Planning for sustainability can be profitable

A Green world
Going Green

by Nicola Young 

Sustainability is a vital area for our economy, our climate, and our businesses and as a result this month we are launching a series of features on sustainability.    ALASTAIR ROY has given you his view on what role procurement has to play while I will provide a general overview on how to approach the task and give some examples of where savings might be focused.

There is no question that sustainability is top of the agenda for most hotels today and everyone knows that being environmentally friendly is good for marketing and attracting customers with Trip Advisor reporting that a third of travellers are willing to spend up to 20% more to stay in an environmentally friendly hotel while other reports claim that revenues can grow by between 3-5% as a direct result of promoting sustainability.   

The drive for sustainability awards or environmental ratings is in full swing with Green Tourism, an accreditation organisation founded in Scotland with a partnership between VisitScotland and Green Business UK, now boasting over 2,500 members throughout the UK and internationally.   However, as well as an environmental and marketing benefit there has to be a cost benefit to help operators plan their green strategy.  If done well, the hotelier will unquestionably see significant cost savings.    It is this planning approach, research has shown, that can be the most daunting for owners.  

In many cases it has been found that green initiatives take too long to get off the ground, are implemented inefficiently and don’t maximise a return on investment.   Yet, there is a lot of opportunity out there that can reduce cost while also making your hotel more sustainable but the difficult part is knowing which ones will give the best return on investment and which ones to tackle first.   This is often the main reason that so many projects get delayed.  There are so many things to choose from that the risk of making a decision is heightened, and this is where your strategic plan will help.   

I am going to attempt to simplify what can be done and how to approach it as well as highlight some quick wins that can be made that fall within the sustainability framework but that can also have a significant impact on costs. The following list is something that you will be familiar with across normal operations but it should be applied to a sustainability project too.

1. Engage and involve your staff.

Create a Climate Committee where every department is represented (housekeeping, kitchen, groundsmen, reception, operations, IT etc). It won’t work without your staff.

2. Complete an audit of where you are now by department (with each department representative responsible for their own area). 

Simply measure what you do and what you use (and what you waste).  But keep it simple at the start.  You want to find out where it might be best to start and you want to have a broad overview of the areas that you can deliver the most cost savings. But remember, you can’t reduce unless you know what you use.

3. Focus on Energy, Water and Waste (provide examples for each department if needed)

4. Set achievable savings targets and within a time-frame – this night be the next meeting. Goal setting of any kind is important.

5. Describe these in all staff communications and handbooks 

6. Involve your local community

Below are a few examples of what can be done using each of Energy, Water and Waste as the areas of focus.

Energy Savings

  There are many things that can be done easily within the arena of ‘energy’.Review your appliances and check their energy ratings and take note of how much they are used to get an idea of their weekly energy cost.  You don’t need to be too specific but don’t forget to include all sources of energy use.  For example – showers, ovens, tumble dryers, washing machines, toasters, heaters and so on. Just do a list and note the power rating and how long and how often they are used.  Once you have these it is then fairly straightforward to work out where most energy is used and the order in which you might want to make savings.  For instance lightbulbs – How many, how long are they on for, and what type. If, for example, you have 100 standard 60W light bulbs and they are used for an average of 8 hours a day and the energy cost is around 18.5p per kWh, then you are paying around £3200 per year (£32 per bulb).An equivalent 11W Energy saving bulb would cost around 80% less, therefore for 100 builds this would cost you £640 per year (around £6.40 per bulb) saving around £2,500.  Work outage cost of the bulbs or lighting you want to use to work out your return on investment (and don’t forget to add in the cost of your existing bulbs and purchase frequency. I replace some twice a year while I have some energy saving bulbs that are over 3 years old.   

Other suggestions – if you have hallway lights with dimmer switches then dim the lights by 30% during daylight hours, make sure that heating and air conditioning settings in lobbies, offices, and other peripheral rooms are at minimum settings during hours of low use. You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back a few degrees from its normal setting.  This is also true of washing machine temperatures – going from 40 degrees to 30 degrees makes a big difference.   Equipment that you might want to look at include the chillers and hood covers in the kitchen, vending machines (could sensor machines save you more?), occupancy sensors (infrared), Ozone and tunnel washers, and heat recovery systems.

  Like energy, water is used across the business from kitchens to cleaning and laundry, to guest rooms, to pools, spa’s and gardens.     Some 40 percent of water use in hotels is attributable to laundry and kitchen operations. New efficient tunnel washers reduce labour and utility costs and use less water than older units.    How often are things done, roughly how much water is used (and wasted and how is it wasted), what equipment is used (energy ratings/wattage and for how long)?Showers are a good example.   If you have showers that are not electric then there can be significant savings if you switch to low flow but this might be much less if you already have electric showers.  

In this crude example, I will assume an electric 9kW shower and also assume that there are two guests per room and that each guest showers for 10 minutes a day i.e. 20 minutes in total or ‘room shower’.  For ease of calculation, we will use 100 rooms as an example and the same energy cost of 18.5p per kWh.  Each ‘room-shower’ costs around £203 per year and all room-showers cost £20,301.    This might seem like an obvious starting point however, electric showers have to heat water from the cold supply up to the shower temperature and this uses a lot of energy. Even at a rating of 7.5-10 kilowatts, this means that electric showers can only handle a relatively low flow of water through them and already have a ‘low flow’ rate.     Since most water-efficient showerheads and flow regulators are set to a flow rate of 7.5-8 litres per minute there might not be any savings to be made by fitting these to an electric shower so before you start budgeting savings check the differences between the flow rates.   In this case, in order to save energy (and save cost as well as the environment), you might want to encourage guests to take shorter showers. Every minute less saves around £10 per person per year and this could be communicated as part of the sustainability ethos of your hotel and it may even be useful for guest to see the energy meter ticking along.   If you don’t currently use electric showers then there may be some significant savings. 

This hopefully demonstrates that an audit of what you have and what you use will really help simplify the planning as well as the costs and potential savings. And the savings will be significant.


Some surveys show that each hotel guest, on average, produces one kilo of waste per guest per day and that approximately 30% of the waste a hotel produces can be diverted through reuse and recycling.  Reports from businesses around the world show that deploying appropriate management processes reduced solid waste and waste water disposal costs by more than 15%.   This is an area that is difficult to generalise too much and it covers a broad range of options and property types but by measuring what you do a the start you will be able to have an idea of where to look first. 

Food waste can also be converted to fuel and there are already companies in the UK that will collect food waste and convert it into biofuel.    Of course, don’t forget local – using local products and produce not only supports the local community around you but saves on carbon miles – and you can measure these too.
Recruitment   Finally, and this has never been more important than it is now, sustainability is good for recruitment and staff retention.    

A survey by the Governance and Accountability Institute in the US found that 40 percent of millennial respondents chose their employer because of their sustainability performance while 70 percent of millennials are more likely to stay with a company with a strong environmental reputation and policy.  

Next month we will take a look at available funding as well as a closer look at some of the services available in the market.