As though business travel wasn’t hard enough, now we have to defend ourselves against accusations that our travels are destroying the planet. Leisure travellers can salve their conscience by staying at eco lodges (having travelled halfway round the world to get to them), but for city centre hotels, it’s significantly harder to provide a beach for turtles to lay their eggs.

And anyway, isn’t it rather about the way we behave, or are encouraged to behave while we are there? There’s a certain decadence about hotels and hotel life that encourages waste. We open a new small bottle of shampoo every morning, have fresh towels every day, and leave the TV on when we walk out of the room. And why not? Having paid for it, the guest might as well use it, is the common mantra. Yet imagine if your hotel bill were dependent on your resource usage. That might quickly introduce a sense of personal responsibility in guests, although imagine the arguments at check-out.

Research certainly suggests that guests’ environmental responsibility diminishes once in a hotel. Element Hotels, a recently announced luxury extended-stay brand from Starwood Hotels and Resorts, examined the environmental habits of frequent travellers. Some 59 per cent admitted to letting their “green routines” slip when travelling, highlighted by the 70 per cent who conserve water “as much as possible” when at home while only 18 per cent do so in a hotel. Certainly within the constraints of the physical hotel setting, the responsibility is down to the individual.

However for most travellers the choice of hotel is largely down to their employer’s travel programme. Just as staff want to work for a company with a solid corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy, so they should also insist on this being reflected in their accommodation suppliers. Accenture’s three-page environmental performance questionnaire required of Marriott is a case in point, delving into the hotel company’s CSR programme and green initiatives. The tougher environmental requirements of such corporate travel programmes have certainly made the hotels sit up and notice.

For those travellers who have the opportunity – or misfortune – to make their own hotel-booking decisions, a tedious trawl through a hotel’s website will probably reveal some mundane environmental platitudes and a list of CSR policy details.

Unfortunately it is currently difficult to verify such claims, given the lack of consistency among the myriad green rating systems. Many mock the current star rating system for hotels but at least it does provide some measure of comparability. So why not green “stars”? There are currently several for the traveller to look out for:

  • the Nordic Swan, as earned by Scandic Hotels
  • the un-sung EcoLabel, a flower symbol sprung from the leisure market and currently with few accredited properties from the business and chain hotels
  • the Green Globe, based on the protocol from the United Nations Earth summit in Rio in 1992, as awarded to 17 London Marriott Hotels in 2006
  • the snappily named Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) awards

These standards do work. Based on receiving the highest, gold-standard award from the GTBS the Radisson SAS Edinburgh hotel had, within 24 hours, won a conference booking from a branch of the Scottish Enterprise board.

Irrespective of the green labelling, should guests be looking to reduce the impact of their travel by staying in limited service hotels instead of luxury brands? Clearly the bigger rooms of a five-star hotel and the related amenities are more damaging to the environment in terms of construction and subsequent heating, lighting and cleaning. But you can’t assume that a smaller hotel will be more environmentally friendly. Construction budgets will probably be limited to meeting but not exceeding the local minimum construction standards. Furthermore there is usually less operating margin to cover the “niceties” of green programmes.

Nevertheless there is a decadence in the luxury properties which usually accompanies waste. “Ultimately the choice is for the guest to make,” says David Jerome, senior vice-president of CSR for Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). However he adds. “We aim to help them make a responsible choice at every brand level.”


Given the good intentions of the guests, what are the hotels doing, particularly since the major brands are expanding more quickly than they have ever done, and in developing regions such as India, China and the Middle East?

The answer seems to be, as much as they can without harming their business. Thankfully, it is a fortunate coincidence that environmentally responsible initiatives also make good business sense. Eco-friendly means good housekeeping and good economics. But as Stephen Bollenbach, co-chairman and chief executive officer of Hilton Hotels Corporation, pointed out at the International Hotel Conference in Rome last autumn, “hotels are citizens of the world but will not lead environmental concerns”. Since the prime concern of hoteliers is the comfort of their guests, none can afford to reduce their guests’ experience, so most efficiencies are made invisibly: in staff education, “greening” of the supply chain, and a raft of operational initiatives.

Most hotel groups have a staff environmental training programme in place as part of their CSR policy. Marriott has Environmentally Conscious Hospitality Operations (ECHO) requirements across five areas, from energy conservation to clean-up campaigns. Hilton has an online environmental staff-learning programme, EcoLearning, while Scandic also places great emphasis on the education of its employees through its Natural Step Model. All Scandic staff are required to undertake the learning modules and to refresh every two to three years in order for the group to maintain its Nordic Swan rating.

In addition to staff education, hotels have a great opportunity to influence the many guests with whom they come into contact. Scandic is more obvious than most, with multicoloured waste bins encouraging waste separation and allowing Jan Peter Bergkvist, director of environmental sustainability, to state with confidence that “our 6.5 million guests each year certainly notice that we care [about the environment]”. If every guest takes away just an inkling of how easy an environmentally responsible act can be, hotels will have done a great service.

The hotels themselves are looking more closely at making their supply chains greener. Most of Scandic’s cleaning materials are received as concentrates for mixing on site to reduce transport costs. Similarly, wood is sourced from renewable Nordic forests. Increasingly, hotels are looking to buying agents whose job it is to verify the green credentials of hotel suppliers. As Daniel Englender, managing director of interior design procurement specialists Benjamin West, explains: “Our job and expertise is that we know the difference between the suppliers who say they are environmentally sound and those who actually are.”

Operational measures are built into the brand standards of the hotel groups. IHG has announced a new hotel model for its Holiday Inn brand. Rather than the utopian ideal of a green hotel, the aim according to IHG’s Jerome is to “build an integrated, systematic approach that gives an emergent sense of caring [for the environment] across five or six touch points.” The model includes motion sensors for heat and light, and more recyclable materials in furniture. The yet to open Aloft select-service brand and the Element Hotels brand soon to be launched by Starwood Hotels and Resorts will both incorporate eco-friendly “choices” for guests which are embedded into the hotels, such as totally recyclable carpets and paints that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC) to improve air quality.

The Radisson SAS Hotel in Edinburgh has gone the extra mile (no carbon pun intended) with the appointment of a full-time Responsible Business consultant. Alexandra Hammond follows a three-stage mantra of eco-preferences: firstly to reduce emissions, secondly to increase the use of renewable resources, and finally to offset any unavoidable environmental damage. Conscious of the need to maintain the guest experience, the quality of the hotel’s pillows has been increased, allowing a reduction in their number. The result was improved guest satisfaction as well as reduced laundry bills.

Another success story at the Edinburgh property concerned two of the most obvious areas of environmental concern, energy and water consumption. A pool cover for their indoor pool was an investment of £1,200 but the savings in water evaporation alone are £950 per annum, to say nothing of heating costs.

In a summer such as north-west Europe has experienced this year, saving water may not seem to be terribly relevant but all water used requires energy in the form of purification and pumping. So hotels are installing reduced-flow fittings which use less water with no detriment to the guests’ experience, reusing “grey” (used) water for landscaping, inserting inflatable “Hippos” in toilet cisterns or installing low-water usage suction waste-disposal systems similar to those on planes.

With the rising cost of energy, particularly oil, initial energy efficient investments can make swift returns. A switch from tungsten to LED lighting can be paid back within a year as the LED lights consume 85 per cent less power for the same quality of light, only need to be replaced every seven years and burn at one quarter the temperature, therefore also reducing air-cooling costs. “Smart” hotels are also using room-monitoring systems which allow for the remote control of the opening and closing of blinds and curtains to moderate heating and cooling, for example.

Thankfully good housekeeping is also green housekeeping. Hotels will be driven by legislation and profits to become more environmentally responsible. They also have a great opportunity to show how easy it is to be eco-friendly. But how much better would it be if they were led by the actions of their guests. Small changes in our own habits can reap big rewards.

What the hotels are doing

Hilton Hotels is in the process of introducing carbon-free electricity for 69 of its hotels in the UK and Ireland, which will see an offset of CO2 emissions by more than 64,000 tonnes, 56 per cent of their carbon footprint. The chain is also increasing its recycling after a pilot scheme at the Hilton Glasgow. Over a six-week period the hotel disposed of 49 tonnes of waste water, a reduction of 24 tonnes.

Accor Hotels (Sofitel, Novotel, Ibis and Mercure) is introducing “Energy optimisation packs” across 20 Ibis and 27 Novotel and Mercure properties.
Measures include public area and external lighting controlled via lux-level sensors, hot water generation optimisation during summer months, heating and cooling modulation via external temperature sensors, and basement car park air extraction via CO2 sensors.

Accor Hotels in the UK already monitors all utility consumption via remote meters and has installed water-saving shower heads and faucet aerators (all hotel brands), while low-energy lighting is being rolled out across the network.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has been a member of the Energy Star programme since 2000, a voluntary market-based partnership to reduce air pollution through increased energy efficiency. This has involved adopting guest room energy management controls, ozone laundry systems, and combined heat and power applications using reciprocating engine technology and fuel cells.

Last year, Marriott replaced 450,000 bulbs with fluorescent lighting, cutting hotel lighting costs by 65 per cent. It claims that, by employing a variety of eco-friendly measures, it reduced greenhouse gases by 70,000 tonnes last year.

Luxury hotel group The Leading Hotels of the World recently launched a carbon-offsetting programme, in which it donates US$0.50 per night for every guest’s stay to Sustainable Travel International (STI), a non-profit organisation concerned with responsible tourism. The investment per guest represents 29.3 kilowatt-hours of electricity supplied by new wind and solar power, and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of up to 33.7lb.

The Intercontinental Hotel Group recently launched a programme to replace more than 250,000 incandescent light bulbs with CFLs in over 200 hotels in the Americas. In a trial programme, the Intercontinental Chicago has introduced a motion-detector system to conserve energy by switching off lights and air-conditioning when guest rooms are unoccupied. The hotel also changes sheets on a three-day basis rather than every day, unless requested otherwise, as well as employing water-saving devices in taps, showers and toilets.

Top ten things you can do to save the planet from your hotel room

  • Turn the lights off
  • Don’t brush your teeth with the tap running
  • Insist on reusing your bed linen and towels
  • Use the air-conditioning with common sense – or alternatively take advantage of the “free” air-conditioning by opening the window, if possible and practicable
  • Turn the thermostat up or down a degree. Choose a moderate temperature and accept local climatic conditions
  • Report leaks and dripping taps
  • Compact and separate your waste
  • Co-ordinate your lift to the airport by asking the concierge to arrange for you to share a taxi
  • Make a green car hire choice
  • Choose locally produced food that does not have to be transported as far

Useful websites

Intercontinental Hotels
Starwood Hotels
Rezidor Hotels Group
Marriott International
Benjamin West
Scandic Hotels
Nordic Swan
Green Globe
Green Tourism Business Scheme