It’s not like we haven’t been warned: reports of climate change and the portent of its devastating effects have emerged regularly for decades. The latest, released in February, details the dire forecast yet.
Any eco-conscious traveller wants to leave as light an environmental footprint as possible. Any responsible organization strives to reduce or eliminate its carbon emissions to attract that traveller and, more importantly, to protect the planet for generations to come. Hoteliers are no exception.
Reduce, Re-use, Re-vamp
Just a few examples of the commitments properties have made include: Accor’s Planet 21 initiative, which has commissioned eco-designed beds made from wood sourced from sustainably managed forests for its Novotel brand; Northland Properties’ Go Green program, which includes recycling and waste-management practices for its Sandman Hotels; IHG’s Journey to Tomorrow, which aims to eliminate single-use items, and reduce water and food waste; and Hilton’s LightStay system, which set targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
“LightStay has produced well over US$1 billion in cumulative energy savings for our hotels and our owners,” says Jean Garris Hand, Hilton’s vice-president, Global Environmental, Social and Governance. “We are continuously implementing upgrades and improvements to LightStay every year to make it easier and more useful for our hotel leadership to track and analyze the metrics that matter.”
She cites as one example the LightStay Meeting Calculator, which provides customers with an estimate of the environmental effect of their meetings or events, leveraging the specific hotel’s consumption data. “The hotel and customer can then use this information to take actions that will reduce the environmental impact of their meeting.”
Another Hilton initiative is the use of solar panels, installed at properties such as the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Maui, and the all-electric Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection, set to open this spring, which is estimated to be the first net-zero carbon emissions hotel in the U.S.
Hand says the pandemic put up some roadblocks initially for some programs, which caused a temporary increase in single-use plastics. But that didn’t dampen the commitment to its Travel with Purpose 2030 goals, which inspired its Hilton Global Foundation, a philanthropic program that pledged nearly $2 million to organizations supporting groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and climate change worldwide.
“The success of our business relies on our ability to operate sustainably and effectively engage our local communities,” says Hand. “By taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of our business and invest in the resilience of our communities, we can ensure the beautiful destinations where we operate remain vibrant for the next generation of travellers.”
Without travellers there would be no hotels, and without sustainability efforts, there will be no travellers. Green Key Global, the only international environmental certification body specifically designed for hotels, works with properties to manage and improve their environmental impact — and, importantly, to communicate those efforts to their guests.
“It’s wonderful that you do all these things, but if you don’t tell your guests why you’re doing them they’re not going to appreciate it,” says Rebecca Bartlett-Jones, manager, business development for Green Key Global. “If you just change their towels once every three days, they’re going to wonder why. But if you had information about why you’re doing it, how much energy you’re saving, and how that’s improving the environment for generations to come, then they understand.”
And Green Key’s research shows the majority of travellers — roughly 70 per cent — base their accommodation decisions on a property’s environmental initiatives. “That’s what’s on everybody’s minds. [Also] corporate and social responsibility. They’re also looking, for instance, [whether not] if a hotel has connected with an organization like Soaps for Hope; [and asking] are they using local suppliers; are the supplies sustainable; are they hiring from the local community; what are they doing with old linens; are they recycling properly; do they have energy-saving measures, such as temperature regulating, in place?”
Bartlett-Jones says investing in a membership with Green Key, which costs $450 in Canada and $650 in the U.S., is especially worth it now that booking sites are flagging green hotels. “A number of listings agents, including Expedia, Hotels.com, and Google, are all driving the environmental traveller through their websites to the hotels in the program. So, when you’re a member of Green Key, it’s almost a guarantee that your $450 is going to pay off on energy savings and increased bookings.”
Stephanie Bertels, VanDusen professor of Sustainability at SFU’s Beedie School of Business, as well as director, Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability, and founder and lead researcher at The Embedding Project, which helps companies embed social and environmental factors within their operations, says she’s encouraged by the progress made throughout the industry but there’s much more to be done.
“While small changes certainly help to build momentum, we are in an urgent crisis and we are in the last decade of action to save our planet and our economy,” she says. “The reality is that hoteliers, like every other business, will need to make considerable changes that include much greater energy efficiency, including for heating and cooling; reducing waste from single-use items, food waste and construction and renovations; reducing water consumption; and ensuring decent working conditions for staff and contractors.”
Bertels says prior to the pandemic, over-tourism was impacting the environment, wildlife and vulnerable communities around the world. On the bright side, COVID shone a light on the precariousness of the situation, as well as on essential workers. “As we see a return to international travel, we need to ensure that we address those impacts. Some key things that hoteliers can do include ensuring that they are providing decent work and fair compensation to employees; collaborating with local communities to deliver more enriching local experiences; and continuing to help their guests to make choices that reduce the impact of their stay.”
Bertels says there are free resources on the Embedding Project’s site to help companies do more.
Christine Couvelier, founder and global culinary trendologist at Culinary Concierge, as well as chief culinary innovative officer for Trendi, which helps the food industry upcycle organic food waste, says, “Any restaurateur/hotelier right now is concerned about food waste and looking for solutions. Because it’s not a trend or a fad; it’s something that’s part of our life and we have to pay attention to it better now than we have in the past.”
According to Trendi, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted around the world annually, while at the same time 800 million people don’t have enough to eat. Its mission is to rescue imperfect fruits and vegetables, cuttings from processors, and waste from retailers and convert them into nutrients such as bioflakes for animal feed or smoothie mixes.
Couvelier advises the chefs and companies she works with to build stronger relationships with farmers about what they need to create their menus. “We’ve had examples of wonderful chefs and hotels that rescue and repurpose excess food, so that’s certainly not something that’s new but it’s even more important to think local now. This is one of the prime things in chefs’ minds right now. It’s also utmost in the minds of the next generation of culinary professionals.”
She says culinary tourism provides a perfect opportunity to share some of these solutions with travellers. “They’re already thinking about the hotels and restaurants they’re going to visit, so this topic of food waste and foods that could have been repurposed and upcycled from otherwise wasted fruits and vegetables is a story that hotels and chefs can tell on their menus.”
Bartlett-Jones says many hotels (and restaurants) still recovering from the effects of COVID, however, have precious few dollars to spend on any extra innovations, but her hope is that sustainability makes its way back to top of mind soon. “We’re making amazing strides. Every single sustainability program is a great step forward.”
By Robin Roberts