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Stayokay’s sustainability journey: our guests are in it with us

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Stayokay is a Dutch hostel group with a focus on lowering their environmental impact. Sustainability Coordinator, Mirjam Kiestra tells us what they’re doing to achieve their goals

Sustainability has always been at the core of Stayokay, and we see it as our job to help preserve the environment to the best of our ability. When we were founded in 1929, we made a conscious commitment to sustainable entrepreneurship. Now we have 20 hostels in the Netherlands, and sustainability is still at the heart of the business.

Acting sustainably as a group

Achieving European Ecolabel certification in 2008 – and being the first hospitality chain in Europe to do so – was the driving force for us to develop our own sustainable programme. It’s called ‘Well Done!’ and we started it by building a core team, including our CEO. They come together regularly and plan for the future – while our ambassadors make sure the measures are implemented in our hostels. 

We dedicate a quarter of every year to one of four key themes – energy, water, waste and health and wellness. This approach also gives us a structure when reflecting on what we’ve already achieved, and it helps us look forward to what we’d still like to do. 

So far, we’ve taken big steps. All our properties now run on 100% renewable energy, and three of them have solar panels installed. We also give guests the option to compensate for their CO2 emissions by paying an extra €0.20 per person per night during their stay. These contributions completely offset the costs of the renewable energy we buy, which is a testament to how important sustainability is to today’s traveller.  

Stayokay Hostel

 

Recycling is also included in our day to day process – and we have found some unique ways to do this. Our staff uniforms are made from reused clothing and plastic bottles, for example. The clothing industry is a big polluter and you can save a lot of water and energy by recycling old textiles. Our rentable bikes are also made from recycled parts – offering guests a more sustainable way to get around.

In our kitchens, we’re also aware of reducing waste. The amount of food thrown away in the Netherlands each year is huge, so preventing food waste is also high on our agenda. Oddly-shaped bell peppers taste the same as the perfect-looking ones, so we use suppliers who save produce that would have otherwise been thrown away. 

We’ve installed water taps in the public spaces at most of our properties to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles. It might not be that common for foreign travellers, but we want to make our guests aware that the water from our taps is safe to drink. To save water, we’ve installed restrictors in our shower heads and taps. Before we fitted them, around 15 litres of water per minute was flowing through our taps. Now, it’s decreased to around six litres. 

To give back to the community, we have our own Stay4all fund, covering the costs of school trips for children who wouldn’t normally be able to go. For every person who uses one of our meeting rooms, €1 goes to the foundation. In 2019, we were able to use the proceeds to help 250 children go to summer camp. 

Asking for valuable feedback

We want guests to relax and have a nice stay, not feel guilty about their impact, so we developed a communication strategy in which we try to educate in a friendly way. For example, we have a note in the shower that says, ‘It’s okay to sing in the shower. But do save your voice, and some of the water.’ Our guests have told us that they really like the slogans and appreciate our approach. 

To educate guests on the impact of plastic pollution, we’ve installed an art piece called ‘Message on a Bottle’ at our Vondelpark and Utrecht properties. We covered a wall with used plastic bottles and each one features a fact about plastic. With the piece, we aim to raise awareness around the impact of single-use plastic and prevent ‘plastic soup’ – when plastic pollutes our waterways. Through the art, guests also become more aware of our efforts to reduce single-use plastic throughout our properties.

Stayokay hostel

 

I calculate our carbon footprint – including our water, energy and gas usage, as well as waste production – for every hostel every year and compare it with our baseline, but doing so can be quite a challenge. Every year brings new challenges – for example, this year we had more guests than last year. It’s difficult to create fair comparisons, but one thing that keeps me going is that we’ve seen a definite increase in the number of guests who choose to stay at our properties because of our sustainability measures. 

We’ve also observed an increase in employees indicating that they chose to work at Stayokay because of our commitment to sustainability. It’s motivating to see that people notice our sustainability efforts – even the little details, like our waste separation or the removal of plastic from our breakfast buffets. 

Taking it step by step

It can be overwhelming at the start of your sustainability journey to know which area to focus on, but my main advice for other accommodation providers is that you don’t have to know everything at the beginning. You learn and develop during your journey. 

It’s also important to remember that you can’t do everything at once – new opportunities are always there to be discovered along the way. Our next steps include expanding our target groups that can stay via the Stay4all fund and adding electric charging stations to our properties.

 

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Takeaway
  • Set up an internal team of sustainability enthusiasts to come up with ideas and initiatives together
  • Think outside the box, by recycling uniforms or subsidising a good cause through meeting room hire 
  • Take it step by step – learning along the way can open up new opportunities