Hygiene and Sustainability: How to make both work?
— 17 experts shared their view
Just when it seemed as if single-use plastics were slowly becoming a thing of the past, COVID-19 hit the industry. The second half of 2019 had seen more and more industry leaders making public pledges to abandon a product group that had become the infamous representative of an old and immoral, linear economy.
A few months later, the former sustainability arch-enemy is experiencing a massive comeback as a hygiene hero. COVID-19 and the fear of future pandemics are radically challenging recent approaches to product circularity/re-use by imposing enhanced hygienic standards. Keeping a strong position against single-use items might impose dramatic acquisition costs and operational distress on businesses slowly recovering from their liquidity breakdown.
Whilst pondering the reputational risk of violating hygiene law on the one side and diminished sustainability efforts on the other, the former is likely to turn up trumps.
The battle for sterility might be won by detergents containing ingredients unlikely to biodegrade in wastewater. Laundry services might cause more emissions due to an average increase of the washing temperature.
Where lies the sweet spot between hygiene rule compliance and sustainability? Must there be a trade-off? Are there Best Practices to share?
PhD, Professor at Florida International University
Miami, Florida is an interesting place to be based as the U.S. lodging industry starts to reopen. The reality of the STR lodging report on May 16th, 2020 that overall hotel REVPAR (revenue per average room) in the U.S. was down -73.6% in April 2020 as compared with April 2019 is staggering. Hotel RevPAR for the same period in Greater Miami was down -87.8%. In the past ten weeks I have been listening to our Miami partners and hotel leaders around the U.S. Their biggest concern and greatest focus in reopening hotels at all levels are to Gain Customer Confidence with sanitation and disease prevention operating practices.
U.S. hotel companies have been rolling out responses to this challenge. Marriott International, representing 7300 hotels and 1.3 million hotel rooms worldwide, has formed a Global Cleanliness Council committed to hospitality grade disinfectants, the highest grade recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO. Hilton International has put into operation the Clean Stay Campaign across the company, partnering with Lysol. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts has aligned with ECOLAB for its Count On Us program of elevated health and safety protocols. There is a lot at stake in bringing the customer back into hotels and these companies represent the global trend in implementing sanitation practices that will stay in place for as long as it is deemed practical.
Why not increase sustainability practices while facing these challenges? Let's look at the Big Three: Water, Waste, and Energy. Washing hands and everything else in sight continually uses up more fresh (and potable) water. Can we put into practice countermeasures for greywater filtration for irrigation and cleaning? While meeting sanitation guidelines, can hotels install equipment and technologies along with maintenance protocols that accelerate the reduction of the use of potable water? HVAC systems will need updated technologies in air-handling that filters with multiple self-decontamination applications while reducing the costs of both heating and air conditioning. Increase the use of renewable energy sourced from local utilities in addition to on-property solar and wind efforts and reduce carbon emissions. Waste management practices are a significant way to contribute to sustainability by supply chain and food waste management. Roof gardens and increased tree and foliage cover provide outdoor shade covering and building insulation, in addition to opportunities for beekeeping with butterfly and migrating bird sanctuaries.
The need for social distance in public food and beverage spaces creates challenges but also opportunities. With the spring and summer seasons upon us, restaurants and bars can take advantage of open-air venues that are more adaptable to social distancing regulations. Outdoor seating will also reduce lighting and air conditioning costs. We may be using more freshwater as we emit contaminating cleaning products into the air and water, but the challenge to increase levels of sustainability management in hotel operations offers interesting options that perhaps have not previously been operationalized.