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Why sustainability in travel is as important as ever

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Being ‘green’ is now a prerequisite for many travellers, but how challenging is it for hotels and other properties to meet guest demands, while protecting the environment?

When the concept of ‘green’ hotels began making headlines in the early 2000s, many dismissed it as a fad. But 15 years later, guests now expect all hotels to operate sustainably. In a recent analysis of TripAdvisor reviews, The International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management found that hotels with “advanced green practices tend to have greater impacts on customer satisfaction” compared to those with only basic practices.

But it’s not just guests demanding hotels go green - it’s shareholders too. Eco-friendly design and initiatives save money in the long-term through reduced operational costs and lower bills, including energy, water, rubbish collection, laundry services and supplies.

Where should a hotel start if it wants to go green? “If you know what your resource consumption is, you can then start to manage and control it,” says Xenia zu Hohenlohe, Founder and Managing Partner at Considerate Hoteliers, a company that helps hospitality businesses operate more responsibly.

The company has created a data-management platform called Con-serve, which monitors and analyses a hotel’s output to see where efficiencies can be made. Less wastage and better resource control is both good for the planet and for a hotel’s bottom line.

Ongoing issues

At almost every hotel the company has worked with, the night-time consumption of energy and water is too high because hotels rarely switch off unnecessary appliances and resources at night. Another major issue is ongoing staff training and compliance by service providers. Zu Hohenlohe says it’s almost pointless creating a sustainability programme if a company’s external suppliers – laundry, housekeeping, waste services, etc – do not follow it, and if staff aren’t consistently trained in how to implement it.

Once resource consumption has been assessed, zu Hohenlohe says there are other steps that can be taken. “The obvious low-hanging fruits tend to be LED lighting, tap aerators for the showers, energy-efficient appliances for the kitchen, good insulation and double glazing. After that, you’re on to green walls or roofs because they’re great for insulation, plus they offer space for wildlife,” she adds.

A hotel’s location usually determines its most pressing sustainability issues. In drought-prone areas, for example, water consumption is key, while in cold climates, heat generation can use up large amounts of energy. And the environment – whether rural, remote or urban – presents its own unique challenges. 

Modern residantial district Bosco Verticale in Milan

Modern residential district Bosco Verticale in Milan

For city hotels, a shining example of sustainable design is One Aldwych. This independent luxury hotel in London utilises a wide array of technologies and practices, from an Evac drainage system, which consumes 80% less water than conventional toilets, to biodegradable packaging of in-room amenities and a chlorine-free swimming pool in the spa. It has minimised its environmental impact so much - while still offering the high-end experience its guests expect - that it has won a multitude of awards, both for its five-star service and for its sustainability.

When it comes to new hotels, architect and planner Tim McCarthy of US company Hart Howerton says that investors now actively seek out those that will be built sustainably because in the long-term, they hold their value better and save money on operational costs. McCarthy is a member of the US Green Building Council and Managing Principal at Hart Howerton, a team of planners, architects, landscape architects and interior designers.

Reducing energy usage

The company is designing a hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a small new eco-hotel chain, 1 Hotels. The Cabo Hotel will have 115 guest rooms, 50 homes, four swimming pools, an organic spa and two restaurants - and all will be as green as they are luxurious. McCarthy explains some of the ways they're reducing the hotel's carbon footprint: “We’re designing the public spaces to be one-room deep, which allows for better natural ventilation and daylight, plus we’re adding canopies and awnings. Combined, these reduce the need for electrical lighting, heating and cooling. We’re also looking at green roofs, rainwater harvesting and photovoltaic panels.”

When it comes to boundary-pushing green technology, Hart Howerton is using an innovative technique on a confidential hotel project for a different client in the Caribbean. “We’re looking at deep-sea cooling,” says McCarthy. “We run a loop into the ocean below the thermocline levels, which is where sea temperatures suddenly drop. Then we can harvest cold water and use that instead of a cooling tower for the hotel, while returning the clean, untouched saltwater back into the ocean.” Scientists will be monitoring it to ensure it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on marine life.

Many green hotels work with nature, including Fregate Island in the Seychelles. Zu Hohenlohe says that the luxury hotel essentially funds the island-wide conservation programme to return this former coconut plantation to its native habitat. Its efforts have been so successful that it has helped save several birds from extinction, including the Magpie Robin, which was down to just 14 on earth – all on the island - but now number more than 100.

Properties that don’t want to risk extinction might follow this example. By assessing their own habitats and reducing environmental impacts, they can help ensure guests continue returning in healthy numbers.

Hero image: credit to Paula Prekopova, Unplash


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  • Many properties have high night-time consumption of energy and water because they rarely switch off unnecessary appliances and resources at night
  • Locations with “advanced green practices tend to have greater impacts on customer satisfaction” compared to those with only basic practices
  • A property's location usually determines its most pressing
  • US company Hart Howerton is designing a hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a small new eco-hotel chain, 1 Hotels