Making hospitality green – A guide for business owners

sustainable restaurant

The hospitality sector strongly influences environmental sustainability actions as the industry has the highest negative influence on the environment of all commercial buildings1. Only one 5-star hotel consumes 170 to 440 litres of water and produces 1 kg of waste per guest per night. Labelling a hospitality business as sustainable involves difficulties as the term is used very loosely in the industry. Simply asking a guest to reuse the towels and to not shower forever does not make the business sustainable. Many people have difficulties understanding the term sustainability. This needs to change as introducing environmentally friendly practices benefits the business, the guest and the environment. This article provides basic information on how YOU can introduce environmentally sustainable practices.

Why introducing environmentally friendly practices?

The hospitality industry has a significant negative influence on the environment2. For example, a hotel releases on a yearly basis between 160 and 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide per square metre of room floor area and approximately 1 kg of waste is produced per guest per night. Also, as a hotel guest, you use between 170 and 440 litres of water per night. This results in a carbon footprint of the hotel industry equivalent to 4.777 Empire State Buildings. Likewise, the increasing number of restaurants cause large quantities of food waste3. 4-10% of purchased food does not even reach the customer and 21% of the purchased food is not eaten in the

United States4. And the environmental impact starts way before a hospitality business starts operating5. The construction of hospitality facilities requires substantial natural resources, which are every so often even scarce. This means that the hospitality industry is one of the greatest polluters and resource consumer within the service industry6. This needs to be changed. You as a hospitality business owner are at the source of changing the environmental sustainability of the industry! The time for a change has come!

What is a sustainable hospitality industry?

This blog article is specifically addressed to the hospitality business owner. However, the term hospitality industry is broad and includes a wide range of organisations regarding products, size and ownership7. To keep it simple, the hospitality industry includes all businesses that commercially offer accommodation, food and drinks8.

To start talking about a greener hospitality sector, we first need to establish and understanding for the term environmental sustainability. The term sustainability has first been determined by the Brundtland commission as the

To start talking about a greener hospitality sector, we first need to establish and understanding for the term environmental sustainability. The term sustainability has first been determined by the Brundtland commission as the

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs9.

This definition includes different aspects of sustainability – economic, social and environmental sustainability10. These three aspects are overlapping and influence each other as you can see in the following graph.

Environmental sustainability refers to the preservation of natural capital. Environmental sustainability can be seen as a set of limitations of using natural resources, including renewable and non-renewable sources as well as the sink function with pollution and waste.

Sustainable development has enjoyed increasing attention in recent years11. But it is far from a new phenomenon. Already the Greek and Roman philosophers analysed the connection between ecosystem and human activities. Hans Carl von Carlowitz set the fundament for the today’s interpretation of sustainability in 171312.

He focused mainly on the harvesting of wood and reforestation as well as energy-efficient ovens and furnaces.

Thanks to his publications, sustainability enjoyed international acknowledgement in the 19th century. But unfortunately, the economic growth worked against the development of sustainability13.

As of 1951, the importance of sustainability increased again and the international union for conservation of nature

printed their pioneering report on the status of the environment14.Various other reports and essays followed. This is also the time when the previously mentioned definition from the Brundtland commission has been established. In 1992 the “agenda 21” has been created by the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development and the Kyoto Protocol has been published in 199715. Other important development is the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 and the Paris Agreement in the year 2015.

Regardless the international attention on environmental sustainability, the hospitality industry has continued growing and therefore using exhaustible natural resources16. Recently, a turn towards customers with the demand towards more environmentally sustainable operations could be seen17. This strongly supported the environmentally sustainable development in the industry. But there is still a lot to improve. This is your time to make an impact!

A brief introduction to international law and organisations

There are multiple organisations that encourage the implementation of sustainability in businesses and the hospitality sector. The most well-known organisation might be the United Nations. The last decades the united nations have been actively involved and supported to implementation of sustainable development all around the world. The United Nations has been active in promoting sustainable development by arranging conventions and congresses all around the world with the members of the United Nations18.

Sustainable development goals

A result of the conventions and congresses are the sustainable development goals, which are broadly implemented all over the world. The sustainable development goals consist of 17 main goals which are subdivided into 169 targets. These seventeen goals have been set in consultation with all states and cover all three aspects of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. The three aspects are overlapping within all goals19.

Regional international organisations

Besides the global international organisation United Nations, there are also more regional (but still international) organisations20. Examples are the European Union in Europe and ASEAN in Asia. Those organisations have a more focussed view on the implementation laws and regulations as well as the sustainable development goals on the participating countries. As each country has different habits and culture the implementation of laws and regulations should be different as well.

European Union

The European union is one of the world’s leader when it comes to sustainable development, it has one of the highest environmental standards. Overall, sustainable development is a central aim and objective for the European union. This can be found back in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union, herein it is stated that the European Union is committed to a

high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment’.21

In order to use all opportunities for the implementation of environmental sustainability, the European Union is subsidiarising and supporting business and organisations that aim for sustainable (environmental) development with their LIFE programme. In 1982 the European Commission has created a funding instrument called LIFE (L’Instrument Financier pour l’Environnement) in order to invest and contribute to the development of projects that contribute to environmental- and nature conservation and climate action.

Projects that are part of the LIFE program receive grants from the European Union up to 60 percent that co-finance to project. The types of project have a very broad range, everyone and each type of project can register22. There is also to possibility to apply for close-to-market projects. The close-to-markets projects support companies and markets in the development of green innovations and green-tech solutions23.

HOTREC is an example of a European hospitality association that contributes to the UNSDG’s. The association wants to create a regulatory and competitive environment for the sector and create social sustainable jobs and economy. Another function of the association is to constantly represent its members interest in policies by constantly monitoring them24. The association mainly focusses on the third, eight, twelfth and seventeenth goal as the hospitality has most influence on these four factors.

How does YOUR business benefit?

Within the hospitality sector it is of importance to continuously increase the customer value of the visitors as there is shown that customers are the core of a business to be successful25. This means it is of major importance for a hotel chain to be aware of the trends and values of the customers.

As described above, the tourism and hospitality sector have an enormously presence in the global warming and climate change, but what does this mean for the hospitality sector?  Well, first of all it means that something needs to be changed within the sector to keep operating. Second, it means that customer value might decrease and needs an update.

A study also showed that currently two of the most relevant terms within the tourism sector on both professional and academic level are environmental sustainability and customer value. Many businesses in the hospitality sector have already changed their strategies26. This with the goals of being less harmful to the environment and their awareness of the situation, and of course on the side of customer who have an increasing interest in sustainability.

There is little attention for the connection between customer experience and sustainability. But studies have shown there is a positive connection. This means that hotels being more sustainable, having a green image, have an increased number of returning visitors, visitors are quicker making positive recommendations and are willing to pay higher prices27. Another great connection with sustainability in the hospitality sector is with competitiveness, since there is expected that sustainability is taken into account by hotels28. Also, the adaption of corporate social responsibility of hotels is considered important for customers29.

Overall, the relationship between implementing (environmental) sustainability in the hospitality sector and effects on customer value and competitive are positive. So, keep reading and get to know how you can increase sustainability in your hotel.

There is little attention for the connection between customer experience and sustainability. But studies have shown there is a positive connection. This means that hotels being more sustainable, having a green image, have an increased number of returning visitors, visitors are quicker

making positive recommendations and are willing to pay higher prices27. Another great connection with sustainability in the hospitality sector is with competitiveness, since there is expected that sustainability is taken into account by hotels28. Also, the adaption of corporate social responsibility of hotels is considered important for customers29.

Overall, the relationship between implementing (environmental) sustainability in the hospitality sector and effects on customer value and competitive are positive. So, keep reading and get to know how you can increase sustainability in your hotel.

Time for action!

Now that you know about environmental sustainability and its role in the hospitality sector, it is now time to take action. It is time to use the benefits that come with the implementation of environmental sustainability: financial health, increased customer value and increased social responsibility30.

To start, some basic implementations which many hotels already have applied are for example placing recognizable recycling bins on frequently passed places by customers, this will increase awareness and simplify recycling for the customers.  Another application increasing sustainability in hotels is the towel policy, additional towel racks in the bathrooms encourage customers to reuse their towel.

A good first step for implementing sustainability in your hotel, is creating a green team. Ask employees of all departments if they are interested in improving the sustainability in their department of the hotel. Another action. You can take to make your staff sustainable, is to adjust the hiring process. By having phone interviews or online interviews the fossil fuels of traveling will be decreased31.

To implement sustainability further in your hotel practices you can replace your electronic room keys, which are often made form plastic, with bioplastic, wood or paper basis. Also, often cleaning products are on a chemical base and harmful for the environment. Using sustainable cleaning products will reduce the harm to the environment as well as the possibilities of irritation for the guests and employees. When your hotel includes a restaurant, you should consider the ingredients you use in your meals. Using local products and implementing different types of diets (f.e. vegetarian, vegan and biological) gives your guest more options and will reduce the impact on the environment32.

Now that you know the significance of environmental sustainability in the hospitality sector, the amount of I kilogram waste that is generated by one guest in a hotel and the use of water by guest in a hotel that goes up from 170 to 440 litres per night33. Plus, you are aware of the actions you can take for implementing sustainable business operations in your hotel and what types of benefits this will give to you and the environment. There is only one thing left to say, good luck!

Sources

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  3. Hu, M. L., Horng, J. S., Teng, C. C., & Chou, S. F. (2013). A criteria model of restaurant energy conservation and carbon reduction in Taiwan. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 21(5), 765-779.
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