What is hotel sustainability?

Hotel sustainability is the use of best practices to minimise the negative environmental impact of your hotel on the wider world. In recent years sustainability in the hotel industry has become a firm focus, as environmentally friendly hotels look to attract a growing number of environmentally conscious guests.

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Sustainability in the hotel industry

In the current social and political climate, sustainability is becoming less of a responsible choice and more of an operational imperative for modern hotels, not least because an ever-increasing number of guests are looking for eco-friendly accommodation options.

According to a Booking.com survey, 83% of travellers are planning to make sustainable travel a priority.

But what exactly do the terms ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ mean in hospitality? And how might an independent hotelier ensure that they are playing their part, and claiming a slice of this environmentally aware market?

The good news: transforming your hotel into a sustainable, eco-friendly property can be far easier than you might think. What’s more, you won’t just help the planet and attract more guests, you could save some serious money too.

What do eco-friendly hotels mean?

The term ‘eco-friendly hotel’ or ‘eco hotel’ has been in use for decades and was initially claimed by ecolodges – properties that were located deep in nature, often in rainforests, and were built using traditional techniques.

As time went on the term eco hotel began to be associated with sustainability – reducing the amount of waste, from plastic to carbon emissions, generated by the hotel.

Today the general definition of an eco hotel is simply an environmentally responsible property. While this definition is vague, true eco hotels allow themselves to be certified by a local government or independent third party, such as the LEED, SAGE and ECO accreditations.

What makes a hotel eco-friendly?

To be recognised as an eco-friendly hotel, an accommodation provider must secure accreditation from a reputable third-party (like those mentioned above). In order to earn these accreditations, hotels must abide by a set of sustainability best practices that can cover every facet of hotel management, including

  • Reducing energy and water use.
  • Limiting waste and recycling wherever possible.
  • Using environmentally-friendly products.
  • Sourcing consumables ethically and locally.
  • Offsetting any environmental damage that unavoidable activities might cause.

The specifics of each accreditation will differ slightly, and the guidelines can be found on each accreditor’s website.

Hotel sustainability policy you need to know

Developing a hotel sustainability policy needn’t be a complicated or time-consuming process for eco-friendly hotels. By following the steps below, you can quickly craft your own.

  1. Analyse current sustainability: Analyse your current levels of emissions, consumption and waste to identify areas of improvement.
  2. Create goals: Armed with this baseline, set objectives for your sustainability initiatives, including deadlines and relevant, quantifiable metrics.
  3. Craft a strategy: Work out how you will achieve these goals, including a step-by-step action plan. Get help from sustainability experts.
  4. Monitor, manage and improve: Check your progress regularly, and adapt your plan when needed.
  5. Celebrate milestones: When you make progress, celebrate it, as this incentivises further action.
  6. Get certified: Work towards a sustainability label or certification by a recognised authority.

Why your hotel should have a sustainability label

In the last few years sustainability has become a major talking point for businesses around the world. Public awareness and curiosity regarding sustainability has grown.

People want to know how a company is operating, and if they are taking the necessary steps to ensure they are not affecting the environment in a negative way.

Since today’s hotel guests are more aware of their environmental footprint in everything they do at home, they’ll also be conscious of it when they book out-of-home accommodation. The trend is now to look towards holidays that have a minimal environmental impact.

For a hotel to be considered ‘sustainable’ they need to take a holistic approach to being environmentally friendly at their property. Running your bed and breakfast in a sustainable way will not only benefit your local ecosystem, but will also build a more wholesome experience for your current guests whilst attracting new, aware, guests.

Here are four reasons why you should put your hotel towards a sustainability label:

1. Your hotel image will improve

In a recent study, 58% of consumers said they do consider the impact a company has on the environment when purchasing their goods and services. This survey also discovered that customers were far more likely to purchase from companies that practised sustainable habits.

A sustainable company has a great competitive edge because consumers want to put money where their heart is.

Integrate your sustainability label into your hotel marketing strategy to paint your hotel in a positive light. Use social media, your website, and email campaigns to celebrate the achievements of your eco-friendly business and improve hotel brand awareness and reputation.

2. Your hotel will look more professional

To stay competitive in the global marketplace you need to ensure your business is doing something different and standing out in a professional way.

Advertising your sustainability label means that before your customers even look into booking at your hotel they will know you take your community and your business seriously.

3. You will see financial benefits

66% of customers will often pay more for a product they know is sustainable. Millennials are at the forefront of this, with 73% willing to pay extra.

Businesses that account for climate change also see an 18% higher ROI.

In addition, energy-related costs decrease much more when a company is:

  • Using energy-efficient lighting
  • Using solar or wind energy
  • Choosing energy-efficient appliances

In some countries there are also a variety of tax credits and rebates for making sustainability improvements.

4. You will be doing something good

Your sustainable actions will be making a real difference by shrinking your carbon footprint, lessening your effects on the surrounding community, and making a change that generations to come will benefit from.

Hotel sustainability trends

There has been a trend in the travel industry amongst travellers towards sustainable tourism for years, if not decades, but in the years since COVID-19 there has been an even more noticeable uplift in environmentally responsible travel, with 81% of travellers now looking to stay in eco-accommodation.

The reasons for making your independent hotel more eco-friendly include:

  • You gain access to a huge (and still growing) number of eco-conscious travellers.
  • You save money by reducing waste and using resources more efficiently.
  • You contribute to conservation

List of eco friendly hotels

  • Tierra Patagonia: Blending organically into the stunning landscape that surrounds it, this luxury eco hotel uses clever architecture to minimise power use, while also funding local reforestation efforts.
  • Bawah Reserve: Set on Indonesian islands 50km from anywhere, Bawah Reserve is off-grid, uses a minimal impact building approach, and is focused on the preservation of water, biodiversity and marine life.
  • Zarafa Camp: Located on the Okavango Delta, Zarafa is a luxury tented camp that is powered by solar, that turns waste into cooking gas, and that uses UV technology to produce drinking water.
  • The Red Sea: According to The Red Sea, a new resort development off the West Coast of Saudi Arabia, they are pioneering “a new model of development, with responsibility at its core”, driven by the property’s position on the world’s fourth-largest reef.
  • Elysian Retreat: Australia’s first carbon-neutral hotel, this resort is found at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, where it is surrounded by the nature it is working so hard to protect.

How can hotels be more environmentally friendly?

While it’s wise to try to earn an eco-friendly accreditation (the specifics of which are set by the accrediting organisation) there are still a few surprisingly simple but hugely effective ways of making your hotel more sustainable right now. 

Here are 8 eco friendly hotel ideas to make your hotel more sustainable

1. Increase energy efficiency

In somewhat harrowing news, a standard hotel room emits 31.1kg of carbon every single night. In better news, there are a wealth of things that you can do to cut that number dramatically, as well as cut your energy costs:

  • Reduce your reliance on the power grid by installing solar panels and batteries (or switch to a renewable provider).
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs.
  • Install modern, efficient appliances and HVAC systems.
  • Control lighting with motion sensors.
  • If you’re considering a new construction, use passive building principles.
  • Use sensor-activated lighting for areas that aren’t used frequently.
  • Use daylight in your common areas for as much of the day as possible.
  • Make sure all your appliances are ‘energy star’ rated.

It might be good to have a card system installed (‘lights out’ cards) so that guests have to put their room key in for the electricity to work. This ensures that when they aren’t in the room, the electricity isn’t left on. In the long run, it can save you heaps in electricity bills.

2. Cut down on disposable plastics

84% of travellers are looking to reduce waste and recycle plastic while they roam. You can help them by cutting down – or ideally eliminating – your use of disposable plastics.

This can be a far simpler process than you might imagine, as many technologies and products designed to fill this gap are now on the market.

Cut down on your plastic use by:

  • Switching key cards to keyless entry systems.
  • Trade disposable cutlery and crockery for washable.
  • Trade disposable water bottles for refillables.
  • Trade mini soaps, shampoos and conditioners for refillable pump bottles.
  • Use biodegradable bin bags.
  • If you are required to use a disposable item (such as for sanitary reasons) make sure it is biodegradable and responsibly sourced.

3. Implement a recycling system

If you can’t reduce, try to reuse. If you can’t reuse, try to recycle. Your hotel should have established recycling systems for both staff and guests – with recycling now increasingly prevalent across the globe, it’s not a stretch to ask your guests to play their part.

Ensure that you have dedicated, clearly labelled bins that separate recyclables from general waste in guest rooms, in shared areas, and in the back of house. Include pictograms to help non-English speakers understand where to put what.

Besides having recycling bins in your common areas and guest rooms, you can donate leftover food, amenities, furniture, and appliances to local charities.

Try to reduce the amount of paper you use in general. For example, you can use an electronic reservation system instead of a physical diary, and send guests electronic invoices instead of printing them out each time.

4. Conserve water

The average hotel room uses 400-700L of water every day. But it doesn’t have to. At a time when droughts are becoming more common and severe in certain countries like Australia, saving water can have a huge impact on the local environment, while also helping in cutting down costs.

Cut down your water use by:

  • Collecting and using rainwater.
  • Implementing a greywater recycling scheme.
  • Installing water-saving shower heads.
  • Asking guests to reuse linen and towels (pro tip: ensure you have plenty of towel-hanging space).
  • Irrigating your garden responsibly by installing automatic timers and watering overnight.
  • Using low water laundry machines.
  • Covering pools and hot tubs when not in use.
  • Use ‘linen cards’ to ask guests to consider using their linens more than once. This will ensure that you don’t wash sheets and towels that are still clean.
  • Use your dishwasher and washing machine only for full loads.
  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t leave the water running for rinsing.

5. Tweak your menu (and start a garden)

Do you have an on-site restaurant? Your menu might not be the first place you look when considering hotel sustainability, but there are actually quite a few opportunities to be had when choosing the dishes you’ll feature.

Cutting down food waste is good for the planet and your pocket, so carefully consider portion size. If you’re seeing plenty of half-full plates making their way back to the kitchen, you may be able to downsize.

It’s also best to shop local, as this will not only benefit your community, but cut down on the carbon footprint of your food that may otherwise have travelled from interstate or overseas. Support farmers and food producers who do things the right way.

You could even go one step further and grow food in-house. If you’ve got an empty garden bed or even a rooftop, you’ve got room to farm your own produce. There’s nothing more satisfying than creating a menu based on what’s growing right on your property.

6. Buy green products

While the previous methods of ‘going green’ are a bit more difficult to implement, nothing is stopping you from being more mindful of the kinds of products you buy.

Make sure that everything from your bedding to your office stationary to your food is locally sourced, cruelty-free, and environmentally sustainable.

  • Use refillable bottles for hair care and skin products.
  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper towels.
  • Use glass cups instead of plastic cups.
  • Use ceramic dishes instead of plastic dishes.
  • Use chemical-free cleaning products.
  • Use recycled paper products (unbleached paper, or paper that is bleached using a chlorine-free process).

Avoid using disposable products where possible.

7. Be transparent with guests

Let your guests know of your commitment to the environment, and remind them that they will only be receiving one set of toiletries (made of sustainable materials), towels and linens during their stay, unless specifically requested.

If your guests ask more about your programs and priorities, be able to provide them with specific information and also be open to input from your guests. This helps you develop trust with your guests, and they will know that you are actually committed to the green movement.

8. Capitalise on your good work

Once you’ve implemented a few of these sustainable practices, and ideally obtained an eco-hotel accreditation, it’s time to tell the world.

By placing your sustainability efforts front and centre on your hotel website and across your booking channels with the help of a hotel channel manager software, you’ll begin to attract that ever-growing segment of environmentally-conscious travellers.

Greenwashing in the hotel industry

For years now, the green movement has been trending and businesses across the globe have been working to become more environmentally-friendly and sustainable. This includes large hotel chains as well as small hotels.

In order to impress consumers and encourage travellers to stay at their properties, hotels have been implementing eco-friendly initiatives.

According to SiteMinder, nearly 79% of travellers feel that sustainability programs are important, but many of them are becoming sceptical of the actual impact of these policies.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the term that was developed for hotels who claim to have an environmentally-friendly emphasis but actually hide ulterior motives through their initiatives.

Hotel guests are becoming aware of the fact that some hotels are saying that they are doing more to recycle, use less water and generate less waste, but they aren’t seeing those promises placed into action during their stay.

It’s hard to believe that a hotel is making recycling a top priority when there isn’t a recycling bin to be found!

Greenwashing has become more common as eco-friendly programs have become more popular, and consumers are beginning to see through the empty promises.

There are some common practices in greenwashing that leave guests feeling sceptical: 

  • Lack of recycling bins in the lobby and in each guest room.
  • Advertising one type of program, such as a linen reuse system, but throwing away toiletry items that aren’t used rather than recycling or donating them.
  • Hanging a sign that says “This hotel is eco-friendly” but then not implementing any programs or initiatives at the property that are designed to preserve and promote the environment.
  • Using disposable toiletries.
  • Boasting that the hotel has been accredited by a sustainability committee, but never having to meet any particular credentials for that particular accreditation.
  • Using only eco-friendly initiatives that save the hotel money, such as refusing to change linens or towels during a guest stay but not investing in environmentally-friendly products for the hotel.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of Little Hotelier, the all-in-one software solution purpose-built to make the lives of small accommodation providers easier. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at Little Hotelier. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance, and, ultimately, value for small accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations (and live their life).