In the age of the ubiquitous “eco-hotel”, where
buzzwords sometimes take precedence over actual sustainability, a few places
are working toward true carbon-neutral status.
they reduce their energy use as far as possible – through things like solar
panels and energy-efficient air conditioning – and then they pay to offset any
energy they do use by supporting carbon-reduction projects, such as forestry
programs or schemes that capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it
example, the Saunders Hotel
a family-owned chain of six hotels headquartered in Boston, has received carbon
neutral certification by buying offsets to cover each room’s carbon dioxide
emissions. Tedd Saunders, the group’s chief sustainability officer and
president of the consulting firm EcoLogical Solutions, explained that the
cost to the hotel group is about $10,000 a year, which offsets the equivalent
of nearly 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s like eliminating more
than 11 million vehicle-driven miles per year.
paying for offsets is the easy part, and on a per-room basis it’s not very
expensive. The hard part, explained Saunders, is reducing the
hotels’ carbon footprint by investing in things like a more energy-efficient
boiler or using local suppliers to cut down on transportation emissions. It has
to be a comprehensive effort, he said, so “guests see that we’re not just
luxury Soneva resort chain,
with properties in the Maldives, Thailand, Greece and Sri Lanka, is striving to fully
decarbonise by 2015. Arnfinn Oines, who’s in charge of chain’s “social and environmental conscience”, said the company will begin using a
new solar power plant at the Soneva Fushi resort in the Maldives. The company
is also aiming to offset guests’ air travel – in Thailand, for example, Soneva owns
a reforestation project to plant new trees. “We are working on going beyond
zero carbon -- to decarbonising our entire operation including indirect emissions,”
Stephen Russell, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank based in Washington DC, noted
that hotels often don’t go beyond their own onsite operations when they talk
about carbon neutrality, which he calls a “broad, nebulous term”. There are also
emissions associated with goods and services purchased by hotels, such as waste
management and transportation.
Russell has seen an increase in hotels striving to reduce emissions,
particularly in the last five years and particularly among hotels that cater to
fact, 23 global hotel groups have recently come together to develop a protocol
for measuring and reporting the carbon footprint of hotel stays and corporate
meetings. So far, the standardized
which was launched in June 2012 and is spearheaded by the International Tourism Partnership
and the World Travel and Tourism Council,
is geared toward companies that book conferences and corporate travel. But
Saunders has no doubt it will in time become a tool for individual travellers
to gauge just how environmentally friendly hotels really are.
now, there are not many ways for travellers to figure out whether a hotel is
serious about reducing energy use or whether it is just using buzzwords.
Saunders suggests Green Seal,
a US-based non-profit that evaluates hotels, among other products, for a fee,
and grants a bronze, silver or gold certification based on general
sustainability. A similar organisation, Green Key,
gives ratings based on self-assessments and some on-site inspections, which are
accessible for free on their site.
Saunders first started working on emission-reduction issues in 1989, he said
the issue of carbon neutrality was not even “on the hotels’ radar screen”. But
in recent years, he added, the urgency has never been greater among hotel
operators. “It is encouraging to see that
all the big players in the industry are taking this seriously and are putting
together concerted efforts,” he said.
Robertson writes the ethical traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send
ethical dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org.