While governments and corporations struggle – unsuccessfully for the most part – with climate change, sea level rise and carbon neutral objectives, individual tourism and hospitality visionaries need to focus on the micro sustainability initiatives demanded by our customers.
When asked for sustainability policies by meeting planners and travel agents, hotel sales people invariably have nothing to offer other than potentially “we are looking into it” or maybe “our brand has an aggressive sustainability statement, but we can’t participate because our management company has different policies.” Inevitability, catering departments haven’t engaged in food rescue, sometimes blaming Covid-related restrictions and are often unaware of the Good Samaritan Laws. Some hotels use left-over banquet food as employee meals – that’s still a zero- waste practice, so good. And then there are the greenwashing hotels that offer separate trash and recycle bins in guest rooms yet everything is ultimately co-mingled in the dumpster, generally in plastic bags.
On an encouraging note, some properties already use sustainable systems such as condensation capture for irrigation and fountains, lower-flow water fixtures, LED lighting; and motion detectors for local control of guest room AC and lighting to cut down on energy. Other options, such as variable refrigerant volume systems, are being explored because they can deliver cooling only when needed, enabled by a mechanical system with compressors that work quietly—a must in every hotel. An integrated building and property-management system can help a property lower its overall energy usage by 25 to 30 percent or more.
There are progressive hotels and resorts such as the Seven Stars in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, where guests receive a water bottle to fill up at water stations throughout the property, significantly cutting down on plastic bottle usage.
At Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa in Vero Beach, Florida, outdoor functions utilize biodegradable bamboo and banana-based utensils and plates, while the outside bar offers beverages in reusable tumblers. The management abandoned individual bath products in favor of bulk containers, wash reusable mugs and have added other in-room sustainable features, but still have plastic water bottles available upon request.
A prime example of what can be done with management commitment to a zero carbon footprint exists at the Bucuti & Tara Resort in Aruba, the first-ever hotel in the world to win the prestigious Global United Nations 2020 Climate Action Award for Climate Neutral Now and the first CarbonNeutral® resort hotel in North America, AND the first resort in the Americas to be certified ISO 14001.
Where is everyone else?
What can and should be done:
- Create a Sustainability Committee (Green Team) with clear objectives, timelines and an ongoing results reporting schedule and led by senior management. Share the results internally and externally.
- Promote your sustainability efforts on websites, social media and create a fact sheet that can be attached to RFP responses.
- Legitimately separate recyclables and trash throughout the hotel and engage a recycling disposal service.
- Do away with the small bottles of toiletries in favor of large dispensers.
- Identify and engage a local food pantry/shelter to collect rescued food. Timely transportation is a key element so becoming a donor with an organization such as Food Rescue US or MEANS will make food rescue even easier.
- Create an on-site herb (or more if you have space) garden or even a vertical garden in a public area.
- Source local foods for all menus
- Participate in on-site composting or a pick-up service.
- Eliminate plastic bottles in rooms in favor of a customized tumbler with easy access to bubblers.
- Eliminate single-use plastic utensils and tableware.
- Take an inventory of all plastic used in the hotel guest areas as well as back-of-house. Be imaginative with your suppliers to find alternatives.
- consider following a certification program with a recognized organization such as Green Globe, Travelife or LEED – LEED is the one that really makes sure that there is no greenwashing.
Additional Note about Bucuti & Tara Resort: Ewald Bemis, owner at Bucuti & Tara, is happy to share his programs, named duplicable and scalable, by the United Nations. Let anyone who is interested contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Author: Francis W. Purvey is the Executive Vice President of Sunlark Associates, a tourism and hospitality consulting group specializing in sales, marketing and sustainability. Born and raised in Bermuda he developed early conservation traits by natural need and later became involved in sustainability in the hospitality industry through active involvement with the Sustainable Events Network, Florida & Caribbean (senfc.org) and other organizations.