According to Greenpeace International, the global average temperature has increased by one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. For the hospitality industry, climate change has potentially disastrous effects and, as a result, it’s not only trendy to develop sustainable, green policies, but urgently required in order to secure the future of the industry.
Siobhan O’Neil, editor of the digital magazine Green Hotelier — the leading source for practical, inspirational, and technical resources for sustainability within the hotel industry — says some clear trends have emerged within the past five years. “At first, hotels had to address what we call ‘low-hanging fruit’ — that which is the easiest and quickest to address — [such as] switching to LED bulbs, key cards that cut room power, movement sensors in communal-area restrooms, and so on,” explains O’Neil. “But great efficiencies were also created at the back of house by improving the energy consumption of appliances in laundries, kitchens and building-management control systems, heat pumps and recovery systems.”
Despite these efforts, O’Neil explains that hotels need to really think ahead to meet targets established at COP21 (the Paris climate conference held in 2015), including setting an internal price on carbon or moving to science-based targets (see sciencebasedtargets.org). This is not only a positive move towards environmental activism, it’s actually effecting hotels’ ROI. “I’ve seen hotels reap big rewards by creating efficiencies and automated systems which maximize the use of their heating and cooling,” says O’Neil. “But, perhaps surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be much use of renewable energies except through the grid.”
Water is also a critical resource which puts the hospitality industry in a precarious position, given its abundant usage. According to the UN, the demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent by 2030. For this reason, O’Neil insists that token towel-and-linen programs simply are not enough to impact the impending water crisis. “Of course, it’s imperative that guests’ towels and bedding are reused, but the truth is we need to do more — and faster,” says O’Neil. “Hotels are being slow to take bigger strides on water, such as the installation of grey-water systems and rainwater harvesting.”
The question of water use is especially relevant when looking at hotels within their local and global contexts. “In some countries, guests use 10 times more water daily than is usual for local people,” explains O’Neil. She notes that hotels really need to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “Looking ahead, we will see more reporting on their sustainability actions which support those UN goals. It’s got to be a group effort within the industry towards transparency and commitment to change.”
Linda Hartwell, director of Marketing, Communications and Business Development at the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) and Green Key Global, notes that going sustainable isn’t just a social-justice thing to do, but has real financial benefits. “Those who participate in the Green Key Eco-Rating Program see improvement in their ROI,” says Hartwell. “But it requires aligning and investing in the right systems at the right time. All departments within the operation — from food-and-beverage to heating and cooling systems — need to be on board to save costs,” says Hartwell. “Waste disposal alone can be cut in half when hotels opt to purchase something as simple as cardboard and aluminum bailers — and recycling containers for each room.”
Justin Keating, general manager of Quebec City’s award-winning Hôtel du Vieux-Québec says being eco-responsible has to be a commitment on the part of all staff at the hotel. “By sharing the successes of your hotel’s energy-conservation goals with staff, you involve them in the process,” says Keating, who uses the Quebec-based company Ecosynergie to keep track of the hotel waste streams. “We also give 20 per cent of our profits to staff as an annual bonus.” In this way, Keating makes the investment tangible — hotel staff literally reap the financial benefits of the effort they put in and can feel like they are contributing in a meaningful way to environmental issues — whether they provide room care or create designer drinks behind the bar.
Hôtel du Vieux-Québec is one-of-a-kind when it comes to its sustainable practices. An urban garden and bee sanctuary sit atop the hotel roof, replete with solar panels and a wastewater heat-recuperation system. “It may seem odd to include bees in a hotel landscape, but not when you reflect on the fact that bees pollinate 70 per cent of our edible foods,” gushes Keating. “So our urban garden benefits, but also our staff, who happen to love the organic honey. Gardening and bee-keeping seem to feed the soul of our hotel and the staff that work there.”
Keating says that the beginning stages of this sort of initiative begin with public-education campaigns. “It’s hard to refuse the innovations once you know the benefits they will have towards the hotel and its surrounding community,” he says. When it comes to plastic water bottles (think oceans floating with tons of plastic), Keating isn’t a fan. Their environmental impact cannot be ignored. “Part of our campaign is to educate not just staff, but guests, about issues such as the water crisis and the plastic-water-bottle industry and its damaging effect,” says Keating. Plastic bottles are not sold to guests, as the hotel distributes reusable glass bottles instead.
At AccorHotels, which manages the Fairmont Resorts & Hotels brand, sustainability is front-and-centre of its brand promotion and online platform with its Planet 21 program — a program which, according to its website, “demonstrates the Group’s ambitious goals for 2020, based around four strategic priorities: work with its employees, involve its customers, innovate with its partners and work with local communities.” Global AccorHotels sustainable director, Arnaud Herrmann, stated “A year after our Planet 21 program was extended, our hotels really rallied behind it in 2016. This meant supporting initiatives at the local level with efforts such as banning the use of overfished seafood in our restaurants or sourcing produce from local communities.”
Herrmann says the new initiative “Acting Here” is a necessary one, given the urgency of the global climate crisis. It entails acting locally while conceiving of the hotel itself as a community of global citizens. “Whether it’s to fight food waste, promote agroforestry or further the energy transition, we applied a “test-and-learn” approach to hone our policies,” says Herrmann. “Through trial and error, we tried out new, intelligent tools which have helped us make faster progress towards our objectives.” For example, one AccorHotel campaign, “Plant for the Planet,” diverts money saved through efficient laundry operations to reforestation projects with a promise to plant 10 million trees by the year 2021.
With its Green Partnership program launched as early as 1990, Fairmont has been ahead of the curve with regard to environmental issues in the hospitality industry. Now coined the Fairmont Sustainability Partnership, community partnerships have led to the reduction in energy use and waste disposal. Water conservation has also become a key feature of the program. Just last year, Fairmont met its goal to reduce its CO2 carbon footprint by 20 per cent through the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate-Savers program.
Fairmont has even partnered with Burt’s Bees co-founder Burt Shavitz in a unique program called “Wild for Bees” — a program that builds ‘bee hotels’ across the country. So far there are only 16 pollinator habitats that have been created with the help of Vancouver organization Hives for Humanity, however, they are catering to a particular type of bee. “It’s not the honey bee,” says Michael King, manager of Safety and Loss Prevention (and bees) at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. “The bee hotels really cater to the solitary pollinator bees — the ones that keep our fruits and vegetables in existence.”
Who knew that creating an eco-friendly hotel would literally be the bees knees?
Volume 29, Number 4
Written by Jennifer Febbraro