Sustainability does not need to be de-prioritized
Sustainability does not need to be de-prioritized
23 APRIL 2020 7:58 AM

More widespread adoption of sustainability practices was a positive side effect of the Great Recession. The hotel industry has seen tremendous growth in sustainability over the past decade and that won’t stop post-pandemic.

It’s Earth Day as I write this, which really is a good day to reflect on sustainability in our lives and our industry, and how those concepts shift and evolve as we address other issues.

I read a tweet this morning from a person expressing concern that the hotel industry was making significant progress in sustainability initiatives pre-pandemic, and that may fall by the wayside as the industry prioritizes other concerns right now.

Reading that gave me pause because it took me back to 2006. I was new to covering the global hospitality industry but not new to sustainability efforts. Believe it or not, my college degree is in biology and before becoming a journalist I worked in wildlife ecology, building sustainability programs for companies with lots of corporate land.

I thought for sure the hospitality industry would be leading-edge when it came to sustainability, but in 2006 there was growing momentum but no real movement.

Companies were adding more visible roles for corporate responsibility, and linen re-use programs were all the rage. But in that pre-Great Recession era, most efforts (in the U.S. at least) were guest-facing and marketing-based—hotels put that linen re-use card in the bathroom and green recycling bin under the desk and then promoted the “movement.”

This was a good start, and hotel companies and their vendors were chipping away at adopting bigger programs, like energy-management systems, more efficient laundry and more sustainable FF&E. Big hurdles existed though, particularly within the supply chain, making widespread adoption not particularly economical.

Then the Great Recession hit, and the industry plunged into two years of change and re-prioritization.

One good side effect of that period was the broader legitimization of sustainability within the global hotel industry, particularly in the Americas.

You’ll remember that building back from that recession involved cutting every expense to the bone and maximizing efficiency wherever possible.

Enter sustainability initiatives. Want to save money on the energy bill, and on labor costs related to replacing ten zillion lightbulbs? Try LEDs! (Oh yeah, and they’re much better for the environment.)

That was just one example. As demand grew for products that required less maintenance and lower replacement costs, supply grew and came down in cost. Sustainability efforts became part of the norm because they made cost sense at a time the industry needed it most. Yeah, these efforts were and are “the right thing to do,” but persuading major companies to do the right thing tastes a lot sweeter when the associated costs are more palatable.

The last 10 years have been a period of tremendous adoption of sustainability practices at all levels of hotel development and operations, most of them behind the scenes now. It’s been a lasting positive legacy of the Great Recession because owners see the financial value, demand goes up and costs can come down.

Of course, there’s still room for hotels at large to adopt more sustainability practices, but every movement is made up of continuous small steps that create win-win scenarios for all stakeholders. The next wave will focus on climate change, plastics impact and more and more supply chain dynamics.

There’s a big runway now for sustainable cleaning and sanitization efforts. This one might be tough to get our collective arms around, but there’s a lot of opportunity and I’m excited to see how innovation will happen.

I know this pandemic is causing a lot of hurt and disruption. Amid that, the ecologist in me takes real joy in seeing the reset—darker skies at night, clearer air and a lighter footprint for a little while. I think feeling sadness and joy together are just fine.

How are you feeling right now? Comment below, email me at or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph

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