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Sustainability in hospitality is good business

|In Hotels

A decade ago, sustainability in the hospitality sector was a nice-to-have; today it is a business imperative as more and more people not only make sustainable travel choices…

“73% of global travelers intend to stay at least once in an eco-friendly or green accommodation in the year ahead.”

Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2019

… many are willing to pay more for them.

“53% of global travelers are willing to pay more for products that demonstrate environmental responsibility - 13% more than a year ago.”

Skift Research 2019


But how do people know if a hotel is eco-friendly? 

Often they don’t.  And with the rapid adoption of green marketing campaigns aimed at boosting their brand image, some hotels have been known to over-represent the “greenness” of their establishments.

This practice of “spending more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact” is called greenwashing.


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Washington State University hospitality researchers found that greenwashing practices sometimes result in short-term gains by attracting unsuspecting guests, but the majority of those misled customers will boycott the establishment upon checkout.

“Today’s consumers are not always buying the green claims made by hotels,” said researcher Christina Geng-qing Chi. “When ecologically conscious consumers know a hotel is not truly green, they will still use the linen re-use program, but they will not revisit the hotel.”

To reduce skepticism, Chi suggested that hotels become certified by independent and credible agencies.  But despite the work being done by the likes of Green Seal and Green Key Global, 72% of travelers aren’t aware of the existence of eco-certification labels for hotels and resorts. 


Evaluating the sustainability of the industry 

One way to evaluate the state of the hospitality industry in terms of sustainability is to review the annual Green Lodging Trends Report.  In 2018, 4,544 hotels in 61 countries provided the state of their properties across the following initiatives: Energy Management, Waste Management, Water Conservation, Health & Wellness, Back of House, Communications, Staff Involvement, Community Involvement, and Climate Action & Certification.  

The results were promising in some cases, such as the increased use of digital thermostats, LED light bulbs, and occupancy sensors in meeting spaces.  But in others, not so much.  For example, only 52% of hotels had conducted an energy audit within the last four years, and less than 30% recommissioned their HVAC systems to improve operations and maintenance. 

But the one that caught my attention was in the area of waste management (or lack thereof). It was shocking to see that only 53% of hotels put recycling bins in their guestrooms. So, I wasn’t just dreaming when pretty much every other room I stay at has multiple bins in them, just not the recycling ones.

And instead of replacing print media with more sustainable digital alternatives for guests, almost 80% of hotels take the easy road out and just stop delivering newspapers and magazines to rooms altogether - forcing guests to go down to the lobby or front desk to pick up a copy of whatever is left of their limited supply. 

Newspapers not delivered to guestrooms

79% have newspapers available in the lobby/front desk area or central guest area for guests to pick up, instead of delivered automatically to every guestroom door. Prevalence for this practice has stayed relatively the same over the last three years.

A chart of newspapers not delivered to guestrooms.These hotels may think they are being eco-friendly, but to me, it’s just bad customer service.

Deforestation is now a major global concern and one that the hospitality industry needs to take more seriously by reducing its use of paper.  Because according to the World Resources Institute, if tropical deforestation were a country, its carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions would rank number three behind China and the US.


Make way for standardization

In the last year, the International Standards Organization (ISO) released ISO 21401: a sustainability management system for accommodation providers.  Not only does the new standard address issues related to environmental protection, resource consumption, and waste generation, it also includes matters concerning human rights, local economic development, and the health and safety of employees and guests.

Evaluating the commitment to sustainability by lodging establishments at a global level is finally possible.  Eco-friendly hotels that implement ISO 21401 will soon be able to prove that they are indeed sustainable organizations, putting those who pay lip service to green initiatives in serious jeopardy of lost bookings and revenues.


A bit of inspiration

According to Dr. Willy Legrand, Professor of Hospitality Management at the International University of Applied Sciences Bad Honnef (IUBH) School of Business and Management in Bonn, Germany, “A large section of the hospitality industry is joining the unprecedented mobilization across the globe in mitigating negative environmental impacts and facing the many societal challenges ahead.

In addition to using a three-zero-concept” approach for hotel construction, Legrand shared the following eco-friendly hotel industry trends: minimizing water usage, eliminating single-use plastic, reducing waste, conserving energy, and transitioning into a paperless hotel.

PressReader has had the privilege to work with many hotel brands committed to transforming themselves into sustainable properties.  Here are a few of our partners that might inspire you: 


Scandic Hotels 

With 57,000 rooms in six countries, Scandic Hotels, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, is the largest hotel operator in the Nordic countries. Back in 1993, an employee’s “hang up your towel” initiative became a standard policy worldwide, solidifying the company’s commitment to engage team members in its commitment to sustainability.

A photo of a Scandic property.

Two years ago, its entire suite of hotels converted from print to digital media in its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.  According to a 2017 Scandic press release. 

“From January 2017, all of Scandic’s guests have been able to read thousands of national and international newspapers and magazines on their digital devices through a partnership with the PressReader app. This service is well in line with Scandic’s digital initiatives, and reducing the consumption of print publications fits in well with the company’s sustainability profile.”

In 2018, over 18,000 employees joined in on a sustainability hackathon, which resulted in 400 environmental and social ideas being presented to a jury.  The winning proposal was “Turn off the Tap when brushing your teeth,” which will be piloted in Norway in 2019 and looking to save over 150 million liters of water a year.

In 2019, the Sustainable Brand Index, Europe’s largest brand study on sustainability, named Scandic the best in the industry in Sweden for the ninth consecutive year!


NH Hotel Group SA

Headquartered in Madrid with over 350 hotels in 28 countries, NH Hotel Group SA is a Spanish hotel chain that has been diligently decreasing its carbon dioxide emissions through sustainability programs.

Over the past decade, it reduced its carbon footprint by 70%, cut energy use by 28%, and water costs by 30%.

It also stopped distributing printed media in their hotels and providing free access to a platform of thousands of digital newspapers and magazines to its guests.  The results speak for themselves.

A photo of an NH Hotel Group SA

“Based on the number of daily newspapers and magazines consumed in NH Hotel Group hotels, the estimate of the impact of these publications is more than 4,800 tons of CO2/year.  This value includes the extraction of raw materials, transportation, manufacturing, distribution, and waste generated at the end of the life of newspapers and magazines.

This amount would be close to what 4,800 Europeans emit on average to feed, warm, and move in just one month!

If we considered the impact of only the paper (considering that the paper used in all publications is at least 70% recycled), we would save about 2,600 trees a year.”

 Ana Pinedo Lozano

Department of Environment & Sustainability

NH Hotel Group

Madrid, Spain


EDITION is a luxury boutique hotel brand conceived by Ian Schrager in partnership with Marriott International. By the end of 2019, it will have ten properties in its collection, spanning the globe from Abu Dhabi to Shanghai to London, Miami, and New York City.  Fourteen more properties will open between 2020 and 2024.

A photo of EDITION Hotels luxury boutique hotel.

EDITION’s commitment to sustainability is impressive.  Through its Stay Plastic Free (SPF) campaign, EDITION has pledged to be 90% single-use-plastic free by the end of Q4 2019, and 100% a year after that.

But their mission goes beyond its own properties.  EDITION wants SPF to become an industry standard that will help other hotels eliminate plastic straws, bottles, toiletry items, room keys, lids, cups, and other single-use amenities from their properties.  It will also partner with vendors that offer cost-effective alternatives for the broader hospitality industry.



With 4,000+ hotels in more than 110 countries, AccorHotels, a global leader in augmented hospitality, takes care of millions of guests every year and feels a strong sense of responsibility to the planet and its people. 

Accor Hotels property with beautiful buildings and water.

In April 2012, the company launched PLANET 21 - a sustainable development program based around four strategic priorities: work with its employees, involve its customers, innovate with its partners, and work with local communities.

PLANET 21 is well on its way to cutting Accor’s carbon footprint to zero with every new and renovated hotel being low-carbon emitting and employing eco-friendly practices like replacing print media with expanded digital offerings, having onsite organic gardens, and offering eco-certified products.

And although Accor can’t save every tree, its Plant for the Planet initiative, a global agroforestry program that promotes ecological farming in 30 countries, has planted over 7 million trees in the past ten years.


Make sustainability a commitment, not a marketing strategy

They say you only get one chance to make a great first impression. It’s the moment when everything counts.  It’s when everything you do or don't do can either add to or take away from your ability to get a person to “check you out,” as they say in the dating lingo.

Which is why I encourage you to start building more personal relationships with your customers throughout their entire journey with your brand.  Listen, learn, and act on what matters to them.

Prove that you care about their planet as much as they do by performing a sustainability assessment on your properties, sharing the results publicly, and the putting money where your lip service used to be.  Document your sustainability plan and report on your efforts and results on an annual basis.

Environmentally-conscious choices don’t need to detract from a positive user experience.  In fact, they often enhance it.  So, invest in eco-friendly technologies, services, and products.  And engage employees and suppliers in your mission to offer your guests and visitors the sustainable experiences they demand. 

Because fighting climate change isn’t optional anymore, it’s table stakes for the survival of your business.


The Art of Retention in Hospitality


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