The hospitality industry has been a lot doing more to make itself sustainable – and lately, there have been a lot of “world’s firsts.” The Conrad Bora Bora Nui in Polynesia has partnered with marine biologists to actively develop new coral structures in the surrounding waters. The Fairmont Mayakoba in Mexico takes things a step further by offering a tour where snorkelling guests help to gather displaced coral and transplant it to the seabed.
Perhaps the most interesting firsts, at least for the moment, is the forthcoming Svart hotel in Norway, a dream-like circular property with views to a majestic fjord. Set to open in 2022, Svart is being billed as the first “energy positive” hotel. Apparently, the solar-powered property will, over the course of sixty years, generate more energy than it expends, including the energy spent in its construction and demolition (it seems brutally honest, but also refreshing, to include the hotel’s demolition in this calculation).
But these are fairly lavish examples of eco-tourism going all-out, where perhaps cost is not an issue . There are of course more practical initiatives that the majority of hotels can relate to, such as eliminating plastic straws (which Marriott International has committed to doing by mid-this year). For a more extreme example, Hostelling International USA is the first hostel company to install showers that limit time to seven minutes but I am not sure that the majority of hotels are ready for that yet.
As for many of the common initiatives – such as placards in the bathrooms to notify guests of water conservation initiatives, or alliances with producers of local and/or eco-friendly goods – nobody remembers or cares who did them first, although people do remember and comment if the hotel does not follow through on the promise.
These things aren’t purely for show, of course. Energy and water expenditures are huge in the hotel industry, and the better we are at conserving those resources – or even generating them ourselves – the better our bottom line can be. It’s a great bonus when guests are ethically attracted to environmentally-sound practice. Engaging guests in coral restoration efforts, while giving them a unique sporting experience, is essentially a tour – it helps the hotel’s bottom line in terms of ethical currency and meaningful guest experiences. But in the long term, it also helps the hotel’s bottom line in terms of having a healthy community in which to exist and do business.
Most hotels are looking for practical gains – electricity and water, namely – but the calculations can be complex, and knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Many hotels that are standalone or mixed-use look at using embedded networks for their electricity and gas as this can provide both reduced cost and (sometimes) an ongoing income stream from others connected to the network.
In a time of need of course, there will be those who see an opportunity and a lot of companies are rising up to help hotels shoulder the burden. In short, the age of the sustainability consultant is upon us. These businesses have come up all over Australia – for example, the Perth-based Preston Consulting (established in 2009), which provides private and public organisations with everything from strategic advice to environmental approvals and heritage management. Green Moves Australia is another example of a company that exists to help other businesses to become more sustainable.
Moving beyond our borders, we see a quickly-multiplying field of similar businesses and consultancies, such as Greenview in Singapore, which helps with all of the different strategic aspects of sustainability, from benchmarking to government reporting – or the London-based Brite Green, which offers to “make sustainable business simple for you.”
For hoteliers, the deciding factor in the decision whether or not to pursue a given “green” initiative is the pressure of doing more with less. Ethical currency is also real, and translates to real business. It will become easier and easier for hotels to justify the cost of talking to a reputable consultancy and allowing them to examine the hotel’s energy dynamics, especially electricity and water. It’s also reasonable to assume that more consultants will appear who specialise in hospitality.
Hotels are an integral part of the way that society interacts and hence do bear some responsibility to ensure that interaction is ethical and sustainable. At the end of the day we need to recognise and accept that environmental standards and societal norms are changing, and for many properties, it will become less and less about making headlines, and more about ensuring that they meet not only their guest needs, but their environmental expectations. And ultimately, that has to be a good investment.
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