Setting the environmental baseline

Written in collaboration with the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance


The first step in your sustainability journey should be to set your baseline. This is a measurement of your current impact on the environment. It takes things like water and electricity into account, as well as plastic use and carbon emissions.

Setting your baseline 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 setting your baseline to become more sustainable – 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 change, they were able to pinpoint where they could make the most impact. Between 2008 and 2018, it reduced portfolio-wide energy use by 22%, water intensity by 22%, and carbon emissions by 34%. The data yielded insights that allowed Hilton to save $29 million in utility costs – and that was after just one year.

In this section, we’ll cover the benefits of setting your baseline. We’ll also look at the tools available for measuring and tracking two key parts of your environmental impact: Your carbon footprint and water usage.

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. With insight into their energy use, for example, hospitality businesses have been able to identify where to implement lighting controls and efficient lights, cutting lighting energy costs by up to 50%. 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. For example, groups like 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 the Global Business Travel Association, 53% of North American companies have corporate sustainability programs that affect how they choose their travel suppliers. 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 set your baseline

Start with the biggest contributors

According to the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, the three most important factors that determine a property’s environmental footprint are lighting, hot water, and air conditioning/heating. That’s why measuring your carbon footprint and water use is a good place to start when setting your baseline. There are free resources online to help you get started immediately.

  • Measuring your carbon emissions
    The Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative tool helps you measure your total and per-occupied-room carbon footprint, taking different energy sources into account to help you prioritize actionable changes.
  • Measuring your water usage –
    The Hotel Water Measurement Initiative tool 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). 

Benchmark your property

Once you set your baseline, 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 uses the largest available dataset, sourced from over 15,000 properties that use the HCMI and HWMI. This tracks energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage.
  • The Green Lodging Trends Report – this uses best practices rather than hard data to recognize 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. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance has set science-based sustainability targets for the hotel industry to meet by 2030. These are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement. They also offer guidance on setting water targets, managing water use, and working with your supply chain.

Other useful resources are the Destination Water Risk Index, which can help you understand your water risk and set appropriate water targets and measures, as well as the UN Global Compact’s Science Based Targets initiative, which has resources for the broader topic of corporate climate action.

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 been 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.

How can I start?


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.

Tell me more


Getting certified

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

Find out more