Most of us have occasion to stay in a hotel, whether traveling to visit family or friends, or for vacation. I confess I’ve been lax in evaluating the hotels we’ve stayed relative to the hotel’s environmental practices. Mostly I’ve picked a hotel based on brand familiarity (Hilton, Marriott) or recommendation if associated with an event (e.g., wedding), or ratings (e.g., trip advisor). Shame on me for not asking environmental questions before now. This realization has prompted me to investigate how various hotels are doing business relative to the planet – and use that information for my next trip.
My research began by looking at what some would consider the “gold standard”: an “Eco-Hotel”, or a “Green Hotel”. These illustrate what an environmentally responsible hotel could do.
An eco-hotel, or a green hotel, is defined as an environmentally responsible lodging that follows the practices of green or sustainable living. These hotels have to be certified green by an independent third-party or by the state they are located in. Traditionally, these hotels were mostly presented as Eco Lodges because of their location, often in jungles, and their design inspired by the use of traditional building methods applied by skilled local craftsmen in areas, such as Costa Rica and Indonesia.
In general, characteristics of eco or green hotels include:
- Housekeeping uses non-toxic cleaning agents and laundry detergent
- 100% organic cotton sheets, towels and mattresses
- Non-smoking environment
- Renewable energy sources like solar or wind energy
- Bulk organic soap and amenities instead of individual packages to reduce waste
- Guest room and hotel lobby recycling bins
- Towel and sheet re-use (guests can tell housekeeping to leave these slightly used items to reduce water consumption)
- Energy-efficient lighting
- On-site transportation with green vehicles
- Serve organic and local-grown food
- Non-disposable dishes
- Offers a fresh-air exchange system
- Greywater recycling, which is the reuse of kitchen, bath and laundry water for garden and landscaping
- Newspaper recycling program
This list identifies many things I had not considered and serves as a nice check-list of things to look for the next time I’m staying in a hotel. As I mentioned earlier, when traveling, we typically stay at a Hilton or Marriott property. We’re familiar with the brand, we accumulate their points, and they are usually convenient. But how are they doing relative to environmental sustainability?
Marriott, a very large chain ($22B annual revenue) has an impressive list of sustainable objectives and targets. Marriott plans, by 2025, to reduce its water use by 15%; its carbon footprint by 30%; its landfill waste by 45%; its food waste by 50%; and achieve a minimum of 30% renewable energy. By 2020 Marriott plans to have a website with specific hotel metrics.
Hilton ($9.1B annual revenue) announced in May 2018 it plans to cut its environmental footprint in half and double its social impact investment by 2030. These and other goals are part of Hilton’s Travel with Purpose corporate responsibility strategy to further the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Hilton also shared survey data from customers regarding hotels acting responsibility regarding the environment. The survey, conducted in May 2018, discovered:
- 33% of customers actively seek this information before booking – of those, 60% conduct research even if the information is not easily accessible
- 44% under the age of 25 actively seek this information
- 36% of leisure travelers actively seek this information, compared to 29% of business travelers
- Female travelers (39%) are more likely to actively seek this information before booking than male travelers (29%)
- Guests staying in Central/South America (46%), the Middle East/Africa (45%), Asia Pacific (41%) and mainland Europe (35%) are more likely to seek this information before booking
Clearly this survey data indicates the importance of environmental responsibility to many customers and it is affecting their choice of hotels.
Another large group, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts ($5.1B annual revenue) has been recognized as one of the highest performing green buildings in the country achieving Gold LEED recertification from U.S. Green Building Council, top ENERGYSTAR score, and platinum-level designation as a New Jersey Smart Workplace. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is one of the most popular green building certification programs used worldwide. Developed by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council it includes a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes, and neighborhoods that aims to help building owners and operators be environmentally responsible and use resources efficiently.
In 2014, Hyatt ($4.69B annual revenue) set goals to tackle environmental challenges by launching its “2020 Vision” based around goals for reducing energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at our hotels, recycling and waste reduction, supply chain sustainability, and building efficiency.
Investigating other hotels, chains, or brands, there are varying levels of information regarding the hotel’s commitment to the environment. For example, Holiday Inn, part of the Intercontinental Hotels Group ($1.8B annual revenue), has committed to eliminating single use toiletry items (shampoo, lotions, etc.) by 2021, offering instead, toiletries in bulk-size dispensers in an effort to reduce plastic waste – about 200 million little bottles a year. Other individual hotels are advertising their sustainable practices in an effort to differentiate their unique property.
My conclusion: hotels are paying attention to sustainable practices – if they don’t they will lose customers to hotels that do. I’m glad the hotels we’ve most often frequented haven’t been asleep at the wheel.
So, what can I do to continue encouraging their better practices? Pay attention, and let the hotel know I am aware of what they’re doing (or not doing). At a recent stay at a Hampton Inn, I was pleasantly surprised to see wooden coffee stirs (in lieu of plastic), bulk sugar dispensers (in lieu of individual packets), and compostable plates and cups (in lieu of plastic or styrofoam) for breakfast. But compared to the “eco-hotel” and “green-hotel” list above, there are many more things these hotels can do. And I, for one, plan to respond to every survey the hotel sends me following my stays, with recognition for what they’re doing right and recommendations as to how they can continue to improve their environmental footprint. I believe every voice helps to make a difference. I hope more people will do this, too. I also think it’s nice to leave a tip for the cleaning staff – they can probably use a little extra.