Carbon emissions are big news these days, and for very good reasons. Climate change holds potential repercussions for every industry on the planet, with hotels and other accommodation providers emphatically no exception. The concept of carbon-offsetting—that is, compensating for your carbon emissions by putting money towards positive environmental causes—is no cure, but it holds substantial benefits, and not just for the environment itself.
Tristan A Foerster is the Managing Director of ClimatePartner, an international provider of carbon-offset solutions for enterprises looking to reduce and compensate their carbon emissions. The Germany-based organization also develops and promotes carbon-offset projects. Since its founding in 2006, ClimatePartner has worked with more than 2,000 companies, including numerous accommodation providers.
Click.: For hotels and other accommodation providers, what are the main benefits of using a carbon-offset scheme?
Foerster: There are multiple benefits. Firstly, by making a full calculation of a property’s carbon footprint, it makes clear what the main emission-drivers are, and where the most potential lies for reducing and avoiding these emissions. And aside from the climate aspect, it can also lead to meaningful cost reduction.
For us, if a property decides to compensate its emissions by supporting one of our recognized and validated carbon-offset projects, it will then be labeled as “climate-neutral,” which is a valuable marketing asset in itself. It shows that the property isn’t just taking responsibility, but taking action. This, of course, can ultimately lead to a more positive public perception, higher numbers of bookings, and greater value for guests.
Click.: How does it work? How are carbon emissions calculated?
Foerster: A holistic carbon-offset initiative usually begins by calculating a carbon footprint that covers all relevant emissions. Calculations are done in accordance with international standards such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and the first step is to establish the parameters. Which parts of the hotel or guest house are we looking at, exactly? Which indirect emissions, such as third-party laundry services, are going to be relevant for a full calculation?
The next step is to work with the hotel to capture its usage data. For us, this is based on information provided by the hotels themselves, combined with our experience in the sector and standardized, internationally recognized ways of gathering data. Combined, all this allows for a detailed and reliable overview which then gives realistic information on consumption and emissions.
The best way for a hotel to reach climate neutrality is to offset its own carbon, thereby covering all emissions generated by the property and its operations, such as the energy supply, water, catering, external suppliers, and staff. The costs involved will depend on the amount of emissions to be offset. Alternatively, a hotel can offer guests the option to offset their own emissions.
Click.: How effective are carbon-offset schemes? Some people see them as ineffective – what's the counter-argument?
Foerster: The strategy of carbon-offsetting, in combination with the reduction and avoidance of emissions, makes absolute sense. It’s a meaningful instrument to compensate emissions that can’t otherwise be reduced or avoided. Our experience with our carbon-offset projects has also shown they actually have many more benefits than just compensating emissions. In almost all cases, they can also be seen as development projects for communities in developing countries, improving their living conditions in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). These include fighting hunger, allowing quality education, providing clean water and sanitation, offering affordable and clean energy, and many other aspects.
Click.: In more general terms, what should hotels and other properties be doing to reduce their carbon footprint?
Foerster: First of all, it’s important to be clear about the overall aim. There’s a difference between general sustainability and carbon neutrality. Litter recycling is, of course, a good example of sustainability, but it has little impact on a property’s carbon emissions. From a carbon perspective, the most effective way to make a difference is to use a green energy supplier. Also, evaluate what the best options are with regards to heating—think about wooden pellets, for example—and how staff commuting is organized. And most of all, look at whether catering draws on as much local and seasonal produce as possible. The sourcing of regionally produced, seasonal food and drink with short transportation is an important emissions reducer. It’s also a strong marketing asset of a hotel.
Click.: What common mistakes do hotels make when thinking about reducing their emissions? What are the main contributing factors to a carbon footprint?
Foerster: A common misunderstanding is that carbon-offsetting is expensive. If you look at the mid- to long-term benefits, it becomes clear that it will definitely pay off if a hotel decides to go climate-neutral. On a related note, things like not exchanging towels or linen on a daily basis, or not providing shampoo in single-use plastic bottles are sustainable practices which are very visible to guests and beneficial in their own way. But there are other emission-drivers that have a much higher impact on the overall carbon footprint, such as power supply, heating, and catering.
Click.: What advice would you give to a hotel or rental property looking to offset its emissions?
Foerster: Our advice is to understand that carbon-offsetting is an ongoing process. It’s not a one-off thing that can be done and then forgotten about. Both sustainability and carbon-neutrality are components of a holistic strategy that looks at short-, mid- and long-term improvements. When focusing on carbon emissions, it’s about reducing, avoiding, and compensating emissions. And where offsetting is concerned, it’s important to check that offset projects are meaningful, certified, have a real positive impact, and fit with a hotel’s philosophy and theme. For example, clean ocean projects work well for beach resorts, while forest protection projects can be the perfect fit for hotels in scenic landscapes.
- A thorough calculation of a property’s carbon emissions will highlight the main emission-drivers to be reduced
- Key ways to reduce a property’s carbon emissions include using a green energy supplier and focusing on local food and drink
- “Visible” initiatives such as not washing towels daily are beneficial, but aspects such as heating and catering have far more impact on a property’s carbon footprint
- Using a trusted carbon-offset scheme can allow a property to market itself as carbon-neutral
- Many carbon-offset schemes now directly benefit communities in developing countries