Achieving Sustainable Growth in the Hotel Sector — Net-Zero to Hero
It is no secret that the hotel industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic and while short-term recovery is an obvious priority, longer-term gain is the ultimate goal. While the hotel sector has been on pause temporarily — reflected in significantly low occupancy rates — health and wellness have been thrust into the spotlight, the drive to net-zero to address the climate emergency has never been more important, and the question of how to future-proof and build resiliency into hotel portfolios and operations has become paramount.
Net Zero: Not a Simple Equation
Running a hotel is notoriously resource intensive. From the first impression, to delivering and revamping the entire guest experience, all consume high quantities of resources which is a barrier to achieving net-zero targets. The pressures are felt from all directions, including:
- Government policy and legislation
The commitment by governments to reach net zero carbon by 2050 and a halfway target of 2030 means a race against time for all industries to make sustainable changes. There are a number of current and changing requirements impacting refurbishment and new builds including: energy performance certificate ratings, planning policy and building regulations for conservation of fuel and power.
- Investors’ environmental, social and governance targets
The need to demonstrate to investors that ESG criteria has been met, is a challenge faced directly by hotel owners. It's also an indirect challenge faced by operators putting increased pressure on landlords/owners to ensure their buildings meet or exceed corporate carbon reduction and sustainability commitments.
- Guests’ demand for an eco-conscious hotel offering
Hotel guests are increasingly eco-conscious and this trend is only set to continue. Being able to demonstrate sustainable practices is vital to maintain a positive brand image and attract and retain guests in this growing market.
Improving Health and Wellness Through Sustainable Solutions
There is an enormous drive to remodel the hotel experience by enhancing the health and wellness offering, in communal areas and guest rooms. Circadian lighting is an example of this optimizing the body’s circadian rhythm or ‘body clock’, which in turn helps reduce fatigue, improve quality of sleep and overall well-being. Other examples include the integration of biophilia, air purity, water quality and thermal comfort.
COVID-19 has accelerated the focus of health and wellness in the built environment with the International WELL Building Institute creating the WELL Health-Safety seal, verifying a building has taken the necessary steps to prioritize the health and safety of staff and guests. Although created because of the pandemic, it has much longer-term benefits for owners/operators wanting to provide an enhanced level of health and safety assurance.
Embracing the Circular Economy
While operational energy and carbon is important, there is a wider concern — embodied carbon. Traditionally hotels have formed part of a linear economy, but it is only a matter of time until we see the introduction of whole-life carbon targets. The move to a circular economy is having a major impact on the hotel industry.
Future Proofing: To 2030 and Beyond
What can hotel businesses do? The same recommendations apply to hotel owners, operators and owner/operators, whether considering operations, refurbishments or new builds.
Harness Technology and Data to Make the Best Decisions
Gathering data, assessments and scenario modelling are all areas of technology that can help inform decisions. Digital twin buildings are a virtual representation of a building that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of the physical building. The ability to invest in such technology enables businesses to assess and plan all areas of their building assets including resources, energy use, construction, refurbishment, in-use facilities, scenario testing and determining planned works.
Reduce Energy Consumption and Carbon Emissions
Addressing energy usage is key, which can mean switching from gas to electric. Although this change can increase utility costs in the short-term, it is currently an essential roadmap in meeting net-zero carbon targets when wanting to benefit from the decarbonization of the grid.
It is important to identify areas where there could be ‘quick wins’, not just simple gains such as LED lighting, such as in kitchens where some hotels are switching to induction cooking. Another solution to consider is heat pump technology, which can be used for heating and/or cooling air or heating. Metering is also key and using technology such as key card systems linked to Smart hotel operations provide solutions to ensure energy consumption is kept to a minimum.
Consider Whole Life Carbon Impacts
With a shift in focus to whole life carbon, some hotels are already considering how to reduce their whole life carbon emissions, including reviewing current assets and setting or delivering already established targets for the next 30 years. Considerations should be made such as a whole life carbon assessment, value carbon optioneering analyses, the true end of life of items such as linen, mattresses and furniture as well as choosing products that are produced from recycled materials, linking into the circular economy of the holistic hotel supply chain.
Looking to the Future
Early adopters of sustainable practices are starting to see their actions pay off and therefore what will be the ‘next big idea’ should be considered now. Looking ahead, in addition to whole life carbon and the circular economy, water is a critical resource that should be harnessed, especially pertinent in the hotel industry where water consumption is high and conservation is key.
Now is the Time to Refocus
As we come out of the global pandemic, now is the time to refocus on what financial rewards and investments look like for the future of your hotel business. Will the solution you choose now still be the right solution for your business in 10 or 30 years’ time? Are you considering just energy usage or are you looking more holistically at your whole life carbon and resulting circular economy implications? For all areas of the hotel industry, the way we assess investment needs to change to focus on the end goal, rather than the immediate gain. For the hotel industry to survive it needs to constantly reengage with market expectations and in doing so, the focus needs be on how that can be done in a more sustainable way. It is time to pause and rethink about the long-term impacts — if you want a sustainable hotel business, then your business needs to be sustainable.
Also featured in Space International Hotel Design magazine's September/October 2021 issue.