Mainstreaming Sustainability in the Hotel Industry
By Bill Meade Director, Tetra Tech | September 18, 2011
The movement to improve the environmental performance and image of the travel and tourism industry in the last decade and a half has taken root and built the foundation of long term sustainability. Hotels of all sizes and customer class, and in all locations, have joined the "green revolution". A visit to the website of any globally recognized hotel brand or chain yields an abundance of information on that organization's efforts to make its properties and services more environmentally sustainable.
From guest room towel reuse programs to energy efficient and water conserving devices to commitments toward sustainability initiatives at the local and global level, consumer awareness has finally caught up with the industry's leadership initiatives.
This article reviews the status of environmental sustainability in the hotel industry. Health and safety has long been the subject of government regulation and tour operators and other wholesalers. Conversely, efforts to improve energy, water and waste management are the result of voluntary programs at the property, destination or corporate chain level. Web-based maps are now connecting environmentally conscious travelers with green hotels as availability (e.g., "are there any green hotels in the area?") has been replaced by choice (e.g., "what do your green meetings option include?")
While hotels have long suggested guests help conserve water by reusing bath towels, today's global hotel organizations are engaged in much more sophisticated environmental efforts, partly prompted by an increase in consumer concern for sustainable practices. Corporate travel buyers' interest in using green hotels has fluctuated in recent years as other priorities have commanded more attention at times; however, buyers and their travelers have expressed increased interest in 2010, encouraging many marketplace advancements that are currently underway.
Greening initiatives can be characterized by a number of mutually reinforcing approaches and are typically combined to meet a hotel company's "sustainability" objectives. These include:
- environmentally sensitive design
- environmental management operations
- corporate social responsibility
- reducing carbon footprint
- nature conservation
- environmental reporting
- guest loyalty programs
A host of eco-labels, certification, awards and public reporting programs have emerged over the past decade, the sum of which mainstream sustainability in the hospitality industry. At the same time, most hotel chains have established their own branded sustainability programs such as Hyatt Earth, InterContinental Hotels Group Green Engage, Marriott Hotels Spirit to Preserve, Starwood Hotels Environmental Sustainability Policy and Make a Green Choice, and Wyndham Green.