Rising global temperatures, rising sea-levels, giant plastic garbage patches floating in the oceans: it’s become pretty clear that we have to find new ways of doing business and living our lives. And the hotel industry is responding to this need in a number of ways. From using new technologies that reduce their carbon footprint and overhead to more sustainable guest experiences that cater to increasingly environmentally conscious consumers, hotel operators are re-inventing the industry. And measures that were once considered progressive or even gimmicky, are quickly becoming standard hotel management best practices.

Sustainable Hotel Management

The most direct way that hotels are implementing sustainable practices and reducing their carbon footprint is at the operational level. After all, individual consumption preferences differ widely from guest-to-guest. So while guests can be offered more sustainable options, there’s no controlling how many showers they take, how extreme they run climate control settings, or how much room service they order. By tackling sustainability at the operational level, however, hotels are able to limit the environmental impact of even the most wasteful guests. More importantly, many of these sustainable operational practices also offer cost-savings that not only pay for their initial implementation, but increase overall hotel profitability. In other words, there is a very strong business case for implementing sustainable hotel management practices.

Energy Management

Energy consumption comprises 60% of a hotel’s carbon footprint. But it also comprises 60% of a hotel’s utility expenditures. Indeed, energy use eats up 6-10% of a hotel property’s revenues, and is one of the fastest growing operating costs for the hotel industry at large.

Overhead of an office environment with many cubicles and several people working.

So by implementing smart energy management systems, a hotel can not only reach new levels of sustainability, it can also reduce operating costs in a way that increase GOPPAR and even increase the resale value of the property — all while offering an improved guest experience.

HVAC Energy Management Systems

Climate control is essential overhead for any hotel property. Whether it’s heating or air conditioning, every hotel property has a need for some kind of HVAC system. So to reduce their carbon footprint, many hotels are implementing IoT-enabled  energy management systems that monitor and adjust energy consumption in real-time, improving HVAC systems performance and significantly reducing energy consumption.  

Overhead of an office environment with many cubicles and several people working.

Specifically, while occupancy sensors and smart thermostats monitor and respond to fluctuations in room occupancy, smart energy management systems like Verdant EI employ sophisticated machine learning algorithms to continuously analyze local weather patterns, historical thermodynamics, and peak demand loads to optimize energy consumption in real-time, all year round.

Smart Lighting

IoT energy management systems are also helping hotels reduce their lighting energy consumption. Just as HVAC systems use occupancy sensors and machine learning algorithms to optimize HVAC energy consumption, smart lighting systems similarly allow hotels to  track occupancy patterns, set preferred lighting times,and improve overall lighting energy consumption. Indeed, both of ​Verdant’s ZX​ and ​VX smart thermostats​ integrate with external third party lighting systems, turning lights on/off according to whether or not a room is occupied. This allows hotel operators to use the Verdant EI energy management system to optimize lighting energy consumption year-round, as well. While some companies have reduced lighting energy consumption by up to 75% just by converting to a smart LED lighting system, the hotel industry has seen even greater results. When the Chatwal Hotel in New York City retrofitted approximately 1,300 lamps with smart lighting, it saved more than 410,000 annual kilowatt-hours, equating to a 90% reduction in lighting energy consumption. In fact, the Chatwal Hotel saved around $124,255 in the first year alone, demonstrating that sustainable hotel operations makes good business sense. And the results have been equally impressive the world over. For instance, when the Radisson Blu Dubai Media City replaced 95% of its lights with LEDs in 2009, it reduced lighting energy consumption by 81%. And later in 2014, when the Grosvenor House Hotel in Dubai Marina replaced over 24,000 halogen lamps with smart LED lighting systems, it reduced energy consumption by about 80%, and recouped its investment in just 18 months.

Sustainable Amenities

Of course, energy consumption extends beyond implementing smart energy management systems. It also includes eliminating superfluous, energy consuming amenities, such as replacing “the mini-fridge and coffee machine in each room with a communal amenities area in an open guest space.”

Food Waste

There might be some truth to the adage that ‘you are what you eat’, but when it comes to our carbon footprint, it’s what we don’t eat that’s the problem. As the Washington Post recently pointed out:

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 30 percent of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing 8 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.

And the hotel industry contributes significantly to global food waste. Indeed, it’s estimated that hotels produce 79,000 tonnes of food waste or 9% total food waste. Consequently, the hospitality industry has started tackling food waste in a number of ways, including growing food onsite, sourcing food stocks locally, and taking measures to curb guests  ‘plate waste’. Many hotels are also moving to reduce the carbon footprint of the food they serve by sourcing more “organic produce, hormone-free meats and dairy, and other natural products that offer guests healthier food selections.”

Carbon Footprint Measurement

Of course, just as hotels are using IoT technology to monitor and track their energy consumption, they’ve also begun using similar technologies to measure their carbon footprint. As Gourmet Marketing explains:

23 global hotel organizations including Marriott and Hilton have been establishing a streamlined methodology – called Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative – for measuring the carbon footprint of individual hotel locations. Over 15,000 hotels have already adopted this approach to reporting. More travelers are looking to book stays with hotels that have green-friendly programs in place. If you don’t adopt a similar initiative, some of your prospects may pass you up for more transparent, environmentally-friendly options. The Hospitality Sustainable Purchasing Consortium is another program that’s similar to the HCMI, and we may see similar initiatives being established moving forward.

Essentially, there are costs associated with implementing sustainable hotel management practices, and as with any other operational cost, hotels are actively measuring the impact of that investment.

Water Management

Whether it’s for food/beverage service, guest room amenities, pools, landscaping, laundry, or sanitation, water is an essential resource for any hotel operation. And the hospitality consumes a significant amount of water. Indeed, according to the EPA, hotel water usage accounts for about 15% of all US commercial and institutional water use. It’s no surprise, then, that just as with energy management, many hotels have employed IoT-enabled technologies to conserve water. In fact, McGraw-Hill Construction estimates that implementing smart water management systems can reduce water consumption by 15%, energy use by 10%, and overall operating costs by 11%. In other words, by conserving water, hotels also reduce their carbon footprint because they use less energy to manage that water, producing additional operational cost-savings. Of course, there are also the savings in actual water consumption. For instance, a single leaky toilet can cost as much as $840/year. Add the costs of any additional water damage, and it’s remarkable just how quickly that water consumption can lead to unnecessary costs. Some properties have taken smart water management a step further by installing showers systems that filter their own water. The result is that hotels are involving guests in reducing their water consumption, creating an overall more sustainable and rewarding guest experience.

Sustainable Guest Experiences

Of course, a hotel’s very raison d’etre is its guest, so many hotels have also started offering a more sustainable guest experience. From services to amenities, hotels are not only reducing the waste of their guests, they’re also marketing that experience to modern travelers (particularly millennials) who are more environmentally conscious.

Plastic Waste

The facts and figures around plastic pollution are frightening. Indeed, from 6 giant plastic garage patches across 3 oceans (including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is about the size of Texas) to microplastics polluting the water we drink and the air we breath, our economy’s plastic addiction are having catastrophic effects on the environment and our health. Many hotel brands, however, are proactively implementing a variety of plastic reduction strategies. The TUI Group, for instance, has even gone so far as to implement comprehensive plastic reduction guidelines for its properties. Some of the most common plastic reduction efforts include:

  • Eco Room Keys: The plastic key cards commonly used by hotels are made from a PVC-based plastic which requires a highly toxic manufacturing process. More sustainable options being adopted by hotels include card options made from paper, wood, and bioplastic which are equally durable.
  • Bottled Water Alternatives: Many hotels are also moving away from bottled water, opting instead for “conveniently located filtered water dispensers, complimentary refillable bottles, and other options designed to offer guests convenient and palatable alternatives to water in plastic bottles.”
  • Plastic Straw Alternatives: One of the most common measures being implemented by international hotel groups is the phasing out of plastic straws. While some hotels are offering paper-based alternative, others offer reusable straws (sometimes branded), while others still are doing away with straws altogether.

Sustainable Architecture / Construction

Finally, hotels operators are building sustainability directly into their properties’ core infrastructure. As the trivago Business Blog points out:

In building new properties, there is a “three-zero-concept” approach: using local construction materials and skills (zero kilometers), prioritizing energy management and lower emissions (zero carbon dioxide), and introducing life-cycle management into the building process (zero waste).

There has also been an increase in hotel developers revitalizing and repurposing old buildings such as “urban factories, warehouses, hospitals, office buildings, and schools.” Not only does this avoid the higher costs of a new construction, but it also reduces the environmental footprint of the development because fewer construction materials are required, and much less habitat is distrubed.

Sustaining a Bright Future

Every industry undergoes changes and faces new challenges. But climate change and the environment are a set of challenges facing the entirety of humanity. And the only way we will be successful is if we start rethinking the way we live our lives and the way we do business. The hotel industry has been particularly proactive toward this end. From operations to guest experience to how properties are designed and constructed, hotels are implementing more sustainable practices across the board. Many of these measures, moreover, lead to cost-savings that not only cover implementation costs, but reduce overall overhead and increase profitability. In other words, there is a very strong business case for hotels to embrace sustainability and invest now in a cleaner environmental future.

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