The rise of the sustainable hotel

These days, eco-savvy business travellers are becoming more and more concerned about the impact their travels have on the planet. Fortunately, a number of hotels have cottoned on to this shift in attitude and jumped on the  sustainability bandwagon, implementing eco-friendly practices and working in partnership with their local communities, so it’s never been easier to reduce the impact of your company’s business trips.

What is a sustainable hotel?

When it comes to sustainability, there are three factors for a hotel to consider: economic, social and environmental. We’re not just talking recycled toilet paper and energy-saving lightbulbs here; there are all sorts of things a hotel can do, from growing their own vegetables and using only natural-source toiletries to recruiting and training staff from deprived areas and supporting charitable foundations.

Why should hotels be sustainable?

In recent years, climate change has dominated the headlines and care for our planet has moved to the forefront of people’s minds; businesses, hotels included, have followed suit. Hotels want to save money and minimise their environmental and social impact, while travellers want to ‘do their bit’ to help the planet. According to a report by Sustainable Travel International, a non-profit organisation working to improve the lives of people and environments around the world, 60% of travellers in the USA took a so-called ‘sustainable’ trip between 2013 and 2016. That’s a large proportion, so the desire to be sustainable is there, but often travellers do not know how to go about doing this. All this makes sustainability a bit of a no-brainer for hotels that can afford it: save money on electricity and water, look after the planet and attract more customers at the same time.

What are sustainable hotels actually doing?

As hotels get wind of the shift in travellers’ preferences towards more sustainable accommodation, many are implementing comprehensive corporate social responsibility programmes. It’s important to note that these programmes are not at the detriment to traveller comfort, but allow the hotel to continue to offer top class services and facilities while minimising their impact.


Hilton has a lot to boast about. In 2014, the chain hit every one of its sustainability goals, obtaining 94% of its electricity come from green sources, reducing water consumption by 10% and reducing waste production by 20%. Hilton’s sustainability isn’t exclusive to energy efficiency either; they source materials from women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses, donate excess food to food banks and have banned the use of shark fin at every single one of their hotels.


Hyatt has pledged to reduce their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption by 25% by 2020 while diverting 40% of their waste away from landfill. While they’re well on their way to achieving this, they’ve also become involved with other projects, donating 35,000 books to children, investing in literacy programmes in Brazil and partnering with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to ensure all seafood in their restaurants is sustainably sourced.

Marriott International

Marriott was a pioneer in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Volume Programme, which awards green status to buildings with particularly resource-efficient designs. Like Hyatt, they’ve also pledged to reduce their energy and water consumption by 20% by 2020, and are on track to achieve this. They’ve also installed 275 electric vehicle charging stations at their hotels and invested in various conservation initiatives including preservation of the Amazon Rainforest.

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)

IHG states that the environment is at the heart of how their hotels operate, and have reported a 7.9% reduction in in-room water use in water-stressed areas, plus a 7.4% reduction in their carbon footprint, since 2013. They’ve also launched the IHG Academy, offering education and career skills training to local people; and the IHG Foundation, which supports disaster relief.

Accor Hotels

Accor’s acclaimed Planet 21 programme outlines their energy goals for 2020, and includes pledges to use only locally-grown produce in their restaurants, fight against sexual exploitation of children and plant trees. The chain also boasts eco-designed beds using wood from sustainable forests, as well as eco-certified soaps and cleaning products.

Particularly innovative sustainability measures

While reducing energy emissions and using sustainably sourced products is certainly commendable, some hotels have come up with ingenuous ideas to become even more sustainable. We’ve picked a few that stood out:

• Fairmont has installed beehives on a number its hotel rooftops, not only encouraging local honeybees to move in, but also facilitating the pollination of local plants. The honey produced is used in the hotel restaurants and as a treatment in their spas.

• Hyatt has established a volunteer programme to help support local communities. In Costa Rica Hyatt partnered with a local non-profit organisation to improve the lives of children, inviting their guests to visit local schools, sponsor a child or donate much-needed supplies.

• Four Seasons’ 10 Million Trees Initiative, which launched in 2011, aims to plant 10 million trees across the 34 countries where the group owns hotels, with the goal of raising awareness of deforestation and tree conservation.

• Hilton recycles unused soap and amenity bottles and donates them to homeless shelters, community centres and medical facilities in poorer communities around the world.

• Marriott International’s staff uniforms are made from recycled plastic bottles.

Implications for business travellers

As corporate social responsibility increases in importance, don’t be too surprised if you notice hotels making more of a song and dance about their sustainability efforts. Your business travellers will likely see increased opportunities to support on-the-ground initiatives, and in backing them, goodwill between your business and your preferred hotels will increase. Most importantly though, we should see the real-life benefits of these sustainability programmes trickling down into communities, economies and environments across the globe. And that can only be a good thing.