Hotels are slowly getting more eco-friendly, but travel journalist Dan F Stapleton says there’s still much more to do before the industry moves beyond towels-on-the-floor tokenism
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City bolstered his environmental credentials in December when he announced that he had convinced 16 major hotels, including the Grand Hyatt and the Waldorf Astoria, to reduce their carbon emissions by 30 per cent over the next 10 years. The plan, which forms part of New York’s broader carbon-reduction strategy, is the clearest signal yet that this low-lying coastal city is taking climate change seriously, and that its key players understand the importance of limiting global warming.
“De Blasio’s announcement signals a shift in the way that both the hospitality industry and those who travel view sustainability”
The symbolism of such a move cannot be overstated. Until recently, the only hotels that emphasised green living were so-called ‘eco lodges’ in remote – and usually tropical – climes. The idea of such places was to enable guests to commune with nature without damaging it, but there were few concrete promises from hoteliers about exactly how these resorts would operate sustainably, and the light planes and Jeeps required to reach the resorts often cancelled out any carbon savings.
De Blasio’s announcement signals a shift in the way that both the hospitality industry and those who travel view sustainability. Increasingly, travellers expect accommodation to be responsibly managed – whether it’s in a bustling urban location or on a faraway island. Hoteliers, meanwhile, have begun to recognise that going green doesn’t only please customers – it makes financial sense, simply through reduced utility bills.
Across the globe, hotels are moving towards a new, sustainable model. In the US, the new hospitality group 1 Hotels is pioneering the concept of eco-focused properties in dense urban areas. To date, three hotels have opened (two in New York and one in Miami) with meaningful policies like no paper or plastic in guestrooms, plant-based soap in laundry rooms, and organic linens on beds. Repurposed timber features prominently at each property, and guests can borrow bicycles and electric cars.
More broadly, the hospitality industry is responding to consumer demand for green policies by offering not to wash towels and bed linen every day – even at five-star properties, where such a move was once considered ‘cheap’. In America, most hotel companies now aim to achieve LEED certification from the US Green Building Council for new properties.
The stories coming out of the United States and elsewhere sound promising – but it’s too early to say that a hospitality revolution is underway. Announcing a planned 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions may be great PR, but it’s hardly a game-changer at opulent properties like the Waldorf Astoria. Gestures like re-using bed-sheets may make guests feel good, but they’re insignificant when measured against the energy used to heat and cool old, poorly designed hotels. It seems that many hotel groups are tinkering around the edges – acknowledging the importance of sustainability but limiting their action until compelled to do otherwise.
“Let’s be optimistic about the future of green hotel accommodation, without taking these moves towards sustainability for granted.”
There are exceptions to the rule, like the Belgian brand Martin’s Hotels, which now operates nine carbon-neutral properties. Even the old-fashioned eco-lodge concept is getting a shake up thanks to companies like Pacific Beachcomber, which recently opened an incredibly luxurious (and carbon neutral) tropical resort, The Brando, in French Polynesia. The suite of innovative programs at the resort includes industrial-strength air conditioning powered by cold water pumped from the ocean floor – the type of too-good-to-be-true concept that can only become reality if businesses commit themselves.
Let’s be optimistic about the future of green hotel accommodation, without taking these moves towards sustainability for granted. After all, in any market, meaningful change only occurs when consumers demand it.