When an inspector calls - climate emergency and what you can do

You can’t eat an elephant whole. Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism offers her advice on how hotels and accommodation providers can do their bit to tackle the climate emergency, without impacting on the day to day bustle of hotel life.

In response to the Paris Climate Agreement, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) issued its Hotel Global Decarbonisation Report, highlighting how and why the sector should align to the targets set out for 2030 and 2050. The report was issued at the end of November 2017, recommending that hotels should work to cut emissions 66% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, against the benchmarks established in 2010. More recent benchmarking however shows that only 1 in 10 hotels have any targets in place to even roughly align with the targets set out by the ITP and most have no targets at all. So what is causing the sector to turn a blind eye? Do we just not care, is the commercial argument too weak, or does it all frankly feel a little too overwhelming?

I imagine that it is a little of all these aspects, but I also believe that it is essential that we lead the charge on changing this response globally, and work to establish the UK as a leader in the global marketplace. So how do we make that happen? To paraphrase conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, it’s essential to view the world and climate change as a jigsaw puzzle: trying to solve the whole picture is overwhelming and even terrifying, but viewing and working on it piece by piece together makes it much more manageable.

Looking broadly across the media, the industry and through our individual interactions with owners and managers, the opinion and sense of urgency on climate change varies wildly. There are those who are passionate about positive change and are banging the drum of sustainability already, those who view the issue as their ‘duty’ but perhaps not their desire to tackle, and those where little is planned either because they feel little or no responsibility or they have become apathetic due to the scale of the problem. I have my own personal opinion on climate change and its importance to me as an individual, but when it comes to the hospitality sector, I take perhaps a more pragmatic view, considering this from the perspective of achievable realities.

Regardless of your own personal opinions on the matter, I think from the business perspective, there are, and should be, two major drivers for change within your business. The first is the operational argument for cost-savings and future proofing of the business, and the second is the shifting consumer expectations that we are seeing in support of business sustainability.

The guest case…

Statistically speaking, the number of searches for specifically ‘eco’ accommodation remains low, but the appetite for places with green credentials is growing and many guests see it as a reason to purchase if they find a hotel that’s green and which meets their other search criteria. In fact, 1 in 5 consumers already favour hotels based on their overall sustainability – a statistic that is growing – and 1 in 3 believe that businesses can and should be judged on their sustainability. So if location, price and convenience still come first, sustainability becomes a defining factor between providers once a shortlist has been established. It’s seen as an added bonus and it is this which is giving additional traction with those seeking accommodation. It might not drive you direct sales, but it does mean potentially 20-30% more conversions once your business turns up in a search. 

As Greta Thunberg becomes the youngest person to be named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, the term Flygskam being coined in Sweden meaning literally ‘flight shame’, and with climate protests growing from hundreds of people in 2017 to millions of people this year, I don’t think it will be long before we see environmental considerations overtake some of the other factors in the purchasing process, either in those who need to travel, or those who want to travel. In fact, if I had to bet on it, I’d say that in the next five years we will see short-haul travel and staycations on the up and long-haul in decline, environmental sustainability become one of the top three buying factors, and a boom in the responsible travel movement. I think now is the time, and the opportunity to capitalise on this future trend and it is something that I encourage businesses to consider seriously or risk the demise of their future business when they may not have the time or financial opportunity to rapidly adopt the necessary upgrades.

The business case…

A decade ago, businesses and individuals had to seriously consider the cost-benefit of installing sustainable and environmentally beneficial systems, with adoption often being driven by personal preference rather than any strong commercial case. Now however, the cost, variety and availability of systems have expanded, as have the robustness and longevity of the hardware, making the cost-benefit analysis a far more compelling case. What’s more, as adoption grows internationally, the price continues to drop and the longevity continues to rise, making these solutions a when rather than if opportunity.

We are all probably familiar with the hardware and structural systems that are available, from solar panels and wind turbines to heat exchange pumps and insulation systems. These represent both the most time and resource costly solutions that a hotel will need to consider, but also the ones which represent some of the biggest and most obvious financial savings. As a nation, we are behind many of our national counterparts, particularly from a business perspective, so it is hard to source statistics and case studies from the UK, however looking further afield, it’s evident that the savings can be astronomical. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel company created a three-year programme to save energy across its group, reducing energy consumption across the portfolio by 13% and making an estimated $11million saving. The Hilton in San Antonio reduced water consumption by 49% and saved $160,000 in water, sewer and energy costs per year. I appreciate these are fairly big operators but the savings are scalable to smaller businesses and for me, financial savings are one of the most compelling arguments, particularly when you consider the likelihood of rising costs in the future.

They are not however the only area where savings can be made and many do not require any structural changes and require little financial contributions to establish. A lot come down to processes and attitudes, from switching one product with another, removing certain things from the supply chain, changing practices such as waste management and even swapping lightbulbs. They might sound minor but they will all deliver cost-savings, and even better help you to take advantage of positive customer selection as I’ve highlighted above. For these, I think the most useful tools at your disposal are common sense and time. Taking the time to walk through the hotel and view it from an environmental perspective – where is energy being wasted, where are there unnecessary plastics and disposables, how can you improve processes and what do those improvements look like. This is part of the jigsaw; tackling items one by one to add up to improvement overall.

My advice is to seek advice from your local sustainability operators; national organisations such as The Carbon Trust are complemented by local operators from Councils and regional charities and they will all help provide advice, probable savings and recommended solutions to specifically fit your business.

Measuring sustainability…

Perhaps one of the most important aspects is to monitor the impact of any changes you make so that they are quantifiable and demonstrable. Starting with benchmarks of where you are now and monitoring these over time is an essential part of both establishing the effectiveness of your changes, and also communicating these changes to your teams and customers. It’s also worth looking at independent certifications which hold your changes to account, such as the B-Corp Certification or our REST certification which we have developed to assess the Responsibility, Ethics and Sustainability of hotels and hospitality businesses. We have built our certification on four pillars against which businesses are benchmarked by our assessors, including Environmental and Economic Management, Corporate Social Responsibility, HR & Ethical Employment and Supplier Practices and Business Compliance. For us, being a business with purpose goes beyond just the environment to include the business as a whole, but of course environment does play a crucial role in our assessments.

Honestly, these changes are worth it and I believe an essential part of future-proofing your business. What are you waiting for?

To find out more about the REST grading visit www.restourism.com. REST was designed and is delivered by Quality in Tourism who assess thousands of accommodation providers globally each year. To find out more about their assessments, gradings and the future of registration please visit www.qualityintourism.com.

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