Green beds and greenbacks

OUR PLANET 10.1 - Tourism

Green beds and greenbacks


describes how hotels are increasingly realizing that
protecting the environment is good business

Nowadays, staying in a hotel is not the experience it used to be. You may only get fresh towels every day if you ask for them. Your hot water may have been heated by solar energy, and 'grey water' from baths, showers and washing machines may be recycled. And your key card may be a special energy-saving one which automatically turns off the electricity when you leave the room.

All this is in the cause of protecting the environment. No industry, it is probably safe to say, has a greater stake in safeguarding environmental resources than travel and tourism. A well-preserved environment is both critical to providing a good quality of life and a prime motivator in persuading people to travel throughout the world.

At the beginning of the decade, most of the world's hotels were unfamiliar with the principles of sound environmental management - and with the benefits to be gained from it. Now the 'greening' of our industry is well under way, thanks to such organizations as the International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA), the International Hotels Environment Initiative, UNEP's Industry and Environment Office, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) - and the pioneering efforts of a core number of hotels.

resort swimming pool

Business sense

There is a double message for hotels. First, green operations ensure an attractive, sustainable environment and the future of the local community. And second, they make sound business sense. The IH&RA and its partners actively promote environmental awareness and self-regulation by the industry; they encourage hotels and restaurants throughout the world to introduce their own voluntary initiatives. As a result, hoteliers across the globe are now increasingly aware of how conserving and recycling resources benefits the bottom line.

Our own Environmental Award programme, sponsored by American Express, was launched in 1990 to acknowledge outstanding examples of leadership in planning and implementing environmental action. Over the years, it has attracted more than 280 applications from hotels in countries as diverse as Australia and India, Canada and Colombia, demonstrating a laudable degree of personal and corporate commitment to the environment.

Last year our Green Hotelier & Restaurateur of the Year award was themed to coincide with the International Year of the Ocean. For the first time special emphasis was placed on the industry's efforts to reduce water and energy consumption, through recycling and re-use and through the exploitation of renewable energy sources. There has been a growing response to the award from a wide range of concerns, ranging from small independent hotels to large international chains. As they have widely different levels of resource availability, separate awards are presented to a corporate hotelier and an independent one.

Innovation and imagination

The award scheme has identified all kinds of innovative and imaginative ideas for limiting the impact of hotel operations on the environment. A new biologically treated water distribution system installed at the Club Alda in Turkey reduces the amount used for watering grass and plants by 55 per cent at an annual saving of $35,500. The roof of the Inter-Continental Hotel in Sydney has been converted into a nursery to propagate seedlings for community tree- planting programmes, while Canadian Pacific Hotels has supplemented a comprehensive environmental management system by launching an adoption programme for endangered Beluga whales in the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Extremely encouraging though all this is, much remains to be done. Hoteliers still face many challenges. There must be greater awareness of the effects of how hotels are sited and designed. Environmental impact assessments and audits are needed. Green programmes must become more integrated into day-to-day operations. There is a need for better monitoring procedures, and there must be increased communication of environmental performance to guests and other stakeholders.

Enormous potential

The importance of tourism is increasingly being recognized - as is demonstrated, for example, by the focus the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development is placing on it for the first time since its inception, at its seventh session in New York in April 1999. IH&RA, with the WTTC, is playing a key role in organizing the business section of the dialogue, tracking progress on how the industry is implementing the actions outlined in Agenda 21 and making recommendations for future policy. The hospitality sector - and the travel and tourism industry as a whole - has enormous potential for bringing about more sustainable forms of development, and intends to do all it can to fulfil it.

Kenneth F. Hine is Director General-CEO of the International Hotel & Restaurant Association, Paris, France.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Margaret G. Kerr: Profits with honour (The Way Ahead) 1997
Al Fry and Walter Rast: Tapping industrial ingenuity (Freshwater) 1998

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