and staff and the destination visitors and guests.

Guests taking a broader view might also look at lodging operations where they walk to local public transportation, participate in a bike share program, and look for sustainability and or eco-friendly certifications and more. Additionally, when the topic of sustainability is being discussed it is inevitable that the theory of triple bottom line comes front and center, i.e. good for business, good for the community, and good for the environment. The focus for lodging and hospitality is on the expansion of triple bottom line theory and its business success metrics to include an organization's contributions to social well-being, environmental health, and a just economy.

These bottom-line categories are often referred to as the three "P's": people, planet, and prosperity. "The triple bottom line wasn't designed to be just an accounting tool. It was supposed to provoke deeper thinking about capitalism and its future" noted John Elkington in his Harvard Business Review article.

For a hotel business, embracing these principles means establishing and stating a company's code of ethics and standards. This can be important to guests and multiple market segments. For example, one channel in a large organization may be investors and or stockholders, another may be employees and potential employees and other market segments a hotel is targeting. Some hotel developers and companies are aligning their hotel development efforts with a focus on LEED-certified hotels, utilizing six eco-friendly categories, innovation and design, innovation in operations, indoor environment quality, materials and resources, energy and atmosphere and sustainable sites.

What do sustainability, hotels and green initiatives all have in common? Green initiatives are practices that hotels put into action in order to be more sustainable. The ultimate goal of sustainability is to minimize your hotel's impact on the region by reducing the unnecessary use of energy, supporting the use of alternative energy, and reducing greenhouse gases in an effort to change the course of global warming. According to the Carbon Trust, hoteliers can cut their energy bills down to as much as 20% just by implementing simple and inexpensive energy efficient measures! If you are attempting to make your hotel property more eco-friendly, this is a great place to start. Raising energy conversation awareness among staff with lighting control and optimizing room and water temperatures are just some of the many eco-friendly steps you can take.

For example, plastic hotel key cards which we normally use are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a plastic base thought to be toxic. Hotel companies are swapping them for card options made of paper, wood and bio plastic that are not only better for the environment but are equally durable as well. Finally, lodging brands are looking for framework business decisions to embrace sustainability as part of their business models. Some are investing in green energy, looking at rain-water harvesting and conducting environmental audits.

Resources and Direction

When working on sustainable and eco-friendly strategies lodging property leaders can search and find resources from a cross section of organizations and associations. These organizations can include TripAdvisor Green Leaders, Greenkey, Energy Star, Green Tourism, LEED and more. These organizations can be helpful to help assess a hotel's sustainable efforts and also help develop the metrics a lodging can use to measure its success and business strategy for the triple bottom line or as some reference to it Environmental, Social and Government (ESG) growth.

Sustainability metrics can be a mesh of lodging properties research and data on its target markets. For example, what are travelers and potential guests saying? A 2021 study found that 81% of travelers surveyed said they plan to choose a sustainable accommodation option in the coming year. Additionally, it is important for lodging properties and the lodging industry to tell their sustainability story. One way to view the process is for a lodging property to review their competitive set and assess what their competitors are doing in the market and their level of success.

A consideration for forecasting growth of demand can be tied to the assessment of sustainability metrics versus their competitors and for both the short term and long-term goals. From a hotel's perspective, they have the hotel and market data to can identify tolls to help them measure economic indicators connected to sustainability. A consideration is that there is not much worse than an unsustainable business, which is lodging business and others need to operate within a sustainability framework they have created. The business model needs to be good for the business and for the environment and the community where they operate. Metrics tied to sustainability should include financial metrics such as cost/benefit analysis, internal rate of return (IRR), and return on investment (ROI) are examples of financial metrics that are essential to most organizations.

Environmental metrics typically include reduction of electricity usage, change in fuel consumption for company vehicles, carbon emissions reductions, gallons of water saved, and increased waste diversion. Social metrics focus on employees and occupants, health & wellbeing, diversity & inclusion, supply chain management, and more. Additionally, Governance metrics are often determined by the existence of policies on a wide range of issues such as company values and business resilience plans.

Using these metrics and some versions, specific to their location, can be helpful to lodging operators for business performance and also to forecast room night demand going forward. Additionally, a hotel's performance and its ability to penetrate their target markets and potentially outperform their competitors can be tied to its sustainable business model. Another example notes that before a hotel operates, it must plan the most efficient way to implement best practice tied to climate cooling before the first brick is laid. Independent hotels and hospitality companies are pioneering impressive change, and rapidly embracing sustainability in their hotel design, construction materials and architecture.

Sustainability Education for Guests and Employees

Sustainability in business requires a group effort. Educating employees and raising awareness about sustainable practices should play a part in onboarding and ongoing training. Every aspect of a business can adopt, practices that take sustainability into account, considering such things as water and waste management, the use of organic products that do not contain harmful chemicals, and reuse and recycling. In this way, sustainability can become a part of an organization's culture.

Directing an organization toward sustainability requires key skills. Hospitality leaders must inspire the people in their organizations to embrace sustainability as they work toward meeting expectations. To do this, hospitality leaders must excel in open communication, clear goal setting, positivity, teamwork, and being open to new ideas. While sustainability in hospitality offers clear advantages, professionals in this industry must still overcome challenges to build sustainable strategies. For one, they must correct misconceptions that sustainability costs more money and that consumers do not care about it, when in fact becoming more energy-efficient saves money and developing a brand known as sustainable attracts more patrons.

Advances in technology related to renewable energy have also lowered the costs for using sources such as solar or geothermal energy. Additionally, tour operators who protect ecosystems that serve as their main attraction, while cooperating with and supporting local economies and culture, also win financially in the long run. Some organizations worry sustainable practices can disrupt guest experience. However, if organizations carefully focus on what guests need and customize their services accordingly, they can improve this aspect of their business.

Employees need to be aware of sustainable operating models and be aware of the objectives to be achieved with regards to eco-friendly and sustainability goals. These educational actions can include, avoid plastic, go paperless, automation for conservation of water and energy, and if not already part of a hotel's operations, implement 3 R's (reduce, reuse, recycle). Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials will become critical for assessing which suppliers hotels should work with along the procurement supply chain. Suppliers are the backbone of e-procurement platforms.

A sustainable education and operating program model can include education programs and efforts, the measurement of these efforts, aligning sustainable goals as equal in importance to other business goals, and then make the sustainable efforts of a hotel part of the operating priorities framed by ESG efforts. These actions and efforts need to be collaborated throughout a hotel and all employees and also communicated to guests and in marketing materials as part of the sustainable story of a hotel. From where this author sits, sustainable efforts at universities are being spread through all units, academic, support and student services and vendors.

Sustainable hotel operations and reporting are being accelerated by three drivers : legislation; industry investors and operators; and hotel guests, 58% of whom buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values. One example highlighted is literature from Fairmont Hotels that focuses on its Six Pillars: Proactive Practices. They note that caring for planet Earth isn't something we take lightly; it isn't just a matter of turning off lights or planting an organic garden, although these are important. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts prioritizes six key pillars to drive its sustainability programs: Our guests, Our people, Our partners, Our communities, Our buildings, Our food.

Moving Forward

This discussion is just a small part of what is happening in eco-friendly and sustainable practices and can be included under an umbrella of sustainability to be better for a lodging business, the community and the environment. Sustainability efforts have emerged as key factors in the planning, development and operations of hotels and all hospitality related businesses including education. Undergraduate curriculums often include sustainability related topics as they discuss hotels, resorts, private clubs, and the broad range of food and beverage options. The focus on meetings and events is also tied to sustainability as meeting planners are demanding to know a destination's sustainability programs and eco-friendly efforts.

Additionally, diverse graduate program curriculums have focused on sustainable tourism and hospitality. These can include courses under general titles such as principles of tourism and sustainability, theories of tourism and sustainable tourism; local and global applications of sustainable tourism practices, environmental systems, development and management of sustainable tourism, policy and Planning for sustainable tourism and more.

Finally there are many eco-friendly and sustainable hotel associations such as the Green Hotels Association. Additionally, there are diverse and global organizations that can provide resources and ideas for lodging operators. A sample of these are Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Environmental Working Group (EWG), Foundation for Sustainable Development, Global Exchange, Global Green USA, Green America, Green Cross International, Greenpeace, ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), One Planet Living (BioRegional), Resource Renewal Institute, Union of Concerned Scientists and World Resources Institute. There are many more organizations and associations to identify, globally, nationally, regionally, and locally.

Lodging operators are reminded and urged to look at their competitive set and identify what competitors are doing in sustainability and eco-friendly. Great ideas are everywhere, and if you are doing a great sustainability job, your competitors are looking at you.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from