Eco-Friendly Hotel Ideas: 6 Ways Your Hotel Can Become More Sustainable

Staying on top of hospitality industry trends and providing an excellent guest experience while still keeping costs low is key to the survival of any hotel. Fortunately, catering to the growing demand for sustainable tourism offers an opportunity to tick all three boxes. 

After a long enforced hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, you’d be forgiven for thinking climate change was the last thing on travelers’ minds, but the opposite seems to be true. Eighty-three percent of respondents to a survey said they want to travel more sustainably now, and over 50% cited the pandemic as making them more aware of their impact on the environment and local communities. 

Amex backs this up with a study revealing 68% of consumers now seek to support travel brands with sustainable practices. And with TripAdvisor now showcasing eco-friendly hotels, it’s increasingly easy for them to choose.  

The good news is that becoming an eco-friendly hotel is good for the balance sheet as well as your image as many sustainable practices involve streamlining operations and improving efficiency. 

We take a look at what sustainability means in the hospitality industry and outline six eco-friendly hotel ideas to start reducing your carbon footprint today. 

Connect your operations

Going green doesn’t need to cost more. Speak to a digital transformation expert to see how it can work for your hotel.

What is an eco-friendly hotel?

An eco-friendly hotel works to reduce its environmental impact by employing sustainable best practices in maintenance, services, and supply chains. Measures may include reducing energy and water consumption, aiming for zero waste generation, and using environmentally friendly products. Hotels may also streamline operations using hotel automation software or other systems to make them more efficient. 

How to make a hotel eco-friendly: myths and misconceptions

Being sustainable costs more - While some environmentally friendly practices, like buying organic food, can cost more, many practices focus on reducing resource consumption and waste generation, which saves money. An initial investment may be required to overhaul or replace infrastructure (like installing an energy-efficient HVAC system) but this should pay for itself over time.

Depending on where you are, you may also be able to get grants to make sustainable improvements. In any case, it’s important to take the long view: Sustainability shouldn’t just be a trend but rather an integral part of your business model. Think of any expenditure as an investment in future-proofing.  

Being sustainable comes at the expense of an excellent guest experience - Not at all. Reducing energy use doesn’t mean banning guests from using air conditioning, it’s about leveraging smart appliances and monitoring systems to personalize and optimize energy use to keep guests comfortable and your costs low. Many of the ideas below are suitable for all types of businesses, from large luxury hotels to one-room short-term rentals. 

Eco-friendly hotel ideas that will actually reduce costs

We’ve gone for high- and low-tech cost-saving solutions to the “big” issues that are foremost in consumers’ minds, Namely, reducing plastic and food waste, cutting water and energy consumption, switching to sustainable mobility, and supporting local communities. 

You can implement some of these eco-friendly hotel ideas right now for little or no outlay, while others are a major long-term investment.

1. Reduce plastic waste, starting with keycards 

“Disposable” plastic is rarely out of the news these days, or far from travelers’ minds. Over 50% of respondents stated they want to reduce their plastic consumption when they travel again. 

Hotels can help by:

 Replacing plastic keycards with smart locks, access codes, and keyless entry systems. As well as saving on supply costs and lost cards, platforms like Operto ConnectTM for hotel check-in automation reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission and improve security, comfort, and convenience. Integrating Operto into your PMS also allows you to streamline check-in, cut paperwork and deploy reception staff more efficiently elsewhere. 

 Don’t provide straws or disposable cups and cutlery unless absolutely necessary. When they are required, for example, for disabled people or kids, switch to reusable or biodegradable options like bamboo straws. After the initial purchase, you’ll save on supply and waste disposal. Measures like these will also make you more attractive to businesses looking for sustainable event venues. 

Other ideas include: 

 Get rid of single-use plastic water bottles. Give guests a reusable branded bottle and provide water dispensers around the premises instead.

 Place pitchers of filtered tap water (assuming it’s safe to drink) on restaurant tables.  

Where possible, buy produce in recycled, biodegradable, or sustainable packaging.

If you can’t reduce or reuse, recycle. Place clearly marked recycling bins around the hotel so guests can separate waste.

2. Automate energy control

Energy use is a big hotel expense and a major source of CO2 emissions. In Europe, non-residential buildings like hotels account for 25% of all buildings’ energy consumption and are far more energy-intensive than homes. And US hotels spend an estimated $2,196 per room annually on energy, around 6% of operating costs. So every light left on, every empty room cooling down is money wasted. 

Hoteliers can reduce energy use by: 

 Installing modern, efficient HVAC systems that customize airflow, heating, and cooling by monitoring room occupancy and allowing guests to personalize temperature schedules.

Did you know? Operto’s technology integrates with smart devices and sensors to enable remote or automated energy control of thermostats, boilers, split A/C units, and lighting so you can monitor room capacity and never need to worry about guests leaving the A/C on when they go out. You can also cool down or warm up the room before they arrive for an improved guest experience.

 Reduce IT energy consumption and e-waste by buying energy-efficient electronics and selling or donating old items. Data center energy use is only just starting to get on people’s radars so guests will love free Wi-Fi via a green energy server like GreenGeeks and a browser like Ecosia, which plants trees with its profits.  

Other options include: 

 Invest in solar panels, air or ground heat pumps, and underfloor heating, which is more efficient than traditional radiators over large areas.

 Install energy-saving light bulbs like LEDs and buy Energy Star-rated or equivalent energy-efficient appliances.

Install motion sensors around the grounds to control lighting. As well as cutting costs, this benefits local wildlife by reducing light pollution.  

✓ Switch to a renewable energy provider. Be sure to check their credentials, though, as there’s a lot of greenwash and terminology can be confusing. 

Plant trees to shade the building and reduce the need for A/C. 

3. Cut food waste

This is another issue that’s just starting to get the attention it deserves. The UN estimates one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, with a footprint of 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses. Retail and catering are major contributors due to the challenges inherent in providing standardized meals and portions and anticipating consumption. 

You can cut food waste and emissions by:

 Implementing clean-tech food management systems like Winnow Solutions or Leanpath that help you track and measure food use and make better use of leftovers. There’s a growing number of initiatives promoting leftover use these days so don’t be shy about letting your guests know you’re making the most of meals.

 Save food miles and pesticides by basing your menu around locally sourced, seasonal, organic produce. Food will be healthier and fresher and guests will love it. If you have space, you could even start your own kitchen garden.

 Cut back on meat, as well, especially beef, a major cause of CO2 and methane emissions which takes a lot of land and water to produce.

These days, most families and groups include at least one vegetarian or vegan so catering for everyone will keep them coming back. Make any meat you do serve free-range, organic, and local with high animal welfare standards. Of course, depending on your supply chain, these measures may not be money-savers but they are key for sustainability and will certainly do your reputation no harm.  

Separate and dispose of food waste correctly. Composting is a natural process but it only happens in the right conditions. Food that ends up in landfill instead is actually worse than other types of waste as it rots and produces leachate and methane, worse than CO2 in the short term. Find a local composting program or get a worm bin to break food down fast and keep pests and smells away. Use the fertilizer on your grounds to save more money. Guests will love to know about this so don’t hide the worms away.

Other things you can do: 

 Donate leftovers or food you won’t use to food banks, soup kitchens, or for animal feed. In order of priority, food should be consumed by humans, then animals, and lastly composted for fertilizer.

 Get rid of buffet trays and single-serving packets in favor of individual portions and jars.

4. Save water

Water scarcity is probably one of the most concerning environmental issues, especially in countries where locals lack clean drinking water while tourists luxuriate in sparkling pools, lush grounds, and clean laundry.

Here’s how green hotels can reduce water usage:

 Go space-age with Orbital Systems’ Nasa-inspired smart water-saving shower. It combines recirculated, purified water with fresh water to save up to 90% of the water used, and collects data on your water and energy use.

 An oldie but a goodie: ask guests to reuse linen and towels (and make sure they have enough towel racks). Operto’s Guest Portal allows them to communicate requests to housekeeping while the Housekeeping Portal allows owners to automate and monitor housekeeping operations for greater efficiency and savings.

  Install timed or smart irrigation devices like soil moisture sensors, rainfall detectors, or WaterSense or equivalent-labeled controllers which use local weather data to tailor your irrigation schedule. Plant local, drought-resistant plants in areas with little rainfall to cut down on water and pesticide use.

Use rainwater or greywater collection systems to repurpose wastewater for non-potable uses like flushing toilets, etc. This is particularly important in countries where wastewater treatment is suboptimal and there is a risk of discharge into drinking water sources. You can also get greywater heat recovery systems that capture and reuse the energy that is lost when hot water goes down the drain.   

Buy water-efficient appliances and install aerators on faucets. Use low-flow showerheads and push taps and replace toilets with dual or low-flush versions.

5. Switch to sustainable mobility

A lot of travel-related carbon emissions are generated by guests arriving and leaving but hotels can still do their bit on the ground:  

✓ Change your corporate fleet to hybrid or electric vehicles (EVs) and have bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters available for guests. While the purchase price of EVs is still higher than gas-powered, you could save $6,000 to $10,000 over the life of the vehicle on fuel and maintenance. For added savings, install on-site charging like our client the Wyman Hotel did. These should work out cheaper than public points and will be a hit with any EV-driving guests.

 Use group shuttles to avoid low-occupancy trips and switch fixed-route-and-schedule services to flexible on-demand, for example, to local attractions or for employees between sites. With on-demand, passengers request a ride via app and algorithms match them with others going in the same direction. Optimizing occupancy and ensuring vehicles only circulate when needed cuts fuel and operational costs.

6. Support the local community

Ok, this isn’t necessarily a money-saver but there’s nothing more unsustainable than all-inclusive resorts that siphon off local resources and give little back but precarious, low-paid employment. And struggling local economies are particularly high on travelers’ radars after Covid-19: 68% percent of those surveyed by survey said they want their money plowed back into the local community.  

Hotels can be a pillar of the community by:

✓ Supporting local farmers, producers, and makers. Use local crafts, toiletries, furnishings, etc. on-site and have items available to buy at reception or in the gift shop. You’ll likely pay more than generic Ikea-style, but go for quality and durability and you should save in the long run. Encourage guests to buy from local artisans instead of generic souvenirs from chain shops. 

 Recommend authentic local bars and eateries so guests can avoid chains. Publicize these through Operto’s Guest Portal, which also gives guests the option to place retail or food delivery orders.

 Organize visits to local workshops or studios and on-site demonstrations and classes and offer local walking, bike, or hiking excursions and trips to natural or cultural heritage sites and help guests get off the beaten track. Travelers value authenticity and want to avoid the crowds in the wake of Covid-19 so visiting lesser-known sites ticks both boxes and spreads the wealth around a bit. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Eco-Friendly Hotels

What is sustainability in the hotel industry?

Sustainability in the hotel industry involves reducing the impact of tourism on local communities and the environment. Sustainable hotels manage operations in such a way as to balance the needs of local people and the environment with making a profit. 

How can you make a hotel more environmentally sustainable?

You can make a hotel more environmentally sustainable by employing best practices to reduce energy and water consumption and waste generation. These may include using energy- and water-efficient appliances, smart devices, and more efficient streamlined or automated systems. Supporting the local economy and community also makes a hotel more environmentally sustainable.

What activities can hotels offer to support sustainability?

To support sustainability, hotels can offer activities that reduce their environmental impact and support the local community and economy. For example, having “buy local” policies. Hotels can also offer guest activities using low-impact transport like bikes or electric vehicles and host sustainable events that don’t use disposable tableware or cutlery.

Connect your operations

Going green doesn’t need to cost more. Speak to a digital transformation expert to see how it can work for your hotel.

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