Why going green is not just good for the planet, it’s also good for hotels’ bottom line

Ireland has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and all business sectors must be cognisant of this and integrate sustainability into their strategic planning.
Why going green is not just good for the planet, it’s also good for hotels’ bottom line

Individual customers are also placing greater emphasis on environmental considerations and are increasingly choosing products and services with environmental credentials, with a recent survey of over 18,000 people by the online travel agency Agoda finding that 73pc of tourists would prefer to stay in a hotel that has adopted sustainable practices over those that have not.

Globally in the hotel sector, IHG Hotels & Resorts who operate brands such as Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Intercontinental have removed all single-use toiletries from their bathrooms saving over 200 million plastic bottles globally each year, while Hilton Hotels plan to reduce waste by 50pc by 2030.

Irish hotel businesses have been busy implementing sustainability initiatives over the last number of years through the installation of solar panels, the introduction of eco-cleaning products, water-efficiency initiatives and the installation of energy-efficient lighting.

The digitisation of hotels will allow them to operate in an environment which is moving closer to being paperless, while also removing the need for plastic key-cards for every guest, replacing them with room entry through personal devices such as smart phones.

Many of the main award-recognition bodies for the sector have introduced sustainable categories in their annual awards such as the Hotel & Catering Review’s Gold Medal Award for Sustainability/Leading Green Hotel and the Restaurant Association of Ireland’s (RAI) Best Sustainable Practices Award.

In order to foster long-term change, it is essential to provide ongoing support, both financially and through training. Fáilte Ireland is offering businesses in the sector support to become more sustainable and to introduce cost-saving measures in the area.

Their Climate Action Roadmap facilitates businesses through the provision of a carbon footprint calculator and international benchmarks to develop an action plan and by offering energy-management training modules online. Their use of case studies on businesses enables those in the sector to learn from others who show best practice.

It is also essential that the next generation of hoteliers are trained in the area of sustainability and contribute toward the goal of net-zero emissions.

In Munster Technological University’s (MTU) Department of Tourism & Hospitality in Cork, a greenhouse has recently been built so that culinary students can grow their own herbs. A ‘MyGug’ food digester converts the food waste created in the department into both bio-gas for heating the greenhouse and liquid bio-fertiliser for growing the food.

These are complimented by Hydroponic Towers in the building which students tend to as part of their studies and a “Supper Club” where food produced in practical classes is sold on, all of which creates awareness in students of the importance of sustainable practices that they can then bring to their future workplaces.

Back in industry, The Cashel Palace Hotel has invested in a composting system to handle the food waste produced in its Michelin star-winning restaurant. In an innovative combination of sustainability and marketing, the hotel has calculated the average food waste produced by a guest and this weight of the compost product is left in a paper bag in the guest’s car when it is brought around on departure, with relevant instructions on how it can be used in their own garden, thus closing the sustainability circle.

Even the label on the bag uses special glue which breaks down quickly, while the ink used on the label is biodegradable.

Ireland’s largest hotel company, Dalata, has recently relaunched its website and among its core headings is ‘Sustainability’.

The listed-company highlights the need to integrate Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) strategies into every aspect of their business and explains how they question every decision, considering the impact on the environment and their sustainability goals.

All 53 of its hotels undergo an annual assessment and accreditation process with Green Tourism which is acknowledged world-wide.

John Burke’s Armada Hotel in Clare was the first Irish hotel to be awarded the prestigious B-Corp status, which recognises its efforts to positively impact both people and planet.

Through its designation following a rigorous two-year assessment, recognition is given to the Armada’s use of high environmental standards and the positive impact which the business has on customers, the community and indeed the planet.

The hotel’s environmental efforts include the introduction of plastic-free bedrooms, a 100pc compostable packaging policy, the set-up of their own Armada Farm to supply its kitchen with produce, along with efforts with Clean Coasts and Coastwatch on the sustainability of coastal environments to keep beaches clean and to support the conservation of endangered species.

Over the road, Hotel Doolin has been the recipient of many awards for its green initiatives and the hotel harvests its own rainwater, has installed solar PV panels and has cut out the use of circa 20,000 plastic bottles per annum. It even plants 10 native trees for every wedding booked.

Also in Co Clare, the Falls Hotel & Spa won the 2021 SEAI Energy Award for Innovative Deployment of Renewable Energy by harnessing the power of the River Inagh which runs through its grounds by installing a 220kWH hydroelectric turbine which provides up to 70pc of its annual energy needs. Embracing wind energy in Co Antrim, The Salthouse’s electricity is provided by a 225kw wind turbine on-site, complemented by 150kw solar PV panels.

And hotel and tourism businesses are also collaborating with other sectors such as retail to some success on green initiatives. In the tourist hotspot of Killarney for example, the introduction of a 2GoCup Deposit & Return Scheme by over 45 businesses has led to the to the elimination of 23,000 disposable cups a week – more than one million over a year – which had produced 18.5 tonnes of waste.

These cups had previously led to overflowing bins and littering on Killarney’s streets, spilling into their famed National Parkland.

In the town, hotels such as The Killarney Park have employed their own sustainability manager to drive their initiatives in areas such as waste, water and power, and their only regret is that they didn’t employ one sooner as they would have seen results much quicker.

In line with Ireland’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the hotel sector, like all other sectors of business, must make its contribution.

Much progress has been made in the last number of years and continued support in terms of grant-aid, training and advice is needed if hotels are to make a true impact. Individual hotels also need to embed sustainability as part of their overall organisational culture and screen future business decisions with a sustainability lens.

Dr Donagh Davern FIHI is a former Hotel General Manager and a Lecturer in Hospitality Management at Munster Technological University.

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