Hotels move ahead on sustainability

By Eric Ricaurte ’01

By: Demola Kehinde Ogunnaike

We are now in the fourth year of an international effort to collect sustainability data from hotels around the globe, and I’m pleased to report continued progress in several areas. That said, I have to immediately point out that one continued finding from our study is the complexity of setting benchmarks on energy and water use and carbon emission. Both industry practitioners and guests want to get a sense of “how the industry is doing” when it comes to sustainability. However, given the complexity of the hotel industry, what we’ve learned is that the answer to that question involves addressing a series of issues.

Eric Ricaurte
Eric Ricaurte ’01

Let’s look first at what we found in this year’s study, and then I’ll explain a bit more about the data collection. All findings are for the year 2015, which is the most recent year with complete data. I should add that this is a voluntary effort of all the hotels involved—an indication of the industry’s commitment to greener operation. In discussing any comparisons, we have to recognize that the many differences in hotels’ physical plants and operations require careful attention.

On balance, we found that most hotels in our study reduced their energy use in 2015, and the 1,938 hotels in our index have done so since 2013. Los Angeles and San Francisco were particularly notable for energy reductions. Comparing similar hotels over time, our respondents also have trimmed their carbon intensity. The picture regarding water use is not quite so clear. Although the aggregate water use per occupied room did diminish, many properties reported an increase in water use over the time of our study. On the other hand, hotels in certain localities, notably Miami and New York, reported substantial water conservation.

Regarding the uneven changes in water use, one theory is that, important though water conservation may be, it does not present the same direct expense savings as one might find with energy conservation. While our study does not necessarily focus on individual sustainability drivers, it would be of great interest to investigate the reasons for these notable changes.

Our cooperating hotel owners and operators provided data from a total of more than 12,500 properties worldwide, including the nearly 2,000 that have provided data for three straight years. As you might expect, we need to spend a fair amount of effort to harmonize the units of measurement and sources of energy and water in the data, which is presented in various forms. Thus, we express energy in kilowatt-hours, water in liters, floor area in square meters, and greenhouse gas emissions in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, depending on the data provided.

In closing, I want to thank the participating organizations, which have reaffirmed their commitment to sustainable operations: Brighton Management, Hilton Worldwide, Host Hotels and Resorts, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Marriott International, Park Hotel Group, Saunders Hotel Group, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, and Wyndham Worldwide. I encourage hoteliers to use applicable data from this study as benchmarks for their own operation, and I welcome additional data from the hotel industry. Hotel companies that wish to join this movement and participate in the 2018 edition of the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index (CHSB) are welcome to submit 2016 data sets for energy and water use. This year’s full report, “Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index 2017: Energy, Water, and Carbon,” is available at no charge from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research.

Eric Ricaurte is founder of Greenview, a hotel sustainability and research firm. Ricaurte graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration, and holds a master’s degree from New York University, where he has been an adjunct instructor. He has over twenty years’ professional experience globally, and has published a number of papers on sustainability for the Cornell University Center for Hospitality Research.