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How property owners can achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050

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A new report highlights measures partners can take to aid the travel sector to become carbon neutral by 2050. Three areas—from energy reduction to education—help properties overcome the challenges that come from decarbonization

Booking.com has recently collaborated with EY Parthenon and OC&C strategy consultants to create the report, Global accommodation sector – The road to net zero emissions. The report highlights the action property owners can take to reduce their carbon emissions and help the travel industry achieve net zero emissions by 2050. As part of the research, 6,500 properties of all types took part in the survey from all around the world. 

Accommodation currently accounts for approximately 10% of the tourism sector’s carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gas (CO2-eq) emissions. Reducing emissions by 17 megatons (Mt) a year—merely 6–7%—would put accommodations on track to achieve net zero emissions in the next 30 years. 

Carbon-saving measures can be separated into three areas: saving resources, educating guests and staff, and switching to renewable energy. These measures can reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by up to 20%. Despite initial investments, most measures can also result in positive returns for properties, due to cost savings in the long term. It’s also important that properties adopt a range of initiatives, even if they seem insignificant. Small steps are better than inaction.

Saving on energy usage

The first step a property can take is to reduce energy, water, and waste. Around 75% of the reduction opportunity is associated with the implementation of just three initiatives: installing an energy-efficient heating and cooling system, using energy-efficient appliances, and installing double-glazed windows.

However, focus on smaller initiatives is also important – and often easier to implement. For example, turning off the minibar by default and not washing towels daily can save 2% of CO2-eq emissions each. These measures can be implemented immediately, without the need for extra investment.

Encouraging others to be more environmentally aware

In the second stage of improvement, properties can actively nudge guests and staff toward more sustainable behavior. Even though guest action is beyond properties’ control, encouraging smarter and more efficient usage results in significant improvement and increases the demand for more sustainability measures.  

Some ways to encourage guests to be more sustainable is to ask them in a friendly way to turn off climate control systems or take shorter showers. Offering voluntary cooperation appeals to guests, but being more persuasive with rewards is also effective. In the US, 45% of travelers surveyed resist sustainable behavior, so may only be persuaded by incentives, compared to the 40% who are willing to be more sustainable with only a little encouragement.

Actively encouraging staff on reducing GHG—by involving them in brainstorms and committees—helps everyone feel like they’re playing their part. Small measures, such as turning off lights in vacant rooms, can add up. Most importantly, if the whole team is behind sustainable action, they can actively encourage guests to do the same. 

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Switching to renewable energy

Another way to achieve carbon neutrality is by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and choosing renewable energy sources. This can be achieved at the property, or by sourcing green energy from the national grid. Finally, carbon emissions can also be offset – but this isn’t a preferable option. 

Various options exist for properties that want to provide their own renewable energy. On-site solar panels, wind turbines, and heat pumps can be installed, or energy can be sourced from renewable energy suppliers. To help with the upfront costs of these investments, many local governments offer subsidies and incentives to encourage properties to invest in renewable energy. 

Offsetting carbon should only be seen as a last resort, but in the case it is used, carbon credits can be purchased. These credits can be traded for one ton of CO2-eq and focus on preventing or storing carbon emissions. Updating the energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, and other sources is usually how emissions are prevented. Carbon storage prevents GHGs from entering the atmosphere by planting trees and implementing other measures. 

Potential challenges to reducing emissions

There isn’t one silver bullet to reduce emissions – multiple measures need to be taken to add up to significant changes. Despite a caution around costs, 58% of measures in the report result in lower energy spending in the long term. That means properties can save if they are prepared to educate and invest initially.

Another challenge properties face is that not all measures offer equal opportunities to reduce carbon. Current global adoption rates of decarbonization initiatives fluctuate between 30–70% despite certain practices, such as energy-efficient lighting, already being an industry norm. The best way to reduce is to focus on a range of measures, big and small, rather than pinning all hopes on one initiative.

Putting it all together

In conclusion, properties, consumers, and authorities need to take a global approach to achieving net zero emissions. If owners and operators have different goals, implementation becomes more challenging. To successfully decarbonize, the accommodations sector and external stakeholders need to align under a common objective. 

Climate change is—and will remain—one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Fortunately, property owners can contribute greatly to cut emissions, reduce costs, and still offer guests a positive experience. Taking the lead in sustainability will also help properties stand out to environmentally-minded travelers.

Urgency will only further increase if no immediate and substantial action is taken by all market players. Collaboration is key to decarbonize the industry. From consumers to governments, together it is possible to bring the travel industry to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

 

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Takeaway
  • Booking.com’s new report helps properties identify areas to reduce carbon emissions with a shared aim to make the travel sector carbon neutral by 2050
  • Many properties already take part in carbon reduction measures, but more can be done 
  • Three main areas of improvement—reduction of resources, education of staff and guests, and switching to renewable energy—are vital to cutting emissions
  • Despite initial investments, the majority of decarbonization initiatives result in cost savings for properties