Understanding your environmental performance

Written in collaboration with the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance


The first step in your sustainability journey should be to understand your performance. This should take things like water and electricity into account, as well as plastic use and carbon emissions.

Understanding your impacts is important because it’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are now. Maybe your utilities bill is twice as large as it needs to be. Maybe you already follow best practices when it comes to plastic reduction. Maybe there’s a better way to encourage guests to be less wasteful in their rooms.

You might run a beachside bungalow or manage a multinational hotel franchise. No matter your property type, there’s a lot to be gained from taking stock and setting a baseline – both from environmental and social standpoints, as well as a financial one.

Take Hilton, for example, which began to measure and track environmental impact in 2008 using LightStay, its proprietary sustainability management platform. After the group set its baseline and began tracking its performance, they were able to pinpoint where they could make the most impact. Between 2008 and 2018, it reduced portfolio-wide energy use by 24%, water intensity by 20%, and carbon emissions by 34%. The data yielded insights that allowed Hilton to save $1 billion in utility costs.

In this section, we’ll give an overview of how to set your baseline, calculate key performance indicators, and measure your impacts so that you can and start taking effective sustainability action.


Four benefits of setting your baseline

  1. You can better target your sustainability efforts to have more impact
    Once you begin to collect data on the impact your business has – whether environmental or social – you’ll have a clearer idea of how you can change it. When Hotel Breeze opened, it made a commitment to become the world’s first zero-energy hotel, using unique measures such as a shower system that reduces water and energy consumption by up to 80%.
  2. You can identify cost-saving opportunities
    Setting your baseline gives you insight into your use of resources. Over time, this data allows you to see where you can save on operational costs. For example, you might realise that a large amount of energy goes towards lighting, prompting you to implement lighting controls and LEDs as a priority. The same applies to understanding your main sources of waste. For example, measuring food waste enabled the Einstein St. Gallen to identify and cut 41% of their avoidable food waste, which led to savings of CHf28,000 in a year. The cost-saving potential of reducing plastic, on the other hand, depends on the item in question. So it’s important to know what your plastic use breakdown looks like.
  3. It makes your commitment to sustainability tangible
    It’s one thing to talk about running your business sustainably and another to be able to prove it. Setting your baseline and tracking your progress gives you hard data on the impact your sustainability efforts are having on your business and local surroundings. This can help strengthen internal engagement by showing how involvement in initiatives is contributing to progress, and help to build the business case for further investment in environmental activities. Many of the world’s leading brands, including Scandic Hotels, Radisson, and NH produce annual reports that credibly demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.
  4. You’ll strengthen your credentials and increase your appeal to guests 
    According to research carried out by Booking.com, 81% of global travellers now think sustainable travel is vital. Once you set your baseline and start to measure change, you can communicate your progress through reports and marketing collateral to appeal to sustainability-minded guests. 

How to get started

Decide what impacts you will measure

The biggest and easiest direct impacts to measure are carbon emissions and water use, followed closely by waste production. That’s why measuring your carbon, water and waste are good places to start when setting your baseline.

Establish your baseline and determine your KPIs

Once you know what you want to measure, you need to establish a baseline. Decide which year you are going to use as your baseline. Ideally this should be as recent as possible but should also be a year which you have good quality data for and representative of your usual performance. 

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are what you use to track progress. This could be as simple as the total energy used in the property but it can be more useful to have intensity-based KPIs which quantify impact per unit (e.g. occupied room, floor area, profit) to account for changes in the business. Hotels typically use occupied rooms as their unit in intensity-based metrics.

Collect your data and calculate your impacts

Gather data for your baseline year, making sure you have data for the entire year and are considering all types of relevant data (e.g. all sources of energy used in the hotel and any additional data you require for your chosen metrics). A simple excel tracker, such as the one in the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality toolkit, can assist you with this. You may be able to find the information you need through various sources such as meter readings, invoices, and by requesting from suppliers, contractors, or local municipalities.

Next, calculate your total impacts and intensity-based KPI and metrics. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance has free resources online to help with this.

  • Measuring your carbon emissions
    The Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative tool (HCMI) helps you measure your total and per-occupied-room carbon footprint, taking into account the different energy sources in order to help you prioritise actionable changes.
  • Measuring your water usage –
    The Hotel Water Measurement Initiative tool (HWMI) outlines the data you’ll need to calculate your total water footprint, providing a methodology to calculate the water used per occupied room per night (or meeting space per hour, where applicable). 
  • Measuring your waste production –
    The Hotel Waste Measurement Methodology (HWMM) has guidance on calculating your waste (and food waste) footprint as a total, per floor area and percentage diverted from landfill.

Compare your performance 

Once you have calculated your impacts, you can get a broader idea of your environmental performance by benchmarking your property against others. Key resources to do so include:

  • The Cornell Sustainability Benchmark – this is the biggest industry benchmark, with data sourced from over 20,000 properties that use the HCMI and HWMI metrics. This tracks energy, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. You can pay for a personalised benchmarking report, or anonymised data is freely available to see how you compare to similar hotels.
  • The Green Lodging Trends Report – this uses best practices rather than hard data to recognise and highlight innovative measures that can benefit the industry.

Start setting targets

After you collect some initial data, you can start to think about setting specific targets. According to research from the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, hotels need to reduce their absolute carbon emissions by 66% by 2030, and 90% by 2050. These are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement. 

For the topics of water, the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance offers guidance on setting water targets, managing water use, and working with your supply chain. They also have the Destination Water Risk Index, which can help you understand your water risk and set appropriate water targets and measures.

Take action 

Once you have calculated your baseline and set robust targets, it’s time to create and execute an action plan. The Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality sets out the journey hotels need to take to embark on their sustainability journeys. It offers detailed guidance for owners, operators, and brands, and offers a toolkit of additional resources including an action planner, with over 100 possible actions which can be taken, and a mapping of free resources that can help along the journey.

There are also various industry initiative available to demonstrate your commitment to environmental action such as the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism and Global Tourism Plastics Initiatives.


Discover our other sustainability guides:



Reducing plastic consumption

It’s now easier now than ever to run your property without plastic – and it’s never more important. Plastic takes years to break down, harms wildlife and damages the environment. This guide will show you how to protect both by reducing your plastic consumption.

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Reducing water consumption

Fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce. That’s why we need to start cutting water consumption today – and it’s going to take more than just asking guests to reuse towels. But the environmental and financial upsides are worth the investment.

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Becoming certified

Certification shows the world your commitment to sustainability. But while the badges lend credit to your efforts and help attract more eco-conscious guests, the process itself is even more valuable – helping you set priorities and fill gaps in your sustainability plans.

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