Sustainable Hospitality: Eco-Friendly Industry Trends and Tips for Hotels

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Sustainable tourism is far from a rising travel trend. It’s become a priority — if not a moral imperative — for hospitality leaders and hoteliers around the world. And not a moment too soon.

According to the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, tourism contributes about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions — a figure they expect to grow by 130% by 2035. Meanwhile, the International Tourism Partnership found that for the hotel industry to align with the Paris Climate Agreement, it’ll need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions per room per year by 90% by 2050 (compared to a baseline from 2010).

Sobering statistics they are indeed, especially when we consider the current and forecasted rates of growth of the industry. For example, within a five-year span between 2013 and 2018, the global hotel industry grew by 2.3% to reach revenues of over €1.28 trillion (IBISWorld, 2018). If that pace continues, more than 80,000 hotels will join the existing supply by 2050.

The challenge we face isn’t an insignificant one. As sustainable hospitality expert Dr. Willy Legrand explains, “we need to find a way to grow the industry, accommodating more and more guests and building more and more properties, and at the same time reduce the sector’s carbon footprint to achieve complete decarbonization by 2050.”

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Current trends in sustainable hospitality

According to Dr. Legrand, whose expertise about sustainable hospitality was instrumental in creating this article, “a large section of the hospitality industry is joining the unprecedented mobilization across the globe in mitigating negative environmental impacts and facing the many societal challenges ahead.”

The guest editor-in-chief of the Hotel Yearbook 2018 – Sustainable Hospitality and the Hotel Yearbook Special Edition – Sustainable Hospitality 2020, Dr. Legrand highlights key eco-friendly industry trends that hoteliers can follow:

  • Cut down on food waste. For example, grow food onsite, source food locally, and shift social norms to ensure that “plate waste” is no longer considered acceptable (Benjamin Lephilibert, HYB2018).
  • Minimize water usage beyond the hotel room. In addition to encouraging guests to be mindful of their water and towel usage, some properties are turning to innovations such as showers that filter their own water (Inge Huijbrechts, HYB2018)
  • Eliminate plastic. A step beyond recycling is to do away with single-use plastic products. This can help limit the huge amount of waste stemming from creating and discarding these items. A good place to start is by getting rid of plastic water bottles and plastic bags (Jeanne Varney, HYB2020).
  • Conserve energy. This “economically sustainable method” is effective and easy to apply, for example by redesigning the guest experience to encourage guests to apply adaptive behaviors. One way is to replace the mini-fridge and coffee machine in each room with a communal amenities area in an open guest space (Christopher Warren, HYB2020).
  • Create a paperless hotel. A task made easy by a modern property management systems, this simplifies operations and streamlines the guest experience while reducing carbon emissions (Terence Ronson, HYB2018).
  • Integrate sustainability into the hotel architecture. For the construction of new properties, there’s a “three-zero-concept” approach: use local construction materials and skills (zero kilometers), prioritize energy management and lower emissions (zero carbon dioxide), and introduce life-cycle management into the building process (zero waste) (Matteo Thun, HYB2020).

Go green: Good for the world, good for bringing in the guests of today (and tomorrow)

Beyond the noble goal of decarbonization, there are economic factors driving the industry trend towards sustainability as well.

Eco-friendliness has evolved from a nice-to-have to a must-have priority for a growing number of environmentally and socially conscious travelers.

A study on millennial consumer behavior, conducted by The Nielsen Company, found that sustainability is a shopping priority among this influential and travel-prone generation. In fact, 66% of global respondents would “pay more for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact” (Nielsen, 2015).

In the same vein, a TUI global survey found that two-thirds of holidaymakers are willing “to make lifestyle trade-offs to benefit the environment” (TUI, 2017).

By going green, a property can not only appeal to and attract today’s eco-aware travelers, but it can also help its guests benefit the environment without compromising the quality of their trip.

Be recognized as an eco-friendly property 

As of now, there’s no single, universal set of criteria for officially recognizing properties as eco-friendly.

However, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), the body that manages the global standards for sustainable travel and tourism, created The GSTC Industry Criteria and Suggested Indicators for Hotels in an effort to “come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism.” The idea is to harmonize all the criteria found in the many green hotel certification schemes, such as Green KeyGreen Star Hotel Certificate, etc.

The organization describes the GSTC Criteria as “the minimum that a hotel (or any type of built accommodations) business should aspire to reach.”

Properties that want to be officially recognized as eco-friendly can consider one of the many GSTC-accredited certification bodies around the world.

You can go over the full list of GSTC-recognized standards and green-certifying bodies for hotels here.

A final thought on sustainable hospitality

There’s still significant work to be done to make the hospitality industry an economically sustainable sector; a daunting task to say the least. But the truth is that every measure, every step taken to reduce the carbon footprint at every level of the industry counts and is, in fact, crucial.

“Sustainable hospitality doesn’t translate into ‘one company trying to do its very best in a given market,’” explains Dr. Legrand, “but rather it’s an entire industry that stands up to face the environmental and societal challenges by exploring ideas, solutions and strategies of how to develop future hotels and how to manage operations in a sustainable way.”

Are you already embracing sustainable hospitality at your property? Here’s how you can let your potential guests on trivago know that you are. Log in to trivago Business Studio and update your profile:

  • Indicate in your description the strides you’ve made to go green. If you’ve received notable certifications for your efforts, be sure to mention that achievement, too.
  • Upload photos to your profile to show travelers the eco-friendly side of your property.

Photo by Day of Victory Stu on Adobe Stock