Post-Covid Sustainability: How Hotels Can Maximize Opportunity While Keeping Costs Down

Written by: Olivia Ruggles-Brise

As the world emerges from the pandemic, there is an increasing amount of buzz about sustainability, particularly the climate crisis. Governments around the world are setting ambitious decarbonization targets in advance of the COP26 event in the UK in December. Investors are putting increasing pressure on companies to measure and disclose their sustainability impacts, and consumers are showing more propensity towards sustainable products.

What does this mean for the hospitality industry? While many companies have robust and well-established sustainability programs, and the carbon intensity of the global hotel sector has decreased by 10 percent since 2015, the pandemic has added pressure in areas such as single use plastics. 

I was honored to participate in a recent HFTP Europe Hangout to discuss the challenges and opportunities of sustainability in the hospitality sector. Alongside Professor Willy Legrand and Vanessa Borkmann, we discussed how technology can provide a cost-effective way of improving your sustainability performance. While there are some great and simple technology solutions out there — such as digital thermostats, smart meters, IoT solutions to in-room services, and applications using AI to reduce food waste — unless it is underpinned by a robust process and sustainability management system, the benefits of technology will not be realized.

Here are a few things you can do to support any investment in technology:

Regularly monitor and track sustainability metrics.

Fundamental to a successful sustainability program is collecting and tracking data on a regular basis. This allows you not only to monitor consumption and track progress against sustainability targets, but also identify anomalies or spikes and investigate accordingly. A common platform across the portfolio, such as Hilton’s LightStay, will also allow for data to be aggregated and analyzed at company level to enable transparent reporting of progress.

Engage benchmarking performance.

Benchmarking performance is standard practice across the hospitality industry when it comes to ADR, RevPar and other business indicators. Understanding your property’s sustainability performance in the context of a local or regional peer group is also possible through the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index (CHSB). This annual index is the only global dataset for hotel energy and water consumption, with data from over 14,000 properties in 55 countries supplied by 20 global hotel brands and owners.

Engage benchmarking best practice.

A common question when it comes to hotel’s sustainability activities: “what is the ROI of a particular action?” This is hard to answer in a general sense as, more often than not, ROI depends on the particular circumstances of a property. By benchmarking what you are doing against what others in your competitive set are doing, you can see which actions are commonplace and which are more innovative, and make a judgement accordingly based on the approach you want to take. The biannual Green Lodging Trends Report is one source that can provide benchmarks on best practice.

Make sure your staff are on board and trained.

Technology definitely has an important role to play when it comes to driving sustainability. However, while technology can increase efficiency and reduce waste, the discipline of regular monitoring and analysis still needs to be in place, and staff need to be trained on how to understand and apply the technology in order for it to be most effective. There is no point in having a state-of-the-art food waste system in the kitchen if no one knows how to use it properly or analyze the results.

And finally, get back to basics.

Take a look around to see how technology is used. Do a night walk and see who is leaving the lights on or their computer monitor on. Check the set points to see if the automated temperatures are correct, if the flow valves are working for water, and the air handling units properly calibrated for variable speed. And (as outlined in the previous point above), if you have software, make sure staff are using it properly.

As sustainability continues to rise up the agenda, so do the financing opportunities. Once the simple steps have been taken and more investment is needed, there are an ever-growing range of facilities available to support it. For example, more technology suppliers are offering performance-based contracts, as software as a service (SaaS) or as a percentage of savings, rather than requiring up-front investment. Also, look for incentives to use technology such as efficient fixtures or equivalent, where there is public funding or rebates/credits available. Countries such as Singapore are leading the way in this regard, but the EU Green Deal may also be a gamechanger.

Olivia Ruggles-Brise is director at Greenview, a provider of sustainability programs and data management for the hospitality and tourism sector.

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