Go for External Accreditation—The first step is to set yourself an ambitious target, by aiming for certification in sustainable hotel design and operation. This way you can engage and focus the efforts of your entire team generating ideas and adopting practices that will really make a difference.
LEED certification, LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a prestigious, globally-recognized program to acknowledge achievement in sustainability. If you’re about to start work on building a new hotel, ensure you work with the architects and the company responsible for your construction engineering to incorporate the requirements of the standard—whether that’s net-zero energy consumption or waste water management systems into the design. LEED also covers achievements in the operations and maintenance of existing buildings, so if your hotel is already running, there are still significant areas of improvement to aim for.
In addition, many countries, states, and cities run their own certification programs which are focused on properties already in operation. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the Energy Star for Hospitality program to support hotels in measuring their energy consumption, setting goals, and tracking the cost savings which result. Or, New York City’s The EcoChi® 180° Seal provides 18 guidelines covering sustainability, Classical Feng Shui, and environmental psychology.
Reduce Plastic Waste—Traditionally, hotels have been responsible for a huge amount of non-biodegradable plastic waste, so there are plenty of opportunities to re-examine how you are using plastic and to take steps to reduce it. There are hundreds of examples of good practice.
For example, many hotels ask guests to leave their plastic key-cards, for re-use or responsible recycling.
Consider replacing plastic bottles of toiletries by installing large glass soap and shampoo/conditioner dispensers and transitioning to more eco-friendly products. This will also result in lower costs and have a positive impact on your bottom line.
Substitute ceramic or glass cups and plates, for disposable plastic ones—again, after the initial investment. They will last for ages and save on cost.
Place a water cooler on each floor so that guests can fill their own water bottles, free-of-charge, instead of paying for small plastic bottles from the mini-bar.
If you have a dry-cleaning service, why not dispense with plastic covers altogether, and simply hang the items in the closet, or fold them in an attractive basket? And why not emphasize your drive to reduce plastic waste, placing a small recycling bin in the room so that guests can recycle their own?
Reduce Water Use—Hotels use a tremendous amount of water for guest laundry and the cost is horrendous. For many years, even top hotels have requested guests to signal whether, in fact, they need towels changed after every use. Why not go one step further and make it clear, that as you provide a good supply, towels will be changed every two or three days? Adopt the same practice with bedsheets, and link this, proudly, to your commitment to conserving water.
Reduce Transportation Emissions—Highlight your commitment to sustainable tourism by providing bikes (complete with your branding) for guests to rent or use free-of-charge. This will reduce their dependence on taxi services as well as saving them money. Consider using “bike guides” who can lead your guests, safely, wherever they want to go, and creating local jobs.
Reduce Waste from Superfluous Items—Hotels are sometimes such bastions of tradition. They continue to offer guests services and amenities that are even somewhat bizarre. For example, how many people, in their own homes, regard it as essential to eat a chocolate before they get into bed? How many of us expect a paper sheet on the toilet seat as proof it has been cleaned?
Carry out an audit of the items you provide and ask yourself how much they are valued by your guests. If there are items that you know some of your guests do value, such as bathrobes (which need washing) or disposable slippers (which are usually discarded), highlight that they are welcome to request them from Reception. This way, you will not be wasting resources and if your guests want them, they are available.
Eliminate Superfluous Services—Whenever you are considering a change in the services you deliver, no matter how valid your reasons, it is natural that your regular guests will be discomforted. So why not give them a choice, and thank them, in a practical way, for understanding your attempts to be more environmentally sustainable.
Some hotels now offer a gift, equivalent to the cost of a couple of coffees, to guests who agree to “skip” housekeeping for a day. This reduces the cost of labor, the cost and the environmental impact of cleaning products, reduces energy consumption and minimizes water waste. To avoid printing paper vouchers, amounts are simply discounted from the client’s final invoice.
Highlight Your Commitment—Engage Your Stakeholders—To raise your hotel’s eco-credentials so they really make a difference, it is essential to engage everyone involved—your employees as well as your guests. Create focus groups comprised of employees from each department to brainstorm ideas about how they could contribute to reducing the hotel’s environmental footprint—this initiative should not be considered only the role of the facilities/maintenance team.
Ensure every initiative and every success story is shared with your team via your intranet, newsletters, bulletin boards, and meetings—and celebrate achievements.
Join in with community initiatives such as beach or park clean-ups, and use them as an opportunity to highlight your property’s commitment to the local environment.
Also, engage with and celebrate events such as the WWF’s annual Earth Hour to highlight your commitment to behaving as a responsible global citizen. Encourage guests to participate as the electricity is switched off in your property—maybe with a special invitation-only event outside when the night sky becomes visible as lights go out across the entire city.
Finally, improving your hotel’s eco-credentials will take vision, clear targets, and unflinching commitment at every level of your organization. So, whether you are about to commission a brand-new build or are working with the constraints of a historic property, involve your stakeholders and place your hotel’s eco-credentials at the top of your business agenda.