Each year we seem to be facing harsher and harsher consequences from the climate crisis – and the public is increasingly aware that something needs to change. Even during these troubled times, we have a responsibility to make positive changes in this area.
There is a saying, “Old ways won’t open new doors”. To successfully overcome the crisis we are currently in, we can’t continue living and operating as we did in the past.
Operating more sustainably, and including green practices, is no longer a nice additional benefit. It’s fast becoming mandatory for all hotels to transition towards a more sustainable way of operating. Luckily, the transition can be a smooth one and even offer many benefits.
What makes a hotel sustainable?
There are three main pillars of sustainability: economical, social and environmental. By definition, sustainable hotels – also called green and eco-friendly hotels – are those that are dominantly putting efforts into lowering their environmental impact by cutting water usage, lowering waste, saving energy and/or using renewable energy sources.
At the same time, they are also focussed on social inclusiveness and values, fair market competitiveness, supporting local businesses and community, and providing good labour conditions.
If you want to promote your hotel as an eco-friendly, sustainable hotel, you do need to fulfil certain practices and features in order to officially become one.
But my aim with this article is not to convince you to become an official green hotel overnight and completely re-organise your operations, but rather to encourage you to start implementing sustainable practices into your business, which can help you to lower your impact on the environment as much as possible. Keep reading and you will see that it is easier – and cheaper – than you probably think!
Ways to lower the impact
Recycling and reducing waste
One of the widely popular waste-reducing trends has been removing plastic straws from hotels. While that is great, some people started associating sustainability with just stopping using plastic straws. But that is just a tip of the iceberg really. I am not underestimating the positive impact of that of course – I highly encourage you to do that, and there are many great reusable options now, like metal and bamboo straws. There are many other things you can consider as well, such as recycling and reducing waste.
Recycling is mandatory nowadays in many countries around the world, but still not everywhere. Wherever you are located, do this practice properly – because like with anything, it can be done wrong.
So make sure you wash all items before disposing of them and separate by categories. Go a step further and encourage your guest to recycle by providing separate bins in the rooms for communal garbage and recyclable categories. Many guests will appreciate the ability to recycle in their rooms, but you have to make it easy for them to do so.
When it comes to food waste, start composting or, if you don’t have conditions for that, team up with local farmers for a win-win solution.
Another thing to have in mind is food miles – the distance that certain food needs to travel to arrive at a certain market. The longer miles mean longer journeys and a bigger carbon footprint. This is why, for example, avocado has such a large environmental impact. So if you have a restaurant, try to plan your menu around ingredients that have low miles.
It’s not always possible, but offering locally sourced produce can also be a huge selling point for your business. Guests love the authentic taste of the local area.
If possible, remove the mini-bar from rooms and invite people to have a drink at your bar or restaurant. Swap water in plastic bottles for reusable bottles and glasses. Use leaf tea instead of tea bags and offer exotic, local blends.
Lastly, one of the major things that go to waste from hotels is small plastic bottles of shampoo and soaps. Replace them with refillable dispensers – they won’t hurt the luxurious image of your hotel and at the same time, they won’t hurt the environment either.
Cutting water and energy usage
Switching to completely sustainable energy sources does mean a certain level of investment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to reduce your current water and energy usage. There are many other smaller investments you can make that will help you lower the impact while at the same time bring a significant ROI.
You can start by implementing a green policy regarding room cleaning. You don’t have to clean rooms every day – just think, how many of us really clean our personal space every day?
Just cleaning every second day can make a difference, but the best solution is to clean per guests’ requests.
Many hotels are being creative here and rewarding guests who don’t need their room cleaned for a certain amount of days with free drinks, free pizza, coupons for a spa treatment, etc. The same goes with linens and towels – not changing them every day won’t make you any less luxurious – especially if the guest is able to indicate that they don’t require daily cleaning.
Instead, start changing them per request, and you will quickly realise all those daily towels and linen washings were unnecessary.
If possible, invest in low-water laundry machines, smart showerheads and water savers on the taps that will reduce the water waste. Automatic light switch-off can save you from having lights on longer than needed, which can also offer a significant saving over time.
Train your team
The best ideas come when a group of people works together towards achieving the same goal. Encourage your team to think green and motivate them to come up with new ideas on how you can lower the hotel’s impact even more.
Not only are you giving your employees ownership over your hotel’s green strategies, but you are turning them into advocates who will represent your hotel in a great light.
If possible, keep all your staff documents in electronic form, cutting down on unnecessary paper usage. When you are hiring new members, give an advantage to those who are sustainably oriented, as you want to cultivate that mindset. It’s important that you and your employees practice what you preach.
Support local businesses
We often don’t realise the power we have as consumers. By creating a demand for a certain product and/or service, we are also directly supporting certain businesses and their practices. If you are against a certain company’s unethical practices, but still like and buy their product, then it’s unavoidable that you are contributing to their success. So we need to be conscious as consumers where we can.
As a hotel, you have the power to support small local businesses in many ways – sell their handmade products in the gift shop, buy food from local groceries and farmers, and other supplies that you need for the hotel.
Partner with local tour operators, restaurants, bars, spa centres, any business that is complementing your offer.
Encourage your guests to take a green transportation option, like biking and walking by providing walking maps, rental bike options, or partnering up with local rental companies. You can work out a special discount for your guests.
Again, to motivate your guests to cooperate with you on being more sustainable, make it easy for them to do so.
Lastly, don’t be shy to tell your guests about your green practices and the reasons why you are carrying them out. Environmental concerns are increasingly high on the agenda, so taking positive action to improve the situation can be a real selling point for your hotel. Education is really important here, and by doing so you can inspire others to do the same.
You can even use your policies in your marketing efforts to show your hotel’s values and give guests the option to holiday and stay with you with a clear conscience.
When it comes to lowering our impact on the environment, the best time to start taking steps is right now. Don’t forget that no effort is too small – everything counts and makes a difference.