Hotels OK carbon footprint standard

By Danny King
The Element brand touts sustainability and wellness.Hoteliers representing more than 15,000 properties have agreed to adopt a standardized system for measuring carbon footprints that were set a year ago by two global tourism organizations looking to boost environmental awareness within the tourism industry.

Marriott International, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Worldwide and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) are among the more than 20 companies that will use the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative established in mid-2012 by the London-based International Tourism Partnership and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

Hotel developers also appear to be responding in kind, as the number of U.S. hotels granted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council is up about 30% in the past year, while environmentally oriented brands like Starwood Hotels & Resorts' Element and IHG's Even are broadening their scope.

"The Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative is a fantastic example of the world's largest hotels putting their competitive differences to one side to work together in the interests of the industry overall," WTTC CEO David Scowsill said in a statement. "I hope that even more hotels will sign up to use what is rapidly becoming a new industry standard."

Granted, calculating what impact a hotel's stated environmental sustainability has on room demand is difficult. While many corporations have both publicized their own environmental efforts and stated their intention to favor more environmentally-friendly hotels for business travel, no clear numbers have emerged supporting the theory that individual travelers will factor a hotel's environmental sustainability into their booking decisions.

Of course, that hasn't stopped some hoteliers from melding green-friendliness and wellness into certain branding messages. Starwood is expanding its Element select-service brand and pitching its combination of "environmentally friendly design" and emphasis on wellness to potential guests.

And last year, IHG announced its Even Hotels brand, which will promote healthy living and ecofriendliness. It has already reached agreements for two New York properties to open within the next two years.

Indeed, more hotel owners are engaging in an environmental effort that can do wonders for public relations but is neither cheap nor simple to implement.

Hotels looking to calculate their carbon footprint must work in data such as public vs. private square footage, energy sources and occupancy rates. They must also factor in the effect of a recent renovation or whether services such as laundry are outsourced.

Still, the participating hotels are joining a growing list of large global companies that appear to be getting more proactive about both disclosing their carbon footprint and reducing their impact on the environment.

Last year, 78% of the companies in the S&P 500 integrated some sort of policy related to climate change into their business strategy, up from 68% in 2011, the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project reported last September. More importantly, those companies cut greenhouse gas emissions by 14% from 2009 levels, a decline that's equivalent to removing 138 million cars off the world's roads, according to the report.

And more U.S. hotels are getting a head start on the process with environmentally friendly build-outs.

The U.S. Green Building Council lists about 170 U.S. hotels as LEED-certified, up from about 130 a year ago. Properties include Walt Disney's Aulani resort in Hawaii, Las Vegas' Venetian and Palazzo resorts, the JW Marriott in San Antonio and W-branded properties in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

Whatever the public relations benefits, hoteliers are already reporting results of energy-reducing initiatives undertaken within the past five years or so. Marriott said last August that its hotels' water consumption per occupied room fell 12%, while energy use was down 4% per square meter since 2007.

Meanwhile, Hilton said last September that its hotels had cut their water use by 7.5% and reduced waste output by 23% since launching the company's "LightStay" initiative in 2009.

All of which dovetails with the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative.

"With such a high volume of hotels globally now measuring their carbon footprint in a consistent way, and with corporate customers increasingly hungry for this information, this is a great step forward," International Tourism Partnership Director Stephen Farrant said.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 
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