Sustainability: It’s more than a trend
Sustainability: It’s more than a trend
23 JANUARY 2020 8:25 AM

Green hotel initiatives are top priorities for guests and impact the bottom line for hoteliers.

In our December HNN column, “Foresight is 20/20,” we identified 2020’s top travel and hotel industry trends. One major development we recognized was sustainability.

Whether you believe in the Green New Deal or believe climate change is overstated, sustainability is on the minds of our guests and is economically practical to implement.

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.

Today, Marriott International requires all hotels maintain a Carbon Footprint & RFP Reporting tool that captures and calculates carbon, energy, water, and waste consumption and spend. Hilton’s Travel with Purpose goals launched in 2018 was reportedly the first major hotel company to set science-based targets to reduce its carbon emissions.

Hoteliers and industry leaders don’t just want to know what’s beneficial for the earth, but what’s truly feasible in today’s tourism economy. Climate change myths include the ideas that green operation is more expensive and that guests are not interested in sustainability. Yet research and studies have proven otherwise. In this article, we aim to debunk these anti-environmental myths and highlight key initiatives hoteliers can implement to feasibly mitigate their environmental impacts.

Sustainable cost savings
Cost is always a driving factor and reducing operating costs provides a compelling incentive for hoteliers. Investing in energy and water-saving technologies can greatly reduce both energy and water consumption, which can mean lower operational costs. Recent advances in technology related to renewable sources of energy (solar, geothermal, wind, etc.) have improved the economics of using these kinds of alternative energies at the property level. Many hoteliers now employ a variety of strategies to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.

Kudadoo, a private resort island in the Maldives, became the first fully energy sustainable property there, using solar panels designed into the roof of its main building. This energy source is able to fully power the island. Solmar Hotels and Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, heats water (including in its pools) using photo-thermal panels. The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, recently established a food waste diversion program where half-eaten food items such as fruit and pastries are put into a digester that turns them into reusable water.

These grand initiatives eventually generate significant savings, but require a lot of time and energy to implement. Additionally, there are expected inherent costs that are associated with these types of large-scale projects. So here are some simple, reasonable practices that can help every hotelier meet their 2020 sustainability goals.

Swapping out standard incandescent light bulbs with high-efficiency LED bulbs can help our hotels save on electricity costs in the long term. Standard incandescent light bulbs use 60 watts of electricity, while LED light bulbs use just 6 to 8 watts of power. LED bulbs can also last up to 25 times longer than standard light bulbs even while emitting the same amount of light.

As for reducing water consumption, many hotels are now implementing water conservation programs. Installing low-flow faucets and aerated shower heads, an employee education program, a towel reuse program and installation of water-saving laundry equipment have been shown to greatly reduce water costs.

The U.S. government has enacted a variety of economic incentives to encourage the construction and remodeling of “green” hotels. These benefits include tax write-offs, financial grants, insurance premium discounts and expedited regulatory permitting. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency is a helpful tool to find policies and incentives by state.

Promoting sustainability
Travelers are more eco-conscious than ever, so hotels that make sustainable efforts will attract more guests, generating more bookings and revenue. According to a survey done in July 2019 of 72,000 Hilton guests, about 33% said they prefer hotels with environmental and social programs. Among guests younger than 25, that number jumped to 44%. When our hotels apply green practices, our values will align with many of our guests’ ideals, which can lead to a number of loyal brand advocates.

If hotels want guests to truly feel the value of their choice to stay in a sustainable hotel, it is important for the property’s management to successfully communicate to them what sustainable choices were made around the property and how the guests can participate in creating a more efficient experience. According to a study by Harvard Business School, businesses that employ environmental, social and governance policies perform better than those that don’t have these policies in place.

The bottom line is employing green practices will save our hotels money, generate more bookings from eco-conscious customers, and help make the planet a better place for future generations. A simple mantra for sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.”

Robert A. Rauch, CHA, is an internationally-recognized hotelier, CEO and founder of RAR Hospitality, a leading hospitality management and consulting firm based in San Diego. Rauch has more than 35 years of hospitality-related management experience in all facets of the industry.

Sarah Andersen is the Business Development Manager at RAR Hospitality. She earned a Master's degree in Hospitality Management from Boston University with a focus in real estate development and marketing and has experience in event coordination and sales.

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