Can Hotels Really be Sustainable?

The global awareness of sustainable eco-tourism,
particularly among hotel guests, has been on the
rise and no hotelier cares for gigantic glass atriums
and grand ballrooms anymore.

ParkRoyal Collection – Pickering, Singapore

The hospitality industry has long been on the receiving end of criticism as a major source of pollution to the environment. In the US alone, hotels contribute 60 million tons of CO2 emissions annually; if all the hotels in the US were to reduce their emissions by just 10%, it would be the same as planting 1.1 million acres of pine trees.1 There are a vast number of statistics that go to prove the industry’s immense impact – these are just the tip of the iceberg. With the right strategies, can you imagine the potential positive impact the industry could achieve?

Thanks to a collective awareness among hotel guests, designers, investors, governments, and other stakeholders – virtually all major hotel chains have prioritised sustainability as an indispensable component of their business strategy, motivated by customer loyalty, cost savings, and most importantly, environmental impact.2

‘Sustainability’ often times feels like a murky magic word, used liberally to mean everything – and nothing.

The United Nations World Tourism
Organisation (UNWTO) defines
sustainable tourism as a model that
“has a full awareness of the current
and future impact of tourism in
economic, social and environmental
terms in order to satisfy the needs of
visitors, industries, nature and host

As a start, the UN has set the widely adopted framework of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)3:

1. No poverty

2. Zero hunger

3. Good health and well-being

4. Quality education

5. Gender equality

6. Clean water and sanitation

7. Affordable and clean energy

8. Decent work and economic growth

9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure

10. Reduced inequalities

11. Sustainable cities and communities

12. Responsible consumption and production

13. Climate action

14. Life below water

15. Life on land

16. Peace and justice

17. Partnerships for the goals

Despite the far-reaching scope of these sustainability goals, design and technology can play a critical role in making a significant contribution at every point of the process.

Almost all hotel companies – major chains and smaller boutique hotels –  have set out their own sustainability game plan and strategies

How to use design to bolster your
sustainable environmental practices

How to use design to bolster your sustainable environmental practices

Environmentally-conscious Architectural Planning

Improving building performance without increasing cost through building orientation, sun and shadow calculation, façade and fit-out material selection. Also, natural ventilation, passive solar heating, daylight harvesting and thermal mass cooling can be considered at early stages of the design process.


Harnessing Energy Saving Technologies

Installing energy-efficient technologies such as appliances, lighting, and heating and cooling systems can make a difference for both the environment and ROI. 


Doubling Down on Recycling

Recycling stained tablecloths into napkins, chef’s aprons, and neckties, and making cloth laundry bags from retired sheets are ways to limit waste. Hoteliers are looking further as to even extending the life of linens by using laundry processes that limit the wear and tear, keeping replacement costs, and the hotel’s environmental impact, down.4


Guest Participation Counts

Provide reminders asking guests to turn out the lights when they leave, or reuse towels if possible. Make recycling bins readily available to guests and be sure that they are aware of the hotel’s green programmes.  

Many hotels that have a strong community connection can encourage visitors to explore local neighbourhoods. Some are loaning bicycles to guests with thoughtfully designed bikes and bike-sharing stations, like the Canopy by Hilton hotel in Washington DC.

Canopy by Hilton hotels

Save Water 

The efficient use of water along with appropriate safety measures, wastewater management, pollution control and technology efficiency can be key to safeguarding our most precious resource.    

In bathroom design, new technologies such as water-saving shower heads use faucets that are certified to meet flow, force, and water coverage requirements – these efficiently conserve water without sacrificing an enjoyable showering experience.


Cutting Down on Plastic Use

Many hotels have opted for biodegradable paper cartons for water containers in lieu of the conventional plastic bottles in the guestrooms. Almost all restaurants and bars in hotels have already adopted global standards to eliminate the use of plastic straws.


Bringing Nature into Hotel – Physically and Philosophically 

For many new and existing hotel brands, infusing the outdoor and indoors to bring nature into the building has become an important part of the brand narrative.

For One Hotel in New York, the design team has incorporated greenery in every part of the hotel in a bid to champion a brand-wide mantra of Intersectional Environmentalism,

which is “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected”. By crafting an environment relative to its neighbourhood, they build a seamless connection for guests to subconsciously engage and respect surroundings.

For others, it can mean expanding outdoor offerings for guests – perhaps adding a garden rather than simply extending the patio or pool area. In cases where space can be limited, even a small garden would play a part in counteracting its carbon footprint.

One Hotel New York

LEED or equivalent certification

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is an internationally 4ecognized green building certification system providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance.


Procurement and Partnerships

Another important part of achieving sustainability goals lies in making smart purchasing choices. A hotel can reduce waste generation by making an effort to purchase environmentally-friendly materials during design and construction. LEED awards significant credits to the use of building materials and products that have been extracted, harvested, or recovered, as well as manufactured, within 500 miles of the project site for a minimum of 10% or 20%, based on cost, of the total materials value.5   


Implement Alternative Energy Sources

The Willard Intercontinental in Washington D.C. is now running on 100% wind energy power, resulting in a 12% decline in energy consumption.6 Other hotels, particularly those in warmer climates, are making use of solar energy for signage and water heating. And as the market for alternative energy increases, more solutions will arise and costs will eventually come down to a feasible equilibrium to be financially viable. 


Execution and Ongoing Monitoring

It is always good to approach these efforts as a team, and perhaps the green practices will carry over into hotel staff’s personal lives as well – making an even bigger difference to our planet. With all the effort and investment being put into these sustainability strategic plans, it is of high importance that the execution and reporting process follows a standardised and accountable format.

So can hotels be sustainable?
The answer is yes.









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