Net-zero hotels — the next step in sustainability

Acuity Knowledge Partners
7 min readAug 10, 2023

Background

The hotel sector is responsible for around 1% of the carbon emissions in the environment, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s 2008 Responding to Global Challenges report, and if proper measures are not taken to ensure sustainability, this share could increase substantially.

The sector, therefore, needs to reduce carbon emissions by at least 66% by 2030 and up to 90% per room by year-end 2050, according to the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance’s Global Hotel Decarbonisation Report. The World Travel & Tourism Council has launched its Hotel Sustainability Basics to encourage all hotels, even the small and medium-size ones, to work towards sustainability.

Key initiatives towards sustainability

1. Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism

  • This is an initiative launched by the UN Climate Change Conference held in November 2021 (COP26) to motivate the hospitality sector to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
  • When a country becomes a signatory of the declaration, they are supposed to submit a climate action plan within 12 months of signing; if it already has a plan, it needs to update and implement it, report publicly on the progress and provide interim reports.

2. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance’s Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality

  • The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance announced a holistic approach to achieving sustainability by 2028, including a net positive pathway, a hospitality high ambition movers group and net positive accelerators.
  • This was devised following consultation of the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance’s Members and Affiliate Members with sustainability and sector experts.
  • To achieve sustainability, the alliance created a four-stage framework: measure and reduce impact, minimise negative impact, achieve net zero leaving no-one behind and give back more than you take.

Key sustainability initiatives in the hospitality sector

1. Encouraging automation:

The hotel business would benefit significantly from the introduction and promotion of technology and smart devices. To reduce the use of paper and plastic cards, hotels could implement digital check-in procedures and provide all the client’s passcodes and check-in information by email. It could also use renewable energy sources to meet its energy needs rather than relying on fossil fuels.

Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, which uses solar panels and other techniques to reduce carbon emissions, has triple-glazed windows and added extra insulation to keep the rooms at a comfortable temperature. It expects to use 80% less energy than similar facilities.

2. Reducing use of plastic:

The hotel business generates 200 gallons of plastic garbage per room a month. Using glass jars instead of plastic water bottles and mugs, using products other than single-use goods and even reducing the number of small toiletry items are just a few of the waste management strategies hotels could promote.

Single-use toiletries are no longer available at IHG and Marriott Hotels. Each chain saved approximately USD14m thanks to this programme, which also eliminated use 200m tiny bottles annually.

3. Preserving water:

Saving water is also crucial. A 300-room hotel uses 60,000 gallons of water a day. Hotel management could raise awareness by, for example, placing short messages about water conservation and installing water-harvesting systems, dual-flush toilets and water-saving showers.

The world’s first net zero carbon hotel, known as room2, was launched by UK-based Lamington Group, a hospitality investor and developer of residential and commercial real estate. It was built in accordance with the Net Zero Building Specification. To reduce local floods, it has created “blue” roofs that can hold 50,000 gallons of rainfall and “green” roofs that use 200 tonnes of soil and wildflowers to absorb CO2.

4. Reducing food wastage:

Due to physical damage, browning, staling, fungal growth and long storage of food raw materials, hotels generate 79,000 tonnes of food waste a 2022 Knowing where in the hotel extra food collects helps devise a long-term plan to reduce food waste and become more cost-effective and sustainable.

As part of its pledge to reduce its food waste by 50% by 2030, Hilton Properties started a pilot programme in each of its 50 properties across the world. This effort has since grown into a movement thanks to employee inspiration. It has also launched the Hotel Kitchen Toolkit that helps management monitor food waste and suggests ways to reduce it.

5. Using alternative transport:

One of the main issues is transport because every guest hires a taxi before checking into or out of a hotel, increasing carbon emissions. This could be addressed by offering the choice of electric vehicles, which would also enhance the hotel’s brand value.

Hotel Kimpton offers free use of bicycles for commuting across the city. The hotel chain now has 8–10 bicycles at each of its locations after investing additional money in more bikes after this mode of transport became a major popular with visitors.

6. Supporting local businesses:

Encouraging local suppliers and vendors would not only enhance the hotel’s brand value, but would also ensure fresh supplies of food, reducing food waste, transport costs and carbon emissions.

Wren Urban Nest, Dublin — a capsule hotel with 137 pod rooms — uses low-loss fittings in the bathrooms to reduce water consumption by 60% and provides guests with handmade soaps, locally crafted mugs and rugs, and roasted coffee.

7. Using eco-friendly products:

These refer to products used with materials that are readily biodegradable and do not generate toxins.

Sustainability initiatives by large hotel brands

1. Accor

  • Accor is part of the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality and a signatory to the UNWTO’s Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism.
  • The specific carbon strategy it has developed is based on the following four pillars:
  • Encouraging low-carbon thinking among employees and stakeholders
  • Making the switch to a smart, green hotel
  • Increasing use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar
  • Faster net zero achievement

2. IHG

  • IHG has launched “Journey to Tomorrow” — a 10-year action plan to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. It has also initiated a “prevent, donate, divert” strategy to reduce food waste.
  • It aims to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted by its franchised, managed, owned, leased and managed lease hotels through eliminating single-use products to 46% by 2030.
  • It has implement strategies to reduce the water footprint of its hotels via offering basin-level water stewardship and ensuring operational communities for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities.

3. Hilton Hotels

  • The group’s commitment to sustainable projects has led to a 10% decrease in water waste and a 20% decrease in trash generation in recent years.
  • It has also taken the initiative to produce renewable energy on its locations. Green energy accounts for 94% of the group’s energy use.
  • Recycling and waste reduction are also at the forefront. The groups contributes uneaten food to food banks, recycles mattresses and helps recycle half-used soap.

4. Marriott Hotels

  • The group’s efforts have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 12%, water consumption by 13% and energy use by 11%.
  • Many of their hotels also have green roofs that reduce heating and cooling expenses and produce more oxygen.
  • The group cultivates a significant amount of the produce the hotels consume.

Sustainability certifications in the hospitality sector

1. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED):

The foundation for achieving the status of being a healthy, cost-effective, efficient and carbon-saving building — and perhaps being called “a green building” — is laid through certification.

ITC Hotels incorporate sustainable practices into the design of all new hotels, and all older hotel buildings are being modified to meet the standards for LEED Platinum Certification. All ITC luxury properties have received LEED Platinum certification, making it one of the largest hotel chains in the world. ITC Windsor is the first hotel in the world to receive “LEED Zero Carbon Certification”.

2. Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM):

The performance of sustainable buildings is specified and measured using BREEAM, ensuring projects satisfy sustainability objectives and maintain high performance over time.

Hyatt Regency Amsterdam has received “Excellent” level certification. The hotel is as an example of energy efficiency and sustainability, with its high-quality insulation systems, energy-efficient LED lighting, a sophisticated energy management system, a partially overgrown facade for climate adjustment and a number of other measures.

3. Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE):

This is a joint effort by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance; it specifies the standards for a project/building to ensure it saves at least 20% of water and energy through energy embodied in building materials.

Ibis Plateau and Ibis Marcory, two Kasada-owned hotels in Abidjan, have both achieved EDGE certification and reduced their energy and water use; Ibis Plateau by 35% and 22%, respectively, and Ibis Marcory by 38% and 28%, respectively. The initiatives have also resulted in eliminating annual production of 583.07 tonnes of CO2.

4. Green Globe:

The 44 criteria in four groups that make up the Green Globe Certification Standard are backed by more than 380 indications of compliance. The most recent edition, Green Globe Standard for Sustainable Travel & Tourism edition 1.7, incorporates requirements to meet COVID-19 protocols, such as the welfare of customers and visitors as well as staff health and safety.

5. EU Ecolabel or EU Flower:

Eu Ecolabel certifies the quality of product and environmental standards met. The EU Flower is the symbol assigned when all criteria are met; this makes the holder eligible to join the EU Ecolabel community.

Each Scandic Hotel holds the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, the EU Ecolabel and the Green Globe certifications, indicating the hotel is trying to reduce the negative effects of its activities on the environment. The Scandic Hotels groups requires all hotels it acquires to obtain certification within a year of acquisition.

Conclusion

The hospitality sector may have entered the net zero carbon emissions path late, but it has accelerated it progress. Hotels seem to be taking the initiative to contribute to positive changes by adopting waste-management techniques, using renewable energy and adopting green-building designs to become net zero by end-2050. With increasing concern about climate change and the environment, hotels could offer their guests a delightful experience in line with their values and expectations by adopting sustainable choices.

How Acuity Knowledge Partners can help

We are experienced in providing strategic support across the hospitality sector’s value chain. We have worked closely with clients, providing bespoke research support, market assessment, competition landscaping, facts and figures, broker information, property profiling and mapping properties available for rent and sale. Our services enable clients to closely follow important real estate trends, market developments in the market, mergers and acquisitions and new initiatives in the sector.

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Acuity Knowledge Partners

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