Next-Gen Green Hotels Are Catching On
When hotel behemoth Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) declared in July it would be phasing out mini toiletry bottles in all its rooms over the next two years, it made headlines around the world.
What may sound like a small thing is actually no mean feat. IHG owns brands including Holiday Inn, InterContinental and Crowne Plaza. There are 856,000 of those rooms around the world that will see the bottles replaced with bulk dispensers.
As it starts the process, IHG is putting the final touches to last year’s headline pledge: that by the end of 2019, its hotels will ban plastic straws. The move should save 50 million straws going into landfill each year. According to CEO Keith Barr, large brands have a responsibility to protect the environment and an opportunity to make a real difference.
Past perceptions might have been that to keep things green while travelling, we should stay in smaller, locally owned hotels. But leaving aside the issue of ownership, and looking purely at ecologically friendly initiatives, recently the big brands have really raised their game.
Last year, Hilton pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 61 percent and halve water usage by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement. In the past decade, it’s already reduced emissions by 30 percent, water use by 20 percent, waste by a third and energy consumption by 21 percent.
Hilton also recycles 400 tons of soap per year and is removing plastic straws and cocktail stirrers from its hotels. Hyatt is doing the same, recycling soap and shampoo and donating it to communities in need — during the Caribbean hurricanes of 2017, 250,000 bars were donated to people in need by Clean the World, which works with both chains. Hyatt also has a Responsible Seafood Sourcing initiative: 50 percent of its seafood served globally must be sustainable.
Although this might be the first time some of us are hearing about these initiatives, brands have been taking steps for years. The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) was founded in 1993 to encourage environmental responsibility in the hotel industry. It’s here that representatives of big brands can come together to share their initiatives.
The path to sustainability was marked out a long time ago, says Rajesh. A decade ago the ITP developed tools to measure hotels’ carbon and water consumption and provide a management plan; today, 20,000 properties use them. Hilton implemented a similar monitoring system in 2008.
Getting a Move On
At first glance, it looks like the pressure is coming from an increasingly urgent public mood. In a survey of 73,000 Hilton guests last year, 60 percent said hotels’ green policies affect their booking decisions. Crucially though, IHG’s recent decision wasn’t only based on pressure from the general public.
With a long future ahead of them, more than half of Hilton’s employees are millennials or younger. The brand was named number one in its industry in 2018’s Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In a follow-up this year to its 2018 survey, a third of 72,000 guests said that they actively seek out information on a hotel’s environmental credentials before booking.
And green doesn’t have to be lean. We tend to think of hotel luxury in terms of fluffy robes, piles of daily changed towels and those mini bottles of upmarket toiletries. But it’s been the luxury market that’s led the way with sustainability.
Six Senses — the luxe brand acquired by IHG in February. Each property bottles water onsite and plans to be completely plastic-free by 2022. Even the toothbrushes in the amenity kits are made of biodegradable cornstarch. Then there’s Soneva, which banned plastic straws in 1998 and bottles 10 years later and also has recycling facilities at all of its Indian Ocean resorts. Meanwhile, Soneva Fushi, in the Maldives, turns polystyrene packaging into construction blocks.
Luxury Peruvian brand Inkaterra also has a sustainable focus, aiming to be entirely single-use plastic-free by the end of 2019. In April, its Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel donated an organic waste treatment plant to the city in which it sits — the gateway to the famous ruined citadel.
Everything organic — from food scraps to human waste — is turned into fertilizer, which is used to aid reforesting the Andean Cloud Forest and Machu Picchu itself. The hotel has also previously donated a plastic compactor and a biodiesel plant.
The latest move makes Machu Picchu Pueblo the first hotel in Latin America to recycle 100 percent of its solid waste.
These days, even air conditioning isn’t a given at the higher end of the market. Jade Mountain, one of St Lucia’s poshest hotels, swaps air conditioning for a missing fourth wall, with open-to-the-elements rooms designed to draw in trade winds.
Making Changes of Their Own
Of course, a one-size-fits-all approach to environmental issues can lead to ‘greenwashing’ — banning straws isn’t so laudable if you serve poolside drinks in plastic cups, and there’s no point bragging about recycling prowess when there’s little recycling in your destination.
Carbon offsetting, which many hotels do, is no substitute for using sustainably generated energy in the first place, and although there are numerous certifications schemes for ‘green’ buildings, there’s little clarity around what each means on a property-specific level. It’s on the individual level, however, that hotels can make a huge difference, working within their specific circumstances.
Take Blue Apple Beach House on the island of Tierra Bomba, off Cartagena in Colombia. In 2017, owner Portia Hart launched the Green Apple Foundation, which sorts waste, composts organic matter, converts cooking oil to biodiesel fuel and uses a glass pulverizer to turn bottles into sand, which locals use to make cement.
Other properties are working with their direct environments. In April, Mashpi Lodge in the Ecuadorian rainforest doubled the size of the private reserve in which it sits to 6,200 acres, with plans to reach 35,000 acres by 2040.
The move means everyone who stays there, or travels through Ecuador with its sister company Metropolitan Touring, will be carbon-neutral — the growth of the rainforest offsets their emissions in a place that needs protection -rather than other carbon offsetting projects planting trees in unsuitable places.
Crucially, green initiatives will be factored in at the planning stage, so hotels are built to be sustainable, rather than adapted retrospectively.
Five Green Hotels to Consider
Hoshinoya Karuizawa, Japan
In the forest an hour from Tokyo, this eco-hotel by Japanese chain Hoshinoya is powered by hydroelectricity, generated by the river that runs through the property, and geothermal energy from onsite hot springs. It’s 70 percent self-sufficient and uses no fossil fuels.
Morukuru Beach Lodge, South Africa
In the De Hoop Nature Reserve, 150 miles east of Cape Town, this lodge is entirely off-grid. Electricity is generated by solar panels, while hot water and underfloor heating comes from pellet burner boilers. Wastewater is purified via an innovative take on a septic tank, linen is washed with biodegradable soap and toiletries are made sustainably from indigenous plants by local women.
This quintuple-glazed former water tower on Lake Constance generates all its energy from solar panels, hydrothermal and wind power and donates the leftovers to the National Grid.
Zuri Zanzibar, Tanzania
On the Kendwa beachfront, this hotel uses 52 percent less energy than the baseline for green certifiers EarthCheck. Water comes from wells and the sea via onsite desalination, rainwater is harvested for irrigation, and the grounds are grass-free. The innovative air conditioning system uses a quarter of the power that normal AC does.
Stoke by Nayland, Suffolk
This hotel in the Dedham Vale AONB produces so much energy via biomass boilers, solar panels and air source heat pumps that it supplies the excess to the National Grid. Air is heated by the pool and everything down to cooking oil is recycled.
Source: National Geographic