Future Eco Hotels
14.2 The Eco Hotels of tomorrow
If you’re about to start a new tourist business then there is a lot you can do to lower your impact on the environment. Some of these improvements require a higher investment, but some just require better planning. In the long term these improvements aren’t just better for the environment but even for your profit. While sustainable building is gaining in popularity, the hotel sector still lags behind other parts of the economy. For some reason, the drivers in the hotel sector do not seem to be as strong as elsewhere. This is partly because there is still a perception that making hotels more sustainable must automatically diminish the guest experience, explains Nick Carrier of WATG, a design consultancy for the hospitality industry. “The challenge for the operator is to provide the same level of luxury, service, and amenities for guests while making sure there is not a huge amount of waste and inefficiency.”
It is important to recognize that hotels operate differently to other buildings like office blocks, says Gregoir Chikaher, director of hotels and leisure at the building consultancy Arup. “Commercial buildings are only in use 10 hours a day while hotels operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In return, hotel guests are transient. When you design a hotel, you have to understand how it will operate and take that into account.” Even so, hotels and other hospitality venues have a significant opportunity to reduce their negative environmental image associated with the guest rooms, conference rooms, general facility use, and location. They can do so by factoring in measures such as energy and water efficiency, waste reduction and siting so that transport to the hotel is more sustainable. Increasingly under pressure to improve efficiencies, hoteliers are realizing that good design in new-build properties can significantly reduce operational costs as well as their overall impact on the environment. On top, it will improve their sales image, as sustainability is increasingly becoming more important with consumers. Future hotels will therefore look, feel, and operate vastly different to those of today. In appendix VIII and IX you can find a list with recommendations about building a more ecological friendly hotel and making you’re existing hotel more sustainable.
The recently (2019) opened Six Senses Fiji Resort proofs that sustainable building doesn’t have to mean basic comfort. This is a five star resort with sustainable luxury and cultural awareness at its core. The resort runs on 100% solar power, equipped with rainwater capture and its own onsite water-filtration site to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bottles. The resort aims to be as low-waste as possible and encourages the principles of reuse and recycling. The resort is growing as much of its own herbs and vegetables as possible and all the food leftovers are being composted in a “worm-based septic system”. All handiwork and artwork at the hotel has been produced by local villagers and the hotel supports the Rise Beyond the Reef Charity which aims to bridge “the divide between remote communities, government and the private sector in the South Pacific, sustainably creating a better world for women and children.” On top the Six Senses Fiji Resort supports a coral regeneration program where local employees are reintroducing this precious ecosystem! The features of this expensive (minimum 900 US$ per night per room) resort are very promising, but how sustainable it really is will have to become apparent in the next ten, twenty years to come.
VIII- Building an ecological friendly hotel
While there are many opportunities to make existing buildings more efficient and sustainable, the scope is much greater when building new hotels. You can make a big difference in the impact on the carbon footprint of buildings and operating a hotel, simply through proper planning and good design. Proper planning first involves choosing the right location. Try to choose a location where both the construction and presence of your hotel will have the least negative impact on the environment. Make sure to contract the right environmental organization to conduct a site study and investigate the future impact of your hotel. Accessibility is an important part of these results. Having direct access to a road, water, electricity, a sewer, and maybe even the gas system will help greatly while constructing and operating your business. When building on a complete virgin location where none or only part of these facilities are present, be cautious about how you connect to and provide these facilities.
More savings can be built into a project before a brick has been laid by thinking about passive design. For example by orientating the building in a way that you can make the most use of natural daylight. Depending on what climate conditions the building is likely to experience you can either allow more or less direct sunlight into your building. Such decisions can have a big impact on the amount of energy needed for heating, cooling, or lighting. “Over the 50-year design life of a hotel, the savings can be considerable,” says Sidharth Bhatia, an associate at architects Reardon Smith. “It’s about optimizing your use of the environment rather than working against it,” adds Carrier. “A lot of these decisions are made before you even go into the detail of the building and if you get them right, they can save a lot of money. And best of all, most of these things are for free.” According to Woking Borough Council, one of the UK’s most sustainability-focused local authorities, you can save up to 10% on fuel cost just by applying some simple layout and building design principles before they start building.
After you’ve picked your location and design, there are still many things you can do to improve the sustainability of your hotel facility. The exact possibilities will depend on several factors, including location, size, regulations, budget, climate, and your target group. You can imagine that there will be big differences between building a rainforest lodge for bird watchers, a mountain lodge for hikers, or a classic colonial hotel in the middle of a big city.
Once built, hotels are expected to last for decades and major retrofits can be expensive. So it is increasingly important that the industry designs with a lower impact on the environment. Yet sustainable construction also makes economic sense. “There is a direct correlation between environmental benefits and economic benefits,” says Martin Townsend, director of the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), a voluntary measurement rating for green buildings. “Sustainability is the best practice.” According to research from the US Green Building Council (USGBC), Green buildings use on average 26% less energy, emit 33% less carbon dioxide, use 30% less indoor water and send 50%-75% less solid waste to landfills and incinerators. The USGBC administers BREEAM’s main rival in construction standards, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
If possible, without compromising the quality of your building, try to use locally sourced materials for the construction. In the rainforest, this could include using sustainably harvested wood and stones and sand from a nearby river. In the mountains, you might be able to use natural stones for your walls and locally-harvested thatch for the roof. In picturesque coastal fishermen’s village in Denmark, they even use dried seaweed to thatch their roofs. If you want to build in a city, you might consider re-using an already existing iconic building. But only when proper insulation is possible, because this is where most energy can be saved or lost. While building, try to produce as little waste as possible and separate all waste that can be recycled.
Make sure your building gets very well insulated. The use of cavity walls is a very good option and might be combined with the use of natural wool. Wood also provides better insulation than stone. Depending on the environment/ climate you could combine a cavity wall with stone on the outside and wood covered with wool on the inside. However, using this combination it is important that both the wool and wood can’t get in contact with water or humidity. It might look like a big investment, but over the years it will earn its money back due to lower energy costs.
The amount and type of glass you use for your building will highly affect sustainability. The use of regular cheap glass windows will save you money during the construction but will cost you big over the future. Shortly said, a building with regular glass will be too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Luckily there are now many different types of glass available that can help very well with the insulation of your building. Some help to reflect heat, others to absorb, while there are even already glass panels that can convert sunlight into energy. This energy could be used to heat or cool your building. Other ways to heat your building might include ground-source heat pumps; geothermal heating; or solar hot water. This last option has the downside that people usually require less warm water on a sunny day, instead of on a rainy day. For cooling buildings, several businesses are already using cold water pumped up from above the bottom of a deep lake, or more than 300 m deep out of the sea. When you provide your building with a central heating and cooling system, it’s important that you can still independently open or close the flow to each room.
Good options for natural ventilation are often underestimated, but very important. Good ventilation also helps against infections from viruses. You can strongly improve ventilation by having a patio with a garden in the middle of your hotel building. Already the ancient Greeks were well aware of the many benefits of houses/ buildings with patios. When well-constructed they provide better ventilation, more light inside, and an attractive place to socialize. If you can’t construct a patio something as simple as being able to open your windows will already help a lot with ventilation.
Another simple method that can save you money is the right color of your building. Recently a big student complex in the Netherlands has been frequently in the news because its residents suffer from the heat. Especially during summer afternoons its black façade causes the temperature inside to rise to 10 °C more than the outside temperature! Dark colors will absorb sunlight and heat, while light colors will reflect sunlight and keep the inside cooler.
Choose your water heating system according to locally available resources. When you build in a very sunny place you can consider solar heating water systems and/ or solar panels. When there is a volcanic activity you might be able to use geothermic heat/ energy. When local electricity is produced by renewables, including wind- and hydropower your best option will be to use this electricity to heat your water. If not, you can look at the use of natural gas as a source of energy. Insulating your warm water pipes will prevent loss of energy from radiation.
If you have a garden, then try to use mostly native plants and trees. Trees with seasonal leaves can be used to help to regulate the climate in your building. If you plant them on the south side, in the summer their leaves will provide shade and prevent too much sun entering your windows, while in winter they will have no leaves and the sun can shine freely through your windows. Rooftop gardens will help to provide better insulation from the top and more green in the area, especially in cities. You can construct facilities to collect rainwater, which you can then use for watering your garden and/ or even flushing your toilets.
Recycling your wastewater where possible. The dirtiest wastewater comes from toilets, kitchens, and laundry, while showers and sinks produce relatively clean wastewater, which can often easily be used to flush toilets. There are even already toilets available that fill up first with the water you use to wash your hands. If there is no sewer system present, make sure to take proper care of your wastewater. Don’t save on the size of your septic tank and make sure the draining field is as big as possible. Dry toilets are even better for the environment, but not very good for large scale use.
Be conscious about where you get your electricity from. It sounds tempting to only use renewables to provide energy for your facility, but this might be counterproductive. Of course, solar panels are way more silent and better for the environment than using a generator. But, they too come with disadvantages. For one they’re still not very efficient, especially on a cloudy day far from the Equator. If you want to use their energy on a cloudy day, or at night, you need to store their energy in batteries. Solar panels and batteries come with toxic compounds including cadmium, lead, and more. The mining of these materials causes pollution as also inappropriate disposal. Depending on how far your building is located from the local grid and how this grid receives its power, it might actually be best to try to connect your facility to this local grid. The local grid in Ecuador, for example, uses hydropower, which makes it more sustainable than the separate use of solar panels.
IX- How to improve the sustainability of your existing hotel
With the help of the following websites; Sustainable Tourism, Aware Impact, and Global Stewards I would also like to give several ideas about how you can improve the sustainability of your existing hotel/ establishment on three important fronts. If you want to learn more I can recommend visiting the websites I mentioned.
– Try to use local resources, but don’t abuse them. Like providing your clients with food that grows in the area, but avoid using too much water.
– Installing water-saving taps and showerheads and dual flush toilets will save you water and money. It is very important to keep an eye on the toilet flappers in the toilet sink. In general, these last between 1 to 2 years, and when broken they are the #1 source for leaking.
– Equip your bathrooms with refillable biodegradable soap and shampoo dispensers, instead of the one-time-use packages and bottles. In general, provide fewer one-time use amenities; instead, just inform your guests/ clients they can get them at the reception if they want.
– Use more eco-friendly products for cleaning and doing laundry. Replace old washing machines with new ones that save water and energy. And if, possible dry (part of) your laundry in the open air.
– Be conscious of the use of electricity. Try to reduce the use of electricity, for example by not heating/ cooling rooms that are not in use. Note: using more electricity isn’t always bad for the environment. Depending on your location and situation, sometimes it can be better to use electricity instead of gas. In Ecuador, for example, they build so many hydroelectric plants, that they produce more electricity than they use. So instead of cooking with gas, in Ecuador, it is better for the environment when you cook with electricity. Because Ecuadorian electricity comes mostly from renewables, it is even better for the environment if Ecuadorians use traditional light bulbs instead of the so-called energy-efficient light bulbs. For one, these light bulbs aren’t designed to be quickly turned on and off, which makes them not useful for restrooms. On top, these light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury. Problem is that most of those broken light bulbs in Ecuador end up, together with their mercury, at the normal garbage disposals. The best is to buy LED light bulbs when possible.
– Manage your waste. Of course, the best way to manage your waste is when you produce less waste. So be conscious about what you buy and how you buy it. Shop organized. Drive for example once a week to the market and shop(s) to buy your supplies in bulk. Of course, avoid using plastic bags. Use recycled paper in your office and recycled paper in your bathrooms. When buying new things for your business, go for long-lasting quality. Buy furniture, kitchenware, and electrics that last and don’t have to be replaced each year. This isn’t only better for the environment, but also for your wallet. Separate food leftovers for compost and recycle all rubbish that can be recycled. A good way to reduce the amount of compost, and make it richer in nutrients is by having worms eating through your compost.
When your business is in a rural area avoid using chemicals in your garden, but instead try to use (dried) compost.
– With breakfast/ meals avoid the use of single-serve, individually wrapped butter/margarine/ketchup/sauce/mayo/honey/jam/ straws/ plastic cups, etc. Offer instead real coffee and a coffee press, loose tea, and a tea strainer, etc. The amount of packaging involved in instant tea and coffee is prohibitive! Use reusable glass canisters for new coffee grounds and tea in the rooms instead of single-use sachets. Unfortunately the current Covid-19 crisis and fear for infection has caused a big increase in single-use packages. A balance needs to be found in protecting our health and our environment.
– Another interesting discussion is about the use of cloth napkins versus paper napkins. An overall study published in Science seems to prove that 50 paper napkins use way less water and slightly less CO2 than one cloth napkin. If you do want to use table cloths, the most environmental way would be to have them made from recycled linen, wash them in cold water with biodegradable soap, and dry them in the sun. Of course, the best paper napkins should be made from recycled paper without chlorine.
– Don’t provide plastic water bottles to your clients, but instead provide them with a free refill of their own water bottle.
– Collect all the information about the use of resources and food in your hotel/ restaurant/ business. Monitor not only the amount of electricity, gas, and water that you use, but also everything you buy, what you throw away, and when. Knowing exactly what the consumption of your business is, will make it easier to find out where you can save and how you can lower your carbon footprint.
– Try to get your business certified by one of the non-governmental international sustainability organizations, including Green Globe. Trying to get certified will already improve your motivation to become more sustainable. And once you have your certification, this isn’t only better for the environment, it will work very well for your PR as well.
– Teach, encourage, and help your staff to be more conscious about the environment. Especially in developing countries, it isn’t going to be easy to make your staff truly understand the need to protect the environment. Take for example littering, which is a big problem in most Latin American countries. Due to lack of education, laziness, and direct consequence, many people do not realize, underestimate, or even don’t care about the negative impacts of littering on the environment. People believe that their individual actions will not harm society as a whole. As a result, it is common to see people throwing wrappers, cigarette butts, and other rubbish (out of their window) on the side of the roads. The majority of people believe that others will clean up after them. Knowing that littering is a common mentality in developing countries, the challenge will be to give your staff sufficient reason to start being more environmentally friendly. Teaching will help, but teaching alone might not be enough to start with. They need to be motivated. The best will be if there can be a more directly visible benefit for your staff. Besides educating your staff, you might have to encourage them with small rewards. You could set out a goal about reducing waste by the end of the month, or year and when that goal is reached provide your staff with a small bonus.
– Encourage your staff to reduce using their car while traveling to work. Alternatives can be: using public transport, carpooling, and/ or cycling to work. For this last option, it’s important to provide your staff with a dressing room and shower. When possible, it can help to provide flexible working hours. You can think of working schedules that fit better with the public transport schedules and/ or hours that avoid the main traffic rush.
– Inform and encourage your clients to behave more environmentally friendly. For hotels, this can mean to encourage your clients to take short showers, use their towels more than ones, and to change their bedsheets only on request. Ask them to only use the air-conditioning or heating when needed. Encourage your clients not to keep the lights on when they’re not in the room. The Verde Hotel in Zanzibar goes even a step further. They offer rewards/ savings to their clients who behave more environmentally friendly. Some of these rewards can be gained by Using the stairs instead of the lift; Correctly sorting waste; Reusing towels and linen more than once; Choosing not to use the additional pillows available; Using the power-generating sports equipment in the gym, etc.
A good local economy and the ability to protect the environment are often strongly related. If your business has a positive influence on the local economy, this is likely going to help the environment. Below I will give a few suggestions about how you can directly improve the impact of your business on the local economy:
– Studies suggest that at several very popular tropical tourist islands only 20 cents of each US$ spent stays on the island. This is especially the case on the islands which frequently receive passengers from cruise ships for short visits. For a business to be more economically and environmentally sustainable, you need to assure that more of your income is locally spread and invested.
– When possible train local people to work in your business. Pay them fair salaries and let them share in the profit of your business to get them more involved.
– Try to buy from small/ medium-sized local suppliers, not big (international) chains. Not only will this help the local economy, but it will also lower the carbon footprint of your business. However, if your local suppliers themselves aren’t working sustainable, respecting human rights, or treating their employees fair, you should strongly consider this recommendation. The best you can do is try to convince them to improve. But if this doesn’t work, you might have to look for better suppliers further away.
– It is tempting to open an all-inclusive hotel and try to earn money on many fronts. From a service point of view for your guests this is also the easiest option. However, if we look at sustainability an all-inclusive hotel often contributes little to the community. It is kind of an island-business that doesn’t integrate in its surrounding. If possible it is better to work with the community when it comes to providing additional services for your clients. These additional services can include, but don’t have to be limited to transfer services, tours, laundry, massages, language classes, and the sales of souvenirs.
Being socially accepted as a business doesn’t have a direct impact on the environment. But as I wrote earlier the social and community involvement of business will improve its sustainability. If your business isn’t socially accepted it can create a negative or even hostile environment. Below a few tips on how you can improve your social presence as a business.
– Learn the local language! This is such an obvious recommendation that I almost forgot to mention it. But then I remembered that over the years I’ve truly met several entrepreneurs who started or wanted to start a business in South America without speaking Spanish. Some weren’t even able to do their own shopping without help. You can understand that these people will have a very hard time integrating.
– Buying most of your supplies from local suppliers will not only be beneficial for the environment and local economy, but also your social position in the community. You can also suggest to your clients to purchase locally made sustainable souvenirs and other products.
– If you have a gift shop, try to sell mostly locally produced sustainable and socially friendly souvenirs/ products.
– Be respectful of local religions and other cultural customs. Make sure to inform your foreign employees and guests about these local customs. One important custom to respect is to dress appropriately. Another important issue is about taking photographs. Inform your clients that it’s often not appreciated, or even allowed to take pictures of religious and military objects.
– Support local clubs and associations. This can be the local sports club, the voluntary fire brigade, or even a homeless project.
– Show your face in the community. You must maintain some form of social interaction. Greet your neighbors, visit a local shop, have a drink in the local bar, chat with a taxi driver, and maintain a feeling for what’s going on in the community around you.
– Consider writing an Environmental, Social, and Governance Report. Include observing your amount of waste, where it comes from, and where it goes. These reports can help to find environmental issues you didn’t know yet to exist and/ or provide new ideas for improvement. A resume of these reports will help to instruct your employees and inform your guests, while involving your employees and guests creates a better mutual understanding.