May 28, 2024

Ask the expert: Sustainable hotel stays

Fernando Vives, Chief Commercial Officer at NH Hotel Group, answers key questions about how hotels are becoming more sustainable

If a guest opts out of a daily room clean, what difference does that make to the environmental footprint of their stay?

At NH Hotel Group we offer a complete room cleaning service but guests who stay for more than one night can decline it thanks to our ‘Green Stay’ initiative. The difference in one isolated case could be slight but let’s think of every person who opts for this. Together it accounts for a significant contribution to the environment as it means using less water and electricity for room cleaning and for bed linen and towels that are not going to be washed. Even more significantly, 64% of the electricity consumed by the group now comes from completely renewable sources. In hotels in the Southern Europe, it’s 100% and the overall energy consumption per stay has been reduced by 35% compared to 2021.

What is the environmental benefit if guests use automated check-in?

Since 2020 we have offered several tech tools to automate check-in and check-out with Fast Pass. With Mobile Guest Service, our guests can manage everything related to their stay from any electronic device, such as a request for extra amenities or booking a table in a restaurant. These initiatives provide an improved customer experience but also help us to play our part in the fight against deforestation and climate crisis. It has allowed the group to reduce the consumption of 2 million sheets of paper, translating into 30,000 kg of wood saved, 500 m3 of water not consumed, 100,000 kWh of energy saved and 11 metric tons of CO2eq not emitted into the atmosphere.

How significant is a switch away from miniature toiletries?

New amenities in our hotel bathrooms allow us to eliminate all single-use plastics in our room set-up, replacing them with new 100% recycled and recyclable PET, complemented with a new line of bathroom accessories made using biodegradable materials presented in 100% recycled paper packaging. New larger-capacity containers make it possible to eliminate more than 14 million individual containers that were used each year in our hotels. Plastic waste is reduced by 40% worldwide (45 tons), equivalent to 364 tons of CO2. Likewise, the elimination of 5 million bars of soap means not wasting 70 tons of product per year.

We have also started to install showers that reduce the volume of water used by 40% thanks to their savings technology, which has reduced the water consumption per stay by 24% compared to 2021.

How important is it for hotels to source local F&B produce?

This can make a big impact. Some of our hotels have spaces to install urban gardens. Cultivating these spaces enhances the landscape and gastronomic value of the dishes and also reduces the environmental impact, since it eliminates the need to transport produce. It also generates a sense of community among employees. Some NH hotels in Austria and Germany offer a home for bees on their roofs, aware of the limited space in cities for biodiversity, the important role of bees in ecosystems and the critical situation of bees in Europe.

What else can business travellers do to reduce the footprint of their stay?

There are several things our guests can do. Some of them are the same as in their homes, such as reducing energy waste, turning off the lights and air conditioning when leaving the room, unplugging any electronics that are not in use, re-using towels, taking shorter showers and not letting the water run while brushing teeth or shaving. Guests can also choose green transportation. For example, in our hotels we offer green mobility services such as car-sharing, bike rental and charging points for electric cars. For travel buyers, it’s vital in RFPs to ask for details about a hotel’s sustainability policy, measures being taking to reduce carbon footprint, percentages of renewable energy consumption and numbers relating to water usage.

What are hotels doing to reduce food waste, particularly with breakfast buffets?

Here I can share our experience. We are implementing some initiatives such as the agreement with Too Good to Go to reduce food waste in hotels in Spain, Portugal, and Germany. Every day we offer surprise packs through the app with those unconsumed products from breakfast buffets, platform users can buy them at a reduced price. During 2022, 34,142 food packs were saved, which means more than 34,142 kilos of food that have not been wasted and the equivalent of having saved more than 85.53 t of CO2eq. Additionally, our hotels promote sustainable fishing through legal compliance of consumption and responsible procurement of products.

What are hotels doing to minimise the environmental impact of meetings and events?

We calculate an event´s carbon footprint following the HCMI (Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative) methodology which supports the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance. We can offer carbon neutral events to our clients on request, where we calculate the carbon footprint of any meeting and then offset its impact on climate change through projects that protect biodiversity and improve sustainable development. We call this service Sustainable Meetings and Events.

When hotels are newly-built or renovated, how can they be made more sustainable?

Some of the actions that make a property sustainable are green roofs, certified wood for recycling, seawater cooling, intelligent control of light and interior air conditioning, the climatic façade, and the use of energy from renewable sources. It is important to go beyond the actions and activities we carry out to make a property sustainable. It is not just construction, it is also its use, making hotel operations more sustainable, such as energy savings or improving service and attention to guests, and controlling their impact to ensure benefits.

One example is the NH Collection Copenhagen hotel, an old building transformed into a 5-star gold-certified sustainable hotel in the heart of Copenhagen. This hotel received DGNB Gold certification as one of the first renovation projects in Denmark. This renovation takes a holistic view of sustainability and the property has social, economic, environmental and technical qualities that are significantly above the requirements of Danish building regulations

What efforts are being made by the hotel industry, as a whole, to reduce its footprint?  

At a blooming time for the tourism sector, companies in the industry have a unique responsibility to contribute to the overall decarbonisation of the economy and the drive for a fairer world for all. Europe’s ambition is to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and the United Nations Global Compact has the objective that 100% of the entities in the sector commit in some way to sustainable and responsible management of their businesses, so we must be aligned and work towards this.

Overall, the hotel industry is taking significant steps to reduce its environmental impact, and there is a growing awareness of the need to operate sustainably and responsibly.

What is driving this action?

The industry is reacting to new travellers, engaged consumers who value more environmentally-friendly hotels and sustainable experiences. Companies that are ahead of the curve in adapting their models to sustainability criteria are positioning themselves as leaders in attracting this new consumer. At NH Hotel Group we have been able to react to this changing trend, paving the way for others in the industry.

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor in travel decision-making. When crafting an RFP for hotel partners, travel managers are asking for important requirements related to sustainability to ensure that their company’s travel practices align with their ESG values, and with what society is demanding. It is key that they ask for details on the hotel’s sustainability policy, what measures the hotel partner is taking to reduce carbon footprint and overall environmental impact, and percentages of renewable energy consumption and water usage numbers.