The Importance Of Sustainability In Hotels


23 Mar 2015 18 May 2017

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Human activities over the past centuries have affected the earths ecosystem. Today, the negative consequences of human actions can be noticed everywhere. Being one of the larger industries in the world, the hospitality industry is an important contributor to these problems.

In this report, I'll be focusing on what impacts humans have on the eco-system. Defining what sustainability truly is. How hotels can benefit from practising sustainability and what they could do to be sustainable with references.

Human Impacts on the Planet

To understand the magnitude of human impacts on the environment, economies, cultures and society, we must first understand the contributions of the travel and tourism sectors. Travel and tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, which is responsible for creating jobs, increasing a country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), generating revenue worldwide and many more. It comes with positive and negative effects. "In 2008, there were 922 million international tourist arrivals with tourism receipts of US$944 billion [8]." "It is estimated that the global travel and tourism industry contributed 9.6 per cent of global GDP and 7.9 per cent of worldwide employment in 2008 [9]." Tourism and travel is also a vector of climate change, accounting for approximately 5 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Our human footprint on earth is disrupting the biogeochemical cycle that has remained unchanged for millions of years. Lavish cities built on deserts irresponsibly waste our limited water supply and fragment habitats. Hotels wasting huge amounts of energy, water and food after being built upon habitats that contain life necessary to the biogeochemical cycle such as photoautotrophs and other primary producers. Excessive amounts of food are both consumed and wasted beyond our human needs. Another consequence of human activity is the changing climate. Human activity has caused increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases, which have led to increases in air and ocean temperatures, and global sea levels.

As our planet's natural resources become depleted, man is urged to become more responsible in their usage of non-renewable resources and look for other renewable resources either in the form of energy, water or raw materials.

What is Sustainability?

UNWTO's definition of sustainability is:

Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability [9].

In simple terms, sustainability means: things can keep going, can sustain themselves, can continue into the future and go on forever. From a human perspective, sustainability for our planet means that it can continue to do what it was designed to do; provide fresh air, clean water, produce food and have a high quality of life. Unsustainability means that it cannot and that is where we are at now.

There are four basic principles to follow to achieve sustainability. These could be seen as the 'care' instructions for our planet.

Reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and heavy metals.

Reduce our dependence on synthetic chemicals that persist in nature.

Reduce our destruction of nature.

Ensure we are not stopping people globally on meeting their needs.

Demand for the earth services: air, water and food increases as the population increases and living standards rise. But the earth's ability to provide these services is declining because of the way we are living. In our search for prosperity, growth and success, we are destroying the system that we as humans are completely dependent on, nature. We humans have become a threat to our own way of life. The earth is a system and everything is connected, society, environment and economy. To live sustainably, we need to follow the four 'care' instructions and apply them to everything we do at home and at work.

Sustainable operation in hospitality can be defined as "a hospitality operation that manages its resources in such a way that social, economic and environmental benefits are maximised in order to meet the need of the present generation while protecting and enhancing opportunities for future generations [2]."

Many hotels today have recognised the negative effects their business activities have had on the environment and have taken steps to minimise or prevent those impacts from happening.

Today, the term 'green hotels' describes "hotels that achieve to be more environmentally friendly through the efficient use of energy, water, and materials while providing quality services [10]." Green hotels conserve and preserve by saving water, reducing energy use, and reducing solid waste. "They have seen benefits such as reduced costs and liabilities, high return and low-risk investments, increased profits, and positive cash flows [10]." Identifying these benefits and incentives has allowed the popularity of green hotels to grow.

Using the Orchard Garden Hotel, San Francisco, as an example, what is so different about this hotel? Why is it 'green'? The answer truly is that it's green from the inside out. The concrete of the basement, and all the walls and floors have recycled contents in them. The carpet backing is 100 per cent recycled. The drapes, the sheets, curtains and bed spreads in the hotel are washable. This is very important because they do not have to use chemicals to keep them clean. The wood that Orchard Garden uses throughout the hotel is actually Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified maple and all the guestroom furniture is made out of that material. The beautiful wood panelling that you could see in the restaurant, lobby and hallway is actually recycled particle board. Another unique feature of the hotel is the key card management control system. Simply by slotting the key in a switch right by the front door in the guestroom will enable all the light switches, air-conditioning and heating. Orchard Garden also encourages their staff to implement green business practices. These are the things that you can truly do and it shows that it does not necessary cost more money to go green. (For more information, refer to case study, page 18)

Why Should Hotels Practise Sustainability?

Hotels, resorts, motels, hostels and other forms of accommodation are the largest sector of the travel and tourism industry, and it has been shown that hotels have the greatest negative impact on the environment compared to other commercial establishments.

Implementing good environmental practices in hotel operations, including using biological resources more sustainably, can result in positive business benefits as well as make an important contribution to biodiversity conservation. Key business benefits include:

Appealing to engaged consumers

Tourists are increasingly motivated by sustainability and contributions to biodiversity conservation, as well as healthier environments and products.

Reducing costs

Good biodiversity practices can actually lower a hotel's operating costs, by reducing expenses for resource procurement, usage and disposal.

Improving the quality of the destination

Destinations rich in biodiversity are attractive places, appeal to quality customers, and offer scope for biodiversity-based recreational activities.

Improving employee productivity and sense of responsibility to the environment

Employees are often strongly motivated by actions to enhance biodiversity; such motivation helps to increase employee productivity and loyalty, and can reduce staff turnover.

Securing a hotel's license to operate

Implementing good practices for biodiversity demonstrates that a hotel cares about the environment and runs a responsible business, and can lead to increased support from government, staff and local communities.

Attracting investment from socially responsible investors

Investors want to be sure that their funds are invested in businesses that have good environmental records.

Energy and Water Consumption, and Waste Created in the Hospitality Industry

Hotels are one of the largest consumers of energy, which provide guests with high levels of comfort, services, facilities and amenities.

On average, America's 47,000 hotels spend $2,196 per available room each year on energy. This represents about 6 per cent of all operating costs. Through a strategic approach to energy efficiency, a 10 per cent reduction in energy consumption would have the same financial effect as increasing the average daily room rate by $0.62 in limited-service hotels and by $1.35 in full-service hotels [2].

Hotels are aware of their costly consumption of non-renewable energy, huge generation of wastes and excessive use of water, and are taking measures to be greener.

"According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there are 47,000 hotels that spend $2,196 per available room each year on energy which represents about 6 per cent of all operating costs [2]." Utilities make up 20 per cent of the average US hotel's operating costs - a huge percentage with a major impact on the bottom line and the environment. Inefficient use of lights, heating and air conditioning is one of the major culprits in this waste of resources.

Solid waste generated by hotels comes in many sizes and forms. "Wastes from 25 hotels were examined. The statistics showed that from 1991-1993 the hotel waste consisted of 46% food waste, 25.3% paper, 11.7% cardboard, 6.7% plastics, 5.6% glass, and 4.5% metals [10]." This gives a clear indication of the various forms of waste that a small number of hotels can be produced in a city.

"It is estimated that by 2010, water use will increase to approximately 475 gallons per day for each room in high luxury facilities [10]." This will continue to put more stress on an already stressed environment. The use of water will always be a vital part of the guest's experience. However, hotels must take the initiative to inform guests of the impacts their actions would have on the environment.

Energy Conservation

Hotels can have large, costly energy requirements, especially in areas for cooling, heating, lighting and others. There are various alternatives and ways to conserve energy such as:

Solar Power

The application of the sun's rays can be used for natural lighting, heating and capturing electricity through solar panels.

Wind Power

Wind turbines capture the kinetic energy stored in the wind, which is then converted into electricity, very similar to those used in farms.


Hydropower is electrical energy that is generated by using the flow of water through a turbine with a generator.

Geothermal Power

Geothermal power is energy that is gained by heat stored beneath the surface of the earth. Pumps bringing heat from beneath our feet can be used to directly heat hotels and other buildings or used as a source of power that drives steam turbines to produce electricity.

Hotels worldwide are recognising the benefits of energy conservation and are undertaking projects to tap onto these benefits, and doing their part to save the environment. Choices made when purchasing equipment can have a major impact on the hotel's operating expenses and on the environment; therefore, it is important that efficiency be considered before purchasing energy intensive equipment.

For example, the Solar Valley Micro-E Hotel, Dezhou City, eastern China, is the world's largest solar-powered hotel. It has thousands of permanent solar panels and solar heat pipe collectors to harvest the energy from the sun, and stores enough energy to sustain 70 per cent of its needs.

The Hyatt Regency International Hotel in New Zealand understood that guests often left appliances and heating and cooling systems on when they were out of their rooms. The hotel developed a project to link energy use with room occupancy. Now when a guest leaves the room, all energy appliances shut down, with the exception of refrigerators, alarm clocks, and other essential appliances. The project costs were $16,000, while the payback period was only 14 months, with savings of $14,000 annually [10].

About 40 per cent of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's electricity needs are met by wind and hydro electricity. Since 1999, they have been using 'green power' derived from sources such as wind, hydro and biomass. They produce little or no greenhouse gas emissions and have minimal environmental impacts.

The Sheraton Auckland Hotel and Towers realised that the daily washing of sheets, towels, flannels, tablecloths, and other linens accounted for 35% of the energy consumed in the laundry process, while drying consumed 65%. The hotel simply changed the temperature of the wash from 85 degrees Celsius to 65 degrees Celsius. This change saved $2,000 in energy costs in the first 3 months alone, and the linens came out just as clean. This project, in addition to reducing energy costs, reduced the use of washing chemicals and decreased pollution of the hotel wastewater. Also, allowing the hotel guests the option of having linens washed every other day rather than daily can significantly assist in energy and water conservation [10].

A hotel can have thousands of individual light bulbs and may use 30 per cent of its total electricity. Lighting is the second largest energy consumption system in a hotel and presents one of the best opportunities for energy savings by doing some simple upgrades. By making upgrades in guest rooms, common areas and behind-the-scenes areas, a hotel can see immediate, consistent savings with no impact on the overall guest experience.

Ways to save electricity:

Replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs can reduce maintenance and cut lighting costs. CFLs last many times longer and use five times lesser energy than a traditional light bulb. "A compact fluorescent light used in place of an incandescent light that is left on continuously for 12 months, all 8,760 hours of the year, will pay for itself in less than one year [10]."

Install motion sensors or key-activating systems in rooms. With such a system the room lights will always be off when unoccupied, without inconveniencing the guest.

When upgrading lighting systems in common areas, consider installing new control systems to manage lighting in large areas. Computerised lighting controls will allow hotel operators to provide the ideal level of lighting based on the time of day, event or situation. This will prevent unnecessarily high lighting levels or unneeded lighting.

Hotels should educate their staff to switch off lights and turn down heating or air-conditioning when rooms are unused. Simple actions like closing the drapes during the summer months can save the hotel money in air-conditioning costs.

Install films on windows, which will lower heating and cooling loads. Window films can also reduce the glare in guestrooms.

Use proper insulation and reflective roof coverings. This can save in heating and cooling costs.

Purchase appliances, which are 'Energy Star' certified wherever possible.

In laundry areas, remove old washing machines and replace them with both energy and water conserving models.

Use natural daylight in lobby, bar and restaurant for as much as possible. Consider installing skylights.

Exterior lighting can be used as a design element and can have dramatic effects. However, consider adding timers, which would switch off the lights at times like 3am, when no one is around to impress.

Install solar water heating systems for heated pools. Use covers to cover hot tubs and pools when the areas are closed, this will reduce evaporation.

Exit signs, such as LED, when installed throughout a building can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in energy and maintenance costs.

Use an energy management system (EMS), which is designed to control the mechanical equipment in the hotel, thereby saving utilities such as gas and electricity. This system determines when air-conditioning or heating can be switched on/off or up/down. As soon as the guest enters the room, his room key card is inserted in a slot behind the door. Electricity for the light and the air-conditioner will now be activated. As soon as the guest leaves the room the utilities will be automatically switched off. The energy consumption of the hotel can be monitored by comparing reports generated by the energy management system and the front office. For example, if occupancy levels are not high the energy consumption should be lower and visa versa.

In kitchens, use smaller convection ovens to replace oversized conventional ovens.

If available, schedule an energy audit with the local energy provider or energy auditor.

Water Conservation

Water conservation is just as important as energy conservation. Fresh clean water is one of the most valuable commodity on earth. Using improved technologies hotels can deliver equal or better services to guests using less water. From a guest's perspective, the use of water is a vital part of his or her experience. Any water restrictions would result in guests being unhappy and so maintaining adequate water comfort must be central to all water management strategies.

Ways to save water:

Start a linen reuse programme for towels and sheets in all guest rooms. Giving the option to guests to choose whether or not they want to reuse their towels and sheets, which can save huge amounts of water and reduce chemical wastage.

Laundry washers, which use final rinse water for prewashing of the next load of laundry.

Install low-flow showerheads and sink aerators. 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) showerheads and 1.5 GPM aerators are recommended for water savings and guest satisfaction respectively. The latest generation of sink taps is equipped with infrared sensors that automatically turn off when a person walks away or when the allotted quantity per wash has been delivered.

Install low-flow toilets or toilet-tank fill diverters. "The THC Rotorua Hotel in New Zealand had urinals that flushed automatically every nine minutes. Each flush used 10 liters of water. This added up to 66 litres per hour, regardless of whether the urinals had been used or not. The total consumption for three urinals was 4,740 daily [2]." After realising the huge water cost, the hotel installed detectors that could sense when someone is using the urinals, and allow flushing to occur after being used. This greatly reduced the water usage from 66 litres per hour to 40 litres during the day and 20 litres in the night.

For gardens, watering should take place either early in the morning or later in the day to reduce the possibility of evaporation in hot weather. Switch to drought resistant plants. Replace mowed landscaping with artificial ground cover or native ground cover.

Pool covers will reduce evaporation and have the added advantage of reducing heat loss in cooler climates.

To reduce water use, consider rainwater harvesting and/or a greywater system. Properties investing in fountains and water features should turn off appliances at night and consider the use of greywater.

In kitchens, use a food-thawing machine instead of running water over foods for faster thawing.

Water conservation urges hotels to use improved practices that will reduce and enhance the beneficial use of water, addressing the technical and human side of water management issues. For example,

The Houston-based Green Hotels Association observed water use in the San Antonio-based La Quinta Inn. Through a one-month period, the hotel showed an average of 100 gallons of water being used per guest per billing period. The chain totaled more than a billion gallons in the first nine months in 1996. La Quinta Inn then installed low-flow showerheads and aerating faucets in each room, resulting in a saving of $1.50 per room per month. Replacing all toilets with ultra-flow toilets at a cost of $3,250 showed a payback in 2.1 years and annual water saving of 180,000 gallons per year [10].

Waste Reduction

The hospitality industry creates tons and tons of waste each year due to its mass facilities, amenities and services provided to their guests. To give an indication of the size of waste created,

The European Union produces 1.3 billion tons of waste each year. In other words, 3.5 tons of refuse and liquid or solid waste per European citizen, nearly a third of this food waste for which the food service industry has a responsibility. Another 40 - 45 million tons of this huge mountain of waste is classed as hazardous, or particularly dangerous [2].

In response to current trends, hotel owners and operators are analyzing ways to make changes in operations to cut waste disposal costs, protect the environment and increase guest loyalty. A few proactive hotel corporations have mandated hotel environmental programmes such as water and energy efficiency and more recently, waste reduction and recycling.

Ways to reduce waste:

To increase guest involvement, place recycling instructions in guest rooms and locate recycling collection containers in convenient locations in convention halls and public areas throughout the hotel. Always place a trash container along side of the recycling container in public areas to avoid trash being thrown in the recycling bin.

Buy guest amenity and office products that contain recycled material. Provide amenities such as shower caps, shoe wipes on request.

Shred office paper and use it to package shipments.

Decrease the number of hard copies of documents by establishing a central filing system to store documents.

Use recycled, unbleached and chlorine-free paper products, and try to minimise the amount of paper used by staff and guests. Print with soy-based inks, which are less harmful to the environment.

Purchase vacuum cleaners with reusable bags versus disposables ones.

Reduce the need for pesticide applications in guest rooms and employee work areas by removing food containers, garbage and recycling containers daily; clean employee break rooms daily to remove crumbs and spills; and report cracks around doors and windows to the engineering department for repairs to prevent crawling pests from entering.

Re-dye stained bath towels and washcloths for reuse as pool towels and cleaning cloths. Re-dye linens and carpet to match remodeled decor. Re-dye tablecloths and napkins to match new color schemes when remodeling; reuse worn table linens as cleaning rags or remake into aprons, laundry bags, mattress covers.

Provide reusable items such as cloth napkins, glass cups, ceramic dishes, etc. with all food and beverage services. Just by using glass or plastic coasters can reduce cocktail napkin waste, and by providing mugs for coffee instead of disposable cups can play a large part in conserving the environment.

Purchase refrigerators, freezers, and coolers which are CFC-free.

Donate leftover food to a local non-profit organisation. Consider using a compost bin.

Purchase cleaning products with less hazardous constituents. Use a hazardous chemical containment pan to prevent leaching of unused chemicals.

Donate leftover guest amenities, old furniture and appliances to charities.

Refinish and reupholster damaged and dated furniture.

Use dry, concentrated dishwasher chemicals in dispensers to reduce chemical spills and waste.

Most guests are pleased to see the use of products made from recycled materials, energy efficient light bulbs, low-flow showerheads and recycling programmes in hotels and restaurants that they patronise. Hotel managers report that most guests are willing to participate in the hotel's recycling efforts.

No matter how well planned the hotel's waste reduction and recycling initiatives may be, they probably won't succeed without the support of the hotel department managers and staff. Successful hotel recycling programmes require employee involvement, training and recognition.

Involve all employees in the recycling programme. They are already disposing of waste as they perform their daily jobs. Recycling is simply disposing of job related waste in a different container from the one used for trash. Hotels should seek their ideas in organising the recycling programme and for methods of collecting and storing the materials. Employees are more likely to support a programme that they understand and have helped design.

Case Study

The Orchard Garden Hotel


466 Bush Street, San Francisco, California 94108

Management Company:

Portfolio Hotels & Resorts, LLC

Number of Guests Rooms:

86 rooms

Awards and Certifications:

San Francisco Green Business

Green Seal Certified - Silver

LEED certified - U.S. Green Building Council

Best Organic Restaurant in San Francisco British Airway's Tourism

Located in the heart of San Francisco, the Orchard Garden Hotel is near the Financial District, Union Square, and the Chinatown gate. At 10 stories, the 56,000-square-foot building includes 86 guestrooms and a 56-seat restaurant and bar. The hotel opened in 2006, and in 2007, it became the third hotel in the U.S. and the fourth hotel in the world to earn LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Among the Orchard Garden's most innovative features is the key card. After allowing guests into their room, the card becomes a powerful energy-management system. Guests activate the room's lighting and mechanical systems by inserting the card into a slot near the door. When they leave the room, they remove the card from the box, turning off all systems except for one outlet, which can be used to charge laptops or cell phones. The system, which cost about $37,000 to install, was anticipated to save nearly 20 per cent in energy costs, paying for itself in two years.

Since the building is located in an urban centre, multiple public-transit lines stop within walking distance of the hotel. The hotel also features bicycle stalls for both employees and guests, and employees who cycle to work are welcome to use a guestroom shower.

High levels of insulation reduce sound transmission between rooms while improving energy efficiency. More than 80 per cent of all regularly occupied spaces are day lit, reducing the need for electric lighting, and a roof terrace strengthens visitors' sense of connection to the natural environment.

The project team selected materials for their recycled content, regional origin, and low chemical emissions. Materials used in the project include concrete made with 'flyash' in place of some of the cement, wood certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards, and low-emitting carpeting made with recycled content. During the construction process, the project team diverted 77 per cent of all waste, by weight, from the landfill.

The entire hotel is designated tobacco-free. Housekeeping staff use green cleaning products, and all fabrics, selected for their low chemical emissions, are machine-washed to avoid the use of dry-cleaning chemicals. Bins in each room encourage guests to recycle, and the hotel uses recycled paper and soy-based inks for their printed materials. Thanks to these and other strategies, the hotel has been recognised by the San Francisco Green Business Programme and certified according to Green Seal's standard for lodging properties.


For a hotel to change its traditional ways of operating and to accept sustainability will take time. Being sustainable is not costly and does not really have a slow payback rate. A hotel can start its journey in becoming 'green' by implementing simple changes, policies and services such as providing your guests with bicycles, walking maps to encourage them to do something that is more environmentally friendly and healthy. Creating an incentive programme to encourage your staff to participate in and improve upon environmentally friendly practices. Replacing a simple incandescent light bulb with a CFL. Coming up with creative ways to reward hotel guests for being green. One great example is Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers "offers a free meal to guests who generate 10 watt hours of electricity on the gym bicycle [12]." These are only a few examples of what hotels could do, while some steps may be small, none are insignificant.

If we can follow the four basic principles (page 4) to achieve sustainability, we can work together to be sustainable. We will all have a better quality of life, we will waste less, we will pollute less and we will create more things we value in society while improving our planet's chance of providing us with the very things we need to survive.


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