Sustainability is an increasingly important part of doing business in the hospitality industry, particularly since 21 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions from the tourism sector can be attributed solely to accommodation.

Thankfully, many hotels are embracing opportunities to incorporate initiatives ranging from linen and towel re-use programs to obtaining third-party green certification across their operations.

Recent research by Deloitte has shown there is a growing customer preference for green hotels, with 95 per cent of business travellers surveyed for the research indicating that they believe the hotel industry should be undertaking green initiatives. There has also been a general increase in consumer preference for sustainable products across multiple industries. The demand for sustainable products and services is there – and hotels are adopting “green” practices in response.

However, are these efforts effective? Are hotel owners taking full advantage of the opportunities available to them to ensure that their approach to sustainability will benefit their business, as well as the environment?

Although sustainability is seen as an important factor in decision-making processes for hotel owners and managers, it’s not yet fully entrenched in business thinking. Sustainability must be addressed from a holistic perspective, encompassing technology, people, business models, physical assets, operational practices, and financial efficiency. It needs to be embraced across all levels of the organisation and throughout the entire life of the building, from the beginning of construction and interior fit-outs to the ongoing operational procedures.

This presents a challenge to hotel owners and managers who want to do the right thing, but may not know where to start, particularly as more green regulations are introduced into the industry and achieving operational efficiency becomes more difficult.

EarthCheck’s general manager for sustainability, Marco Sepulveda, says hotel energy and water consumption are the two key areas where efficiency can be improved. Steps to reduce consumption include metering the largest consumers of energy (usually HVAC systems, which can typically account for 40 to 55 per cent of a hotel’s energy consumption); automated lighting, temperature and irrigation controls; choosing energy-efficient and water-efficient appliances; and education of staff and guests.

Producing and implementing a sustainable procurement policy is perhaps one of the best ways to ensure all procurement decisions are made with care. A robust policy covers all purchasing and services provision from a sustainable perspective, while maintaining cost-effective business practices as well.

The recently-published ISO20400 Sustainable Procurement Guidance standard is a great place to start, outlining the factors that must be taken into account when drafting a procurement policy in the first place. The standard emphasises and defines the principles of sustainable procurement, including transparency, accountability, and ethical behaviour. It also suggests practical strategies for determining whether a purchase is truly sustainable, such as preferencing products and services with third-party sustainability certification, for example.

Clear communication – to customers, stakeholders, and employees – is also key for a successful sustainability strategy. Hotel owners are increasingly working with independent organisations to validate and communicate their sustainability credentials, such as obtaining EarthCheck certification, or TripAdvisor’s Green Leaders program. As competition grows in the green hotels sector, owners will need to look for new, novel ways of publicly communicating their sustainability efforts, such as engaging with green marketing campaigns run by trusted sustainability organisations.

Improving sustainability practices in the hospitality sector is essential, but not difficult to achieve. A solid sustainable procurement policy, maximising efficient use of energy and water, and clear communication strategies will go a long way towards running a cost-effective and environmentally-aware business.