May 20, 2024

Building the foundations

Felicity Cousins explores how travel buyers can benchmark the sustainability credentials of accommodation

Corporate travel buyers looking for examples of best practice in sustainable accommodation should head to Cambridge. The University of Cambridge has developed the area of Eddington, a blueprint for green living, with student digs, private homes, shops, research facilities and two of the most sustainable properties in the south of the UK – the Hyatt Centric and the next door aparthotel, Turing Locke, by edyn. 

Sharing a courtyard space and all communal areas, their roofs are 80% solar panels, with leftover energy fed back to the grid. There’s LED lighting throughout, biodiverse landscaping and responsibly sourced furniture, lighting, and timber, 200 cycle parking spaces and 20 EV charging spots, food waste programmes and the first stormwater recycling scheme in the UK (one of the largest in the world). 

On the roadmap

The days of washing towels less frequently to tick the eco box are over. This year large companies have to publish Scope 3 emissions, and with the hotel industry contributing to approximately 1% of global carbon emissions, accommodation suppliers are responding to more detailed questions at the RFP stage.

“Business travel is part of an organisation’s roadmap to net zero carbon emissions, so buyers need specific and auditable information,” says Kerry Douglas, Head of Programme ITM.

“Our buyer members want and need transparent and comparable data to understand, manage and report on their travel impact.”

“Business travel is part of an organisation’s roadmap to net zero carbon emissions, so buyers need specific and auditable information”

ITM has seen questions: are you using your own renewable energy (excluding solar panels on the roof); what is the share of electricity in your total energy consumption; are you proposing organic food; have you eliminated single-use plastics; do you have a strategy towards water treatment and reduction in water usage; do you have a strategy around the use of sustainable materials; do you have a carbon offsetting programme?

Ben Park, Executive Director Travel and Sustainability, Parexal International, says: “I think buyers need to ask questions that will set the foundation and benchmark to compare hotels. The marketing documents from hotels and chains often have sustainability ratings and public commitment statements, which make it easier to compare different offerings.”

Another buyer, who didn’t want to be named, added: “At this stage, we are looking to understand what policies and procedures the major hotel chains have in place. It will become a factor in the future as our company develops its ESG strategy and requires reporting from all activities.”

Zeina Ismail, Head of Global Corporate Sales & Relationships, Q Apartments, part of QIG Group, says the group is responding to these questions by obtaining more information on emissions and increasing its environmental awareness. QIG introduced net zero interiors at its recent opening, Bow Lane, London.

Ismail says: “It’s no longer just about prices and locations in our RFP agendas but also our sustainability factors and strategy. Our clients prioritise properties with low emissions.” 

Task in hand

The demand is there. In a recent ITM survey, 82% of buyers said business travel is now part of their organisation’s net zero roadmap. 

ITM’s Douglas says: “This has heightened buyers’ concerns about how best to shape a sustainable programme, but it’s a vast topic, and many buyers don’t know where to start.” 

ITM has established a taskforce to support buyers, including a guide with practical tips. 

“It’s no longer just about prices and locations in our RFP agendas but also our sustainability factors and strategy. Our clients prioritise properties with low emissions” 

Other organisations are also on hand. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance has members from 22 leading hotel companies, including Choice Hotels, Accor, Hilton, IHG, Radisson Hotel Group, Hyatt and Marriott International. The body, which has launched the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality, aims to help buyers determine the sustainability of hotel suppliers.

The alliance and many of its members are on the advisory board for the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index (CHSB), an industry-led global collection and benchmarking initiative, with data on energy, water and carbon emissions from more than 20,000 hotels. 

Claire Whitely, Head of Environment, The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, says: “We created a Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative and Hotel Water Measurement Initiative and have made tools, which are freely accessible for the whole industry. These provide comparable and transparent data, which can be used by corporate teams to understand the relative performance of hotels, as well as use in their own reporting for their Scope 3.”

Beyond carbon

As a member of the GBTA’s sustainability committee, Radisson Hotel Group helped to develop a sustainability toolkit, which offers 12 modules for travel managers to create a sustainable pathway, and is involved in the Sustainability Matrix (launching this year) to support business travel bookers with RFPs.

Inge Huijbrechts, Radisson’s Global SVP Sustainability, Security and Corporate Communications, says: “Leading corporate travel buyers want to understand how their travellers contribute to a net positive impact on people and planet. This goes beyond carbon footprint reporting and includes biodiversity, waste management, green mobility, sustainable procurement as well as health and wellbeing and equity, diversity and inclusion.”

Sustainability is, after all, not just about carbon emissions. It covers all aspects of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals – with the four main pillars of Social, Human, Economic and Environmental.

Parexal International’s Park says: “Buyers should ask their accommodation suppliers about their public commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and also ask for SBTis, setting out their commitment and goals and how they will share those results going forward.”

Standard approach

Once they have their sustainable strategy in place, how do travel buyers navigate the vast accreditation landscape, with more than 200 options worldwide?

ISAAP recently launched its SP Sustain Accreditation for serviced apartments. It conducted a survey with The Apartment Network, which kickstarted the conversation with its members about how they measure sustainability and what their future plans are. 

“There needs to be a standardised global approach that all suppliers and corporates align to”

ISAAP’s Stephen Martin says that using this as a benchmark, ISAAP can gauge how sustainability is moving forward for those companies, with a large proportion of the serviced accommodation providers who took part in the survey planning to implement a company policy by the end of the year. “This suggests a definite gathering of momentum in awareness and applied activities pertaining to environmental care,” he adds.

Progress is being made, but one buyer notes: “Currently we don’t differentiate between the various accreditation providers but there needs to be a standardised global approach that all suppliers and corporates align to.”

Basic framework

Every hotel is encouraged to start on the pathway, even if it’s right at the beginning, with Hotel Sustainability Basics, a globally-recognised set of sustainability indicators all hotels should implement as a minimum. To advance beyond this, hotels obtain an eco-label, recognised by the UN-led Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), and adhere to the GSTC Industry Criteria. 

Radisson’s Huijbrechts says: “The importance of this framework cannot be underestimated: it offers trusted, verified levels of sustainability, with freely available tools for any hotel type anywhere in the world.”

The GSTC Criteria provides a quality check across the sector. 

The Alliance’s Whitely explains: “The GSTC essentially acts as the certifiers of certifiers by providing a quality check on the criteria which hotels have to meet to be certified.”

Uncertain future

But there are challenges ahead. In April CBRE, the global commercial real estate services and investment company, released a report which found “the slower economic growth in the UK, EU and Asia Pacific, along with an anticipated recession in the US, is likely to slow down short-term progress.” Other potential challenges include inflation, high-interest rates and heightened geopolitical uncertainty.

These are tricky times but there is positive momentum and the sector is aligning with a recognition we’re all in this together, for a better, more sustainable future.