Nature and its ecosystem services are at the center of the hospitality business proposition: from food and beverage offers to guests' enjoyment of natural landscape at a destination. Nature is not only a 'capital' component available to businesses, but a source of solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change and protect biodiversity while ensuring the well-being of staff and guests alike. Nature is a prerequisite for a successful business, however, a 40% drop in natural capital per person has been recoded over the past two decades (Dasgupta, 2021). 'Burning' though this inventory of natural capital without a regeneration plan should result in alarm bells ringing. As the Science-Based Target Networks summarizes: "Nature is the backbone of human well-being and the foundation for all economic activity" (SBTN, 2020, p.2). Considering the value of nature to the hospitality industry and the threat of biodiversity collapse, recording and accounting for natural capital and integrating the outcome into the decision-making processes while setting regeneration targets is crucial. Ahead of the official launch of the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (on World Environment Day, June 5th) by the United Nations, here are a three questions to tackle ((choose one or answer all, sharing of best practices is welcomed):
- Hotels located in urban settings: which nature-based solutions result in value added to guests, staff, owners and community?
- Hotels located in natural settings (e.g. forest, coastline): what actions can be undertaken to maintain or restore the ecosystems?
- Cooperation/Support for greater impact: where can hoteliers obtain help, support or join forces to achieve results
- Dasgupta, P. (2021), The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, London: HM Treasury.
- SBTN (2020). Science-Based Targets for Nature: Initiatil Guidance for Business. Science Based Tageets Network.
- Tew, N.E., Memmott, J., Vaughan, I.P., Bird, S., Stone, G.N., Potts, S.G., and Baldock, K.C.R. (2021). Quantifying nectar production by flowering plants in urban and rural landscapes. Journal of Ecology, 109(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13598
The solutions nature provides: how can hotels contribute and benefit?
I am a big believer in - however odd it may sound - really listening to Mother Earth. Nature provides so much that can be used without harming her…
Natural light… Why rely on fossil fuels and electricity to light our hotel rooms during the day? The majority of hotel projects worldwide to date are designed to have natural light from just one aspect/side of the room, creating rooms where one needs to turn on the light at noon. It should be mandatory that all areas of a hotel room can be functional by way of natural light, allowing it to stream in from 2 sides of a guest room, leading to increased energy efficiency, and wonderful ambiance.
Harvest the sun… In one hour the sun provides more power than the entire world needs in a year. My Bangkok studio, with its constant whirring computers and air conditioning, runs completely off the grid. The payback period is close to 8 years - hotels running on solar can save hotels up to 35% on heating, power and lighting… what are you waiting for?
Look at what Mother Nature has offered you… and build using minimal intervention: rather than ripping out the natural features of the land, complement it, for nothing is made more perfectly than what Mother Nature created. On a wooded site, use a small architectural footprint that fits between the trees. What one loses in floor space is gained in atmosphere and privacy. This method was used at Capella Ubud, Shinta Mani Wild, and the Four Seasons Chiang Rai to create a handful of luxury tents in each property. Capella Ubud and Four Seasons Chiang Rai were both named best hotels in the world....
Tourism has a responsibility to play a leading role in nature restoration. This challenge can be a liberating opportunity to improve your guest experience and strengthen your competitive advantage whilst contributing to biodiversity protection.
Core to my argument is that humans, to different degrees, draw immense pleasure and understanding from the wildlife, plants, and landscapes in nature. By stimulating this human affinity to nature, you can persuade staff and guests to take adaptive behaviours that use fewer resources. This path goes far beyond superficial “save the planet”' messaging. It is all down to Biophilia = the love of life and nature. If we stimulate Biophilia, we can increase visitor connectedness, participation and appreciation; we also, through careful experience design, reduce emissions, improve habitat and improve the hospitality firm's reputation.
Hotels located in urban settings
a) Promote Biophilia through interior design. Research shows (Biomimicry Institute) that rooms and public spaces made with natural materials, displaying plants and promoting connectedness with nature, enjoy a higher level of guest use;
b) Identify indigenous species of life (flora or fauna) and their unique characteristics for surviving in your climate, how they adjust to the weather or build their nests/borrows. Within these special adaptive skills will lie ideas for retrofitting the building through biomimicry design to use less energy. Explain your project and results to guests to demonstrate nature's creative talents;
c) The use of natural materials provides guests with better experiences and increased comfort. For example, using natural fibres on their beds; wooden shutters providing shade, creating 'green walls' with plants that reduce the temperature and purify the air. Buying exclusively green energy, collecting rainwater for consumption would further enhance the experience;
d) Smell and sound are also powerful ways to enhance the natural experience; follow the example of traditional architecture and introduce fountains (using your renewable water supply) and displays of scented seasonal flowers. Provide seating and let guests enjoy the tranquillity, coolness, and aromas;
e) Celebrate the use of natural, sustainably produced materials with interpretative signage/interactive communications as this will help you convey your environmental commitment and raise the guest's curiosity.
Hotels located in natural settings (e.g. forest, coastline):
People are most motivated by causes that are local, where they can see tangible evidence for themselves. Actions should be:
f) In addition to the above, hoteliers should undertake a site audit of flora and fauna. Identify threatened species to prioritise. Identify feral introduced species which are damaging the local ecosystem. Contact local ornithologists, environment groups, or national parks to conduct audits with a recommended rehabilitation action plan;
g) Introduce guest room flora/fauna interpretation of key species and promote their natural genius for survival and adaptability (some of which you might have transferred to applying on your property). Include items like field glasses, applications, literature, in-room Tv documentary. Theme pubic areas to reflect the natural habitat of local threatened species;
h) You can select an existing programme for guests fundraising (which could involve your staff) and strategic partners outside your property area. Run working bees or practical donations of materials.
i) Involve your guests in the project. Visitors are seeking authentic experiences which allow them to get closer to nature and see positive benefits from their visit and your property. Create tours and invite them to visit. Those who donate could receive a souvenir or special extra feature of the tour. You could also raise funds through the sale of memorabilia which should be made locally and provide economic benefits to the community members.
j) Conduct quarterly progress reports and make these visible to all staff, guests and corporate clients and strategic partners. Show funds raised, actions achieved and results.
k) Run a social media page about the programme; link this to guest touchpoints so they can 'follow' and remain in touch with the great work you are doing.
Cooperation/Support for more significant impact
We at My Green Butler work with biomimicry architects to design new or retrofit older hospitality environments that encapsulate nature's ingenious solutions and stimulate Biophilic feelings using persuasive technology. Our system interprets nature and explains the functionality of biomimicry design to motivate conserving behaviours that reduce resource use and avoid waste. It is a synergy between physical design and adaptive behaviours, replicating nature's ability to adjust and thrive.
A feature of My Green Butler is our 'Noble Cause', which introduces conservation projects to guests, raising donations, and directing fiscal savings achieved from responsible resource use to schemes improving ecosystems. Using this method, My Green Butler has helped clients raised thousands of dollars for nature conservation. Examples include Crystal Creek Meadows in Australia, which raises funds for two local causes (orphaned wombats and the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby) and responsibility encourages guests to visit wombat viewing sites on their property. In the UK, Langdale Timeshare and Thorney How B&B, both in the Lake District World Heritage site, raise funds and awareness for the endangered Red Squirrels. Our system engages both guests and staff to be conscious about protecting nature, as demonstrated by rural-based clients in Gippsland Victoria promoting the protection of coastal zones. While in the city, the 5-star Amora Hotel in Sydney raises funds for the Wheen Bee Foundation; this is in sync with its conscious locally sourced menu from New South Wales. In all our cases, the link between design, behaviour and conservation increases guest satisfaction.
When it comes to hospitality contributing to the protection of nature, collaboration is the first essential step. Nature restoration and ecosystem protection is rarely possible without a large-scale and long-term vision that brings together multiple stakeholders — think local residents/ communities, local councils or government, local charities and environmental groups, neighbouring landowners or businesses, sustainability advocates within the supply chain, guests, investors, local cultural institutions and everyone in between. (At The Long Run we call this the 4Cs — Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce). This is true of a rural or urban location. To combat the climate and biodiversity crisis we need scale, and none if us can do that alone.
1. Hotels located in urban settings: which nature-based solutions result in value added to guests, staff, owners and community?
Before developing or building, engage with local environmental groups and conservation experts to find out what the most pressing issues are. Be aware that environmental management and the protection of ecosystems is closely connected. If you're building in a water-stressed area, how can you use indigenous planting to reduce water consumption? If flooding is a concern, how can you build and manage the land to create 'rainwater gardens' that absorb excess rainfall? What knock-on effect does this have on endangered or threatened local species? Could you start and help fund a campaign to encourage others locally to do the same? Work out what issues you're best placed to address. This could include providing a space for local school children to better engage in their natural environment, growing your own herbs and veg (cutting waste and carbon), using biophillic design to green-up an urban area, creating a safe habitat for a particular species. There may even be funding available to design or retrofit conservation-led developments. It goes without saying that welcoming nature into an urban environment creates happier, healthier guests, employees and communities.
2. Hotels located in natural settings (e.g. forest, coastline): what actions can be undertaken to maintain or restore the ecosystems?
New hotel, lodge or hospitality developments need to start with how they can best restore or protect an ecosystem, rather than retrofitting conservation initiatives at a later date. This is the best way to ensure the hospitality industry meets its climate targets and genuinely has a positive impact. Tourism is unique in generating revenue from the protection of nature, rather than it's destruction, and we have to make the most of that. Examples include Tahi in New Zealand and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa which both transformed completely degraded cattle farms into hotspots of biodiversity. In the Scottish Highlands, estates like Wildland and Alladale use the funds from tourism to rewild landscapes that have been decimated due to excessive numbers of deer maintained for hunting and a lack of natural predators. In rural areas its equally important to contact local stakeholders and landowners to establish joined-up thinking on wildlife corridors, links between national parks and protecting specific species. Hotels in rural areas can also play a leading role in greening up their supply chain e.g. working with local producers to introduce regenerative / organic and wildlife-friendly farming methods. By looking beyond boundaries everyone can have a more positive impact.
3. Cooperation/Support for greater impact: where can hoteliers obtain help, support or join forces to achieve results
The Long Run is a community of properties, travel partners and experts committed to protecting and regenerating ecosystems for the benefit of all. The organisation supports, connects and inspires members to operate according to a balance of the 4Cs — Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce. Through this journey, travel experiences have a positive impact, and conservation is socially and financially sustainable. Collectively, Long Run members safeguard over 23 million acres of ecosystems, protect more than 400 endangered species, and improve the lives of 750,000 people. By collaborating and sharing best practice via fortnightly webinars, regional retreats, annual meetings, an exchange programme, and joint marketing activities, together, we achieve so much more than we could alone.
Biodiversity is highly important to the success of our industry and, as we have seen with the current global pandemic, unbalance in nature can have devastating consequences for humanity. WWF has published a report which shared that the top threats to biodiversity are pollution, overexploitation, land use change, climate change and invasive non-native species and diseases. Hospitality has an ability to have a positive impact in most, if not all, of these issue areas.
While not an industry that traditionally comes to mind when thinking about those which pollute, the impacts of hospitality have come to the surface in recent times with the discussions around waste production, especially single-use plastics. Much of the plastic waste around the world ends up in the oceans and it's estimated that there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Hotels have traditionally used many single-use plastic items in their operations but there has been a lot of effort over the last few years to review and reduce this, with many hotel chains collaborating with suppliers to remove single-use plastics from their operations. For example, Indian hotel chain, ITC, built a cross functional taskforce to carry out a detailed assessment of where single-use plastic was being used and potential options for eliminating it or substituting them with alternatives. They have educated and worked with suppliers to look for alternatives and created a plastic free roadmap for the coming years.
Hospitality also impacts biodiversity through the resources it takes from the natural world. Products used in the building (e.g. timber for structure and furniture) and operations (e.g. food products) of a hotel can lead to overexploitation. Seafood has been a particular area of focus for the industry in recent years, with many organisations focusing on how they could ensure responsible sourcing (through the purchase of MSC certified seafood) due to the well-known issues of overexploitation. In 2019, Marriott International made its Responsible Seafood Statement public to communicate its continued commitment to improving seafood procurement practices. As of year-end 2019, 99% of its hotels globally comply with its responsible seafood program requirement to ban the purchasing of specific species including bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, marine mammals, orange roughy, sea turtles, and sharks (inclusive of shark fin).
Although there isn't an immediately obvious link between hospitality and invasive non-native species, this is an area in which some hotels have taken action to regenerate natural biodiversity in their local area. Budock Vean, in Cornwall, have been actively managing their estate to increase native biodiversity by removing non-native invasive species and planting species of local origin. They've also phased out chemical-based fertilisers and now use organic products where possible to further support the local wildlife.
A healthy global ecosystem is imperative to the long-term success of the industry. No matter where a hotel is located, whether in the countryside, a city or on an island, there are actions that every hotel can take to reduce negative impacts on biodiversity and even help regenerate it.
We're seeing a number of hotels adopting measures that not only improve the guest experience, but also reduce waste and unnecessary expenses. Many travelers are already accustomed to making travel arrangements and having everything they need on their mobile devices, right in the palm of their hand, and a mobile-enabled guest experience ends up eliminating a lot of unnecessary printed collateral, like compendiums and ever-changing restaurant menus. Hotels that have adopted the use of a digital key on their guests' smartphones have subsequently eliminated their key cards and saved, in some cases, literally tons of plastic–and money in replacement costs–each year. Digital ticketing and guest messaging as part of a hotel's property management system streamlines operations, reduces labor costs, and drives staff efficiencies–fewer people are needed on site means fewer in transit as well, lessening the carbon footprint and use of resources. The acceleration of contactless mobile technology is definitely impacting hotels' eco-bottom line and helping them to implement more environmentally conscious practices in their operations and how they service guests.
For example, we've seen a handful of new customers like Hutton Brickyards in the Hudson Valley of New York creating immersive getaways in natural surroundings, where outdoor activities and relaxation in nature are the primary focus. Existing customers like 1 Hotels have established their entire brand around sustainable sanctuaries and setting new standards of sustainability in hotel design. Because nature is the main attraction, there is a focus on sustainable practices and operations and as little disruption to the natural environment as possible, encouraging guests to engage with nature to not only foster genuine relaxation but deep connections with the environment as well.
A beloved hotel is a sustainable one
If a building or place is beloved there's an invaluable attachment. It has created an emotional DNA, a love from the people and community it serves – something to protect and sustain.
Travellers today are opting for hotels and destinations which support conservation and planetary betterment, versus consumption and extraction. This will require adopting more regenerative practices when it comes to both new construction and renovation projects. In terms of building systems, the current trend is heading towards technology that coexists with nature, meaning the solution may not always be the most “high tech”, but the most beneficial with the least resource extraction. The seamless integration of technology creates a platform to support the interconnection: nature, people, efficiency.
Now, there is an opportunity for change as protective environmental policies are enforced and a growing number of travellers demand sustainable travel experiences. Opportunities are everywhere. It's about finding the existing (interior and exterior) qualities, enhancing them and refurbishing instead of tearing down and buying new.
7 ways hoteliers can help lower the carbon footprint of the built environment and add to biodiversity:
- Holistic- Green Tech – Balance of nature, humanity and efficiency, tech for security and safety.
- Refurbish – Embrace a circular approach to interior design; re-use existing furniture.
- Recycle – Preserve, recycle or donate building materials.
- Local – Purchase locally-sourced materials and furnishings; e.g. wood construction products, wool insulation, no chemicals harmful to humans and the environment.
- Outdoors – Plan year-round exterior social areas with plenty of vegetation and comfortable distancing.
- Green roof/walls/unused basements – Explore uses for under-utilised areas and spaces to contribute to urban biodiversity and small-scale food production.
- Eco-mobility/sharing economy – Offer guests complimentary cards for public transit, bike, scooter rentals or membership discounts for electric car rentals/car sharing.
The text and ideas in this article are extracted in part from the white paper, Transforming Hospitality Environments: Scenarios and approaches for sustainable change, Shereen Daver and Margaret Steiner, January 2021 available here: https://whitearkitekter.com/research-development/transforming-hospitable-environments/
1. Hotels located in urban settings: which nature-based solutions result in value added to guests, staff, owners and community? Hotels located in urban settings can above all address biodiversity through their supply chain. Choosing the products they serve, in F&B in particular, can have a huge impact in this area. Working closely with your partners to find farmers and producers who have the conservation of biodiversity at the heart of their production cycles is key. And if hotels support them they are guaranteed to be able to survive with these methods, which sometimes are more onerous and expensive.
Here a specific example to make it more tangible (this applies only to hotels in countries where farming with traditional milk cattle is still being upheld).
By choosing to source all of a hotels milk and diary products from a farm where cows are left to graze on normal grass in natural settings the benefits to the environment and to biodiversity are manifold.
Gras for grazing usually grows in areas where traditional agriculture is unable to thrive, therefore this land can be used efficiently for letting cows roam. Cows have enzymes to digest grass and turn it into protein for us humans rich in omega 3 fatty acids as well as being tasty.
For cows, who are not raised on soya beans and other artificial feeding products for meat production, being able to roam the fields and graze this guarantees a healthy long life, makes their claws more resistant, and ensures their fertility. Plus cow dung, from natural feed, is as most traditional farmers know, one of the most effective fertilizers for fields, as every cow dung pad is paradise for insects, badly needed for the up-keep of biodiversity and enriches any field with a huge variety of wildflowers when spread across the meadows.
Therefore by just choosing one product carefully the impact you can make is huge!
2. Hotels located in natural settings (e.g. forest, coastline): what actions can be undertaken to maintain or restore the ecosystems? Hotels located in natural settings can a) not only find their own plots of land on the property to select a project to support biodiversity on site but can also work with local conservationist projects to support natural conservation programmes. Such as for example a project we work with in the Caribbean, Mustique Island, where the resort has activated and supported a coral reef restoration programme and has managed to outplant over 7000 new coral reefs over the last five years. This has not only contributed to the increase in diverse fish life around the corals, but also the water quality as well as providing a great guest snorkelling activity with raises awareness and pays for some of the cost of the project (see more details here https://www.mustique-island.com/about/environment/).
With the climate crisis looming, everyone has a role to play in restoring and protecting nature. That includes travellers and every single aspect of the travel industry's value chain. Whether you're curating, selling, creating, touring, leading, or inspiring people to explore our treasured earth, there's space to have a positive impact on nature.
Nature needs to be central to business decisions, not a sideliner, and we need to restore balance in how and for what purpose we manage land and marinescapes. We also need more long-term thinking; we're talking 100 years or more.
The Long Run's 4C framework (Conservation, Culture, Community and Commerce) helps tourism businesses, private parks, and conservancies recognise the economic, social, cultural, and environmental value of a diverse and flourishing ecosystem. No one C is sustainable without the others.
Without nature's careful balance — from pollination to carbon stores — there is no life. While we wait for governments and institutions to make a seismic value shift, we can create microcosms of what needs to happen within our own industries and destinations. Tourism is well placed to do this—because it derives profit directly from the protection of nature, and the link is more apparent. To protect nature in the long-term we need to all look beyond our boundaries towards large-scale change. We need greater collaboration. For example, Long Run members often work with neighbouring national parks and landowners to create wildlife corridors and joined-up initiatives. For example:
- Caiman Ecological Refuge (Brazil) and Oncafari have managed to secure a 200,000 -acre wildlife corridor with neighbouring landowners.
- Nikoi Island (Indonesia) is working with the Indonesian government and Conservation International to fund and develop a management plan for the marine protected area of the east coast of Bintan (3mio acreas) which has only existing on paper since 2007.
- Cottar's 1920s Safari Camp (Kenya), through the Cottar's Wildlife Conservation Trust, worked with over 6,000 Maasai landowners to establish the Olderkesi Conservancy (7,608 acres) to expand the conservation area bordering the South-Eastern part of the Maasai Mara region in Kenya
Protecting nature in the long term will never work unless the people who live within and near to those landscapes and marinescapes are part of and contribute to driving long-term sustainable economic and social development. Empowering, improving, sustaining and enhancing livelihoods, cultures and communities must be central to any plan to protect or regenerate nature. For example, our members not only employ at least 70% of staff locally but help to establish local enterprises that work for nature, not against it. They also play an active role in collectively supporting over 200 unique cultures and helping others understand how these cultures live symbiotically with nature. These fall under our second and third Cs — Culture and Community.
Last but not least, the protection of nature, and our ability to restore earth, requires income; income for those on the ground doing the hard graft, and income to keep extractive industries at bay. And so, Commerce, is our final but equally vital C. For most of our accommodation members, tourism is one element of Commerce — 2020 has proven that no conservation effort should depend on travel alone/a single source of income. Financial resilience is more important than ever. Increasingly, our members are embedding transformative and regenerative thinking throughout the guest experience, using tourism to shift mindsets and demonstrate how we can all live more symbiotically with nature.
We have reached the Critical Mass that requires an urgent #TourismRestart embracing sustainability, health and wellness at its core. If we all collectively focus on the needs of the future generations, on the purity of the air we breathe, on the transparency of food origin and tackling global hunger, then we all have a role to play! Hotels and hospitality projects in general have a big part in addressing the new Reimagined Hospitality landscape. As lobbies transition into retail spaces and social Hubs, and the industry drives footfall resulting from the upcoming work-from-hotel trend, then hotels become the destination to charter such innovative entrepreneurial mindset that can help support sustainable transformations.
How can you ensure your property or a mixed-use project inclusive of different lifestyle components contribute to the greener, healthier and sustainable future? For us, at Kerten Hospitality, the focus on the local community and empowering the local supply chain are the pivots for achieving long-term goals for a cleaner Planet. The roadmap is quite simple: We create a destination, where the local businesses ensure fresh produce and no long-haul cargo deliveries are required to support the needs of the properties, guests or residents alike. Our farm-to-table approach in crafting menus, newly announced eco-tourism glamping projects and the attempts to bring guests closer to nature to experience authentic eco farming and bedoiun heritage in the Ras Al Khaimah desert are just few such examples of how we collaborate and support the Ecosystem with a key focus on Locality. I truly believe, that if we collectively commit and do our part in this New Reality, we can ensure Ecosystem restoration and win-win opportunities that benefit all stakeholders.
Many hotels invoke biophilia, the innate attraction people have to the natural world, in their facilities.
Hotel designers incorporate plants in indoor gardens, green walls, moss walls, living art, living streetscapes and green roofs. They also deploy depictions of plants, water, animals, scenic beauty, daylight and patterns with dynamic movement, such as moving water.
Studies show that hotel guests spend more time in spaces that use biophilic design, and give positive reviews for such spaces. At the same time, biophilic design enhances the work environment for hotel employees. Incorporating nature promotes relaxation, reduces stress, improves concentration, increases productivity and reduces absenteeism.
Lately I have had the pleasure to talk to Joost Heymeijer who has ben involved with the development and management of the Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, a luxury conservation-based resort in Australia owned by the airline. Conservation at Wolgan also meant restoring the natural and cultural landscape by i.a. eradicating invasive species and replanting native ones. This process was conducted in consultation and collaboration with more than 300 stakeholders, including indigenous communities.
One, of course, may have reservations about sharing Wolgan's example as a best case in answering the question how hotels located in natural settings could maintain and restore the ecosystem. Few have the deep pockets of Emirates and few can afford to enjoy very luxurious resorts. If I bring this example to the front is not only because, notwithstanding all possible criticisms, what Wolgan did is admirable but also because I do think that we need to start a conversation about whether we as tourists can keep enjoying nature for free. Looking forward to your thoughts.
For urban settings, of course, architectural features will present the best natural climate solutions. A good example is a Tao Zhu Yin Yuan “carbon absorbing” skyscraper in Taipei – a vertical rainforest. Otherwise, a solution for existing buildings are roof gardens with hydroponic system, where thematic green events can be organized for guests.
For hotels where natural setting is already a hotel capital, playing a role of guest attraction, environmentally conscious guests can be involved in informative tours or nature restoration efforts. Especially there can be programs for children to learn more about nature and participate in the protection activities, while parents can relax.
International thematic associations such as Global Sustainable Tourism Council could be playing an important role in establishing guidelines and accountability mechanisms for hotels. However, it is hotels owners that play a key role in real operational efforts directed on climate change mitigation. Hence, I think, the role of owners associations, such as Asian American Hotel Owners Association, or IHG Owners Association, is important in explaining the costs and benefits of establishing mitigation solutions today, rather than bearing significant costs of adapting to flooding, extreme weather damage, heat waves in the future.
The challenge of decarbonizing hospitality is one of the great challenges our industry faces. It is important that we consider the actions that will have the greatest impact on our carbon footprint. In some ways, the things we talk about most are not the things that have the biggest impact.
Green operations: So much of our conversation focuses on improving our energy efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint through our ongoing operations. These are important tasks, and many operations are reporting significant improvements as they commit to ongoing environmental management. We need to double down on this so it becomes the standard operating practice.
Build it right: Less frequently discussed is the need to build right in the first place. Buildings are one of the significant sources of carbon, and hotels need to be built in ways that support the environment. The decisions made when a hotel is built – or when it is refurbished – have an impact over the life of the property. It is great that many hotels are now built to LEED standards. As we move forward, it is critical that regenerative architectural and building principles. Regenerative approaches don't just minimize carbon – they reduce it! With this regenerative approach, we can truly start to restore the ecosystem.
Change the system - Push the supply chain: Perhaps the least discussed but most impactful actions we can take is to pressure our (energy) suppliers to adopt renewable energy generation. Changing our energy supply from fossil fuel to renewables is critical, and the lodging industry is an important customer group to these suppliers. Let's make sure our voices – demanding cleaner energy sources - are heard by energy suppliers.
When I took note of the topic of this new viewpoint, I felt compelled to step out of my office to go immerse myself in nature to ponder on it. As I was walking mindfully along the banks of the nearby swamp on a sunny spring day, surrounded with blossoming fragrant trees and lulled by the birds' warbling, a delightful sense of serenity and bliss took hold of me. I found a secluded spot where I sat down quietly for long minutes to take some deep breaths and merge with my environment. This simple yet essential mind-body-soul experience allowed me to quiet my mind and gain clarity and focus, provided inspiration, enhanced my creativity, reduced my blood pressure and stress hormones, and put me back in sync with the rhythm and wisdom of nature, and fostered feelings of compassion and belonging.
As human beings, we have an innate tendency to connect with nature and every life form. Nature heals us. I could go on and on about the countless benefits that nature has on our physical and mental health and wellbeing, or the “complementary services” provided by natural ecosystems that make our very life on earth possible. But there is no need for further explanations as all of us can intuitively know, sense, and feel how much we long for nature, how much we belong to it, how much we need it. We are nature. We are not separated from it. And the recent pandemic reminded us how interdependent and interrelated we all are.
From the awareness and the awakening that derives from this realization, we start to transform ourselves and our mindsets shift. Rationally we start thinking in systems just like nature does. But most importantly, this realization activates our heart and awakens a deep sense of care, compassion, and love for every living being. As a result, we understand that our role is to contribute positively to the whole community of life, enhancing human and natural potential.
Travelling offers us the opportunity to slow down, get away from our daily routine, enjoy the simple things, and reconnect with nature, and be filled with wonder at its beauty, diversity, and complexity. The hospitality industry should leverage the powerful experience of travel to achieve the long-term transformation of human behaviors we need to regenerate our planet.
Through awe-inspiring – yet educative - experience, hotels can foster a sense of will and agency among the guests that will last long after their stay. Every touchpoint of the guest journey – from design to activities, to F&B and Spa menus, to the interactions with the staff and other guests - should be carefully crafted to induce a sense of ease, wellbeing, and reconnection and allow for deeper reflection and awakening.
The language and stories hotels use to communicate should speak to the head and activate the heart to arouse interest, trigger emotions, and facilitate the moving into action. It will enhance the guest experience, increase a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, and promote a sense of purpose and meaning as the guests will identify with your brand values. If done smartly, hotels can build a strong relationship with their guest before, during, and after the stay and turn their guests into sustainability ambassadors. This will generate positive word-of-mouth, increase brand loyalty, employee satisfaction, and engagement, eventually translating into a higher ROI. It is a win-win-win situation for every stakeholder - including nature – and proof that love and care make good business sense.
In the value creation process, it is key to move from the risk management and efficiency stage to a holistic proactive approach, creating systems instead of focussing on goals, new business practices, and cross-industry solutions. Some recommendations would be to:
- Introduce food waste prevention technology and educational programs.
- Offering plant-based food alternatives on menus.
- Using technology as desalinizing water for pool and garden, installing a thermostatic showerand, and systems to reuse grey waters.
- Sustainable procurement initiatives, permaculture, seasonal, and local producers.
- Having an EMS. Prevent and reduce waste applying circular economy principles (e.g using products like Sheedo).
- Ecodesign, biophilic buildings, and avoid concrete (water footprint). The production of cement, steel, and other building materials associated with construction is a source of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Do not rely on offsetting. Carbon-reduction targets present opportunities to create value from decarbonization. There are technologies to reduce carbon emissions for companies in hospitality.
- Investors capital-allocation strategies to tackle ESG's. Many hedge funds and hospitality investors are CDP signatories. It is key to incorporate the SBTi, TCFD reporting of climate-related financial information, for risk management and investor disclosure.
- GRI/SASB for disclosures. May be required by jurisdictions in support of the UN SDGs or specific public policy objectives (e.g., EU Green Deal).
- Taking a proactive approach to tackling these issues will improve the business strategy and allow to engage and communicate with guests that are expecting honest, transparent, and conscious behavior. Furthermore, those conservation practices can be revenue-generating activities.
- Hotel operators have the opportunity to establish strategic partnerships with local public, private entities, and NGOs to restore ecosystems, species conservation, preserve natural heritage, from restoring flora and fauna in the highland to reef conservation in the coastline.
It is crucial to understand the impact that those challenges have on the economic stability, human rights, and the welfare of communities and societies. Solutions should include social issues in strategies, regulations, or policy development. The European Sustainable Hospitality Club supports hotels with education and building strategic alliances.
When you think of city hotels, 'nature' is not the first thing that comes to mind, however, whilst city hotels may not be surrounded by nature, there is much they can do to be respectful of it. Some changes will require investment, others simply a change of mindset. Some will even save money. All can be part of creating a virtuous circle that will benefit us all.
Things city hotels can do include:
- Actively encourage guests to use public transport to get to the hotel, and active transport (ie walking and cycling) once there. (This is actually an advantage city hotels have over their country cousins, given the proximity of transport links and nearby attractions.)
- Promote sustainable local businesses to your guests.
- Make daily housekeeping optional.
- Think about the chemicals in the cleaning products you are using, and investigate if there are more planet friendly options available. (For example UV disinfection vs chemical-heavy 'misting'.)
- Eliminate single use toiletries, and wasteful amenities. Look for products made from sustainable sources, that come in recyclable or compostable, plastic-free packaging.
- Measure and benchmark energy usage and set targets for how it can be reduced. If possible share this information with your guests in order to motivate them to be aware of how much energy they are using.
- Use energy from sustainable sources, as well as energy efficient services and appliances.
- Utilise technology to reduce energy consumption, for example by automatically turning off lights and turn down heat in unoccupied rooms.
- Promote the idea of travelling less, but staying longer by offering deals for longer stays.
- Talk to suppliers about what they are doing to be sustainable, and make purchasing decisions accordingly. Buy local whenever possible.
- Be aware of the embedded energy in the materials chosen for construction and renovation projects.
- Talk to everyone about what you are doing to be more environmentally friendly. Good ideas are contagious.
When we build sustainability strategies for organizations, we apply a participative, bottom-up approach. Tapping into nature-based solutions could follow the same principle. We create an organizational “think-tank” with the task to create long, mid and short term objectives and key results.
Participants should be chosen on the basis of topic expertise, motivation as well as organizational accountability. All three components are very important. Expertise can come from within the organization or from outside. The person or team in charge of setting up the think-tank should assess the level of outside expertise required to support the team in the best way possible. Motivation requires an emotional connection to the issue. For nature-based solutions it might for example be wise to involve locals who understand their ecosystems and their history. As the strategy should be followed by an effective implementation, those in charge of execution should take part from the very beginning. Probably, this will be more than one department. The implementation of nature-based solutions will not only lead to process creation and decision-making in operations and maintenance, but will also depend on a solid internal communication strategy as well as resources provided by the planning and finance department. Not to mention a consistent performance tracking and transparent reporting of what has been implemented.
Apart from bringing in the right roles, motivation and expertise, it helps to narrow down the task at hand. Instead of working through a 360° sustainability agenda, different teams might work on different aspects of it, say decarbonization, circularity, ecosystem stewardship, nature-based guest experiences, etc. The approach will ultimately lead to an admittedly resource-intense amount of people being involved “bottom-up”. But this is, what makes it powerful. Apart from a holistic sustainability agenda, it will drive innovation and cross-departmental thinking as a plus.
1. Hotels located in natural settings (e.g. forest, coastline): what actions can be undertaken to maintain or restore the ecosystems?
Hotels located in remote and natural settings often disremember the previously prevailing coexistence between native communities and their surrounding natural environment. The global challenge of the hospitality industry in these remote areas often originates from the international standardizations concerning services and constructions that are, habitually, not only unsustainable, but also completely disconnected from the ethnohistorical past of the milieu. Consequently, hotels in isolated areas should look for harmony with the surrounding ecosystems and learn from indigenous/native knowledge how to do so. As Saint Ambrose said, “When in Rome, do as the Pope does.” In addition, this would be in complete coherence with the forecasted nature tourism trend in the post-COVID period.
The value of being outdoors has been thrust into the spotlight by the pandemic and is now prized more than ever before. This is a perfect moment for urban hotel owners to leverage this demand by increasing access to, and encouraging use of, green areas.
I can share two examples from southern Chile. The first, Hotel Antumalal, has a private lakeside five-hectare park. Within the park there are many hidden trails with plaques that inform about the native trees and plants. There is a vegetable garden where children can join the chef every morning at a designated time to collect fresh ingredients for the menu of the day. In addition, families can fish for trout which can then be barbecued. There is also a water turbine to produce electricity for the hotel. It functions with water channelled along 4,5 km of canals that brings the snow melt from the neighbouring volcano to the park.
Another example is the Parque Metreñehue. A six-bed boutique hotel and seven wooden cabins are available within a four-hectare park. Their addition during Covid times is a unique “forest therapy” activity based on the Japanese Shinrin-Yoku. The idea to “bathe yourself in the forest” is proving popular with guests and enhances reconnection with nature and improves wellbeing.
Simple, effective, and powerful offers that increase customer satisfaction, but also create great opportunities to showcase environmental awareness and educate through experience.
Climate change is about "how do we live in the future?"; biodiversity loss is about "do we live in the future?" So the question "should we act?" does not arise.
Hotels in the urban settings should design their facilities to be biodiversity-friendly and take the issue fully into account in procurement. To this end, areas can be unsealed and roofs or facades can be greened (with a high diversity of native species).
For hotels in natural setting, it is important to keep the impact on nature as low as possible. Minimal land consumption when planning a site or the avoidance of light pollution are examples for important topics here.
Large companies should also have a "large impact", i.e. have a positive effect on nature to an extent that corresponds to the size of their business. In addition to the activities described above for all relevant sites, this can be done by exerting influence on service providers and suppliers, industry associations, cooperation with NGOs or the creation of an own foundation.
Regardless of the extent to which one becomes active, the involvement of external expertise is worthwhile so that "well meant" is also "well done".
Tourism often builds on nature, and hotels and resorts benefit from its wonders in attracting guests. While sustainable tourism has been on the agendas of industry and academia for decades, a thorough understanding of ecology and other related natural sciences is largely missing from higher education. To me, this is an enormous problem. Hospitality management education prepares graduates to care for all stakeholders to achieve optimal business performance. However, at the same time the focus on the natural environment tends to be on actions that save resources only after human impact has been created, such as waste minimization and water and electrify use optimization. These are important areas, but focus on the wellbeing of nature itself, in the form of a deeper understanding of ecology, human-nature interaction and knowledge of flora and fauna, is missing.
As a hospitality educator and academic, I have questions, for managers and biologists, that could help in joining forces:
- Would these areas be valuable future graduate skills and should hospitality higher education provide them to students?
- How can education incorporate the most important biology knowledge in the hospitality management curriculum?
- How can industry and education cooperate in this?
Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow this November 2021, a series of breakthroughs can be observed in terms of climate actions. Governments are aligning policies towards a carbon neutral future; advances in solar and wind energy production make them very attractive and cheaper than fossil fuel in many markets; and development of construction techniques make it possible to build high-rises from timber in an increasingly urbanized world. With a building stock of more than 500,000 hotels worldwide (and probably a few million buildings in the broader accommodation sector from vacation rentals to small B&B homes) decarbonization is a major retrofitting endeavor. And nature may be our best ally.
There is no doubt that when considering the value of nature to the hospitality processes however, nature is not only a 'capital' component available to businesses, but a source of solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change and protect biodiversity while ensuring human well-being (Seddon et al., 2020).
I will focus on (1) Hotels located in urban settings: which nature-based solutions result in value added to guests, staff, owners and community?
In the urban built-environment, some cities around globe have tackled urban island heat effect by actively supporting a green cover replacement or green plot ratio for urban construction, with Singapore leading the way. The basic idea is for the land taken away through construction of buildings to be replaced with greenery within the construction, whether via a green rooftop, green intermediary spaces or green walls (Ong, 2002). Hotel buildings such as the Parkroyal Collection Pickering and the Oasia Hotel Downtown, both in Singapore, are examples of green cover replacement in urban setting. Research results show that similar buildings are able to
- reduce the summer heat gain and cooling demand while
- reducing urban heat island effect (Feitosa ad Wilkinson, 2018),
- improving air quality, absorbing pollutants (Charoenkit and Yiemwattana, 2017)
- improving water management (Prodanovic et al., 2017),
- reducing noise pollution (Jang et al., 2015) while
- increasing thermal comfort (Charoenkit and Yiemwattana, 2016).
Hotels can greatly benefit from green walls and green roofing, conserving energy by insulating the building envelope, with data showing that a green wall can reduce the temperature of walls up to 20 Celsius in the summer (Mazzali et al., 2013). In terms of landscaping, low-rise hotel buildings can greatly reduce the summer heat gain and cooling demand by planting deciduous shade trees. Additionally, research shows that urban areas in the UK are a significant source of floral resource diversity for insects with 85% of the nectar source attributed to residential gardens further supporting the importance of greening urban spaces (Tew et al., 2021).
Finally, research points in the direction of consumer demand for more green spaces and nature-based experiences while travelling following the Great Lockdown. And at times of capital constraints, there is growing evidence of the benefits of Nature-based Solutions outweighing the cost of implementation (Seddon et al. 2020).
Gardens, producing fruits, vegetables and herbs, are implemented successfully in both urban hotels (with popular rooftop options) and hotels located in natural settings. Selecting the right products to plants, mindful of the seasons and using permaculture elements, is an effective way to restore the ecosystems, provide a garden to table offer to guests, and even food and/or work for the local community if the garden is large enough. It also offer guests a great opportunity to connect and learn more about the earth and its cycles.
Healthy landscapes and seascapes are much needed for long term sustainable economic growth and social stability.1 Land degradation contributes to the overall loss of ecosystem functions and services. According to WBCSD (2015), “25% of usable land globally is degraded, at an estimated economic loss of US$40 billion per year”.2 Moreover, UN Environment estimates the cumulative economic impact of poor ocean management practices is at least $200 billion per year.3 One of the main reasons people travel is to visit areas that are unspoiled, natural, beautiful, or unique in terms of their local environment. For this reason, climate change and biodiversity loss should be considered to be one of the most important challenges currently facing the hospitality and tourism industry.
The success of investment and lending in hospitality will increasingly become reliant on natural resources (agriculture/food industry/…). Indeed considering the long-term nature of such projects, private sector investments and interests might be very limited and not be economically viable in the mid/long-term with default in loans and losses in returns, unless environmental degradation is addressed.
There are two impactful approaches that can avoid or counter degradation of soils and marine life and which helps to restore them: First, work with the finance industry to limit/stop the financing of land and ocean degrading projects. Second, develop innovative and impactful blended finance solutions that ensure that the exploitation of natural resources can be maintained, but in a perspective of preservation (land and ocean degradation neutrality) and recovery of natural resources and biodiversity.
The innovative concept of IFFs (International Finance Facility) has the ability to achieve enormous social and environmental impact. An IFF is designed to frontload aid (in the form of know-how, finance, public and private sector support) to enable specific social or environmental development projects. The first IFF (also called the Vaccine Bond or IFFIm) was initiated in 2006 to rapidly accelerate large scale immunisation projects. To date, IFFIm has leveraged US$6.3 billion. An independent evaluation by HLSP noted that IFFIm investments generate “extremely good returns”, whilst to date it has helped saved more than 3 million lives.4
Similarly to IFFIm, Blue Bonds have proven to make exponential impact by protecting marine areas and therefore improves resilience to climate change and thus helps protect and strengthen a region's economy, hospitality and tourism appeal.
For example, this approach has worked in the Seychelles, where in 2016, it reconstructed $22m local government debt in exchange for protecting 30% of its marine areas. Today, the Seychelles is on track to protect 400,000 sq-km of ocean (size of Germany) and is protecting its coral reefs, replenishing its fisheries, is improving its resilience to climate change and is strengthening its economy. The opportunity to scale this up is impressive, as its success has attracted interest from over hundred governments. With this approach everyone wins: The tourism and hospitality sector, governments, local communities, funders and most importantly our oceans and future generations!6,7
- Steward-Ownership, Rethinker ownership in the 21st century, Purpose Foundation
- Land Degradation Neutrality, A Business Perspective, WBCSD
- The Potential of the Blue Economy, World Bank, United Nations
- Evaluation of The World Bank's Partnership with the GAVI Alliance
- Blue Bonds: An Audacious Plan to Save the World's Ocean, The Nature Conservancy
- The Tragedy of the Commons, The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality - Garrett Hardin
- Breaking the tragedy of the horizon - climate change and financial stability - speech by Mark Carney