Shrinking Our Supersized Footprint: The Secret to Procuring Sustainable Accommodation

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Kate Read reveals the secret to procuring sustainable accommodation.

Do you know how your preferred accommodation provider is cutting carbon emissions, water and waste to landfill? Do their policies contribute to the local community? And are they sensitive to the impacts their business has on the local culture? These are the questions that travellers are increasingly asking.

According to one survey from global online giant Bookings.com, undertaken last year, 87 per cent of us now want to travel sustainably, and 39 per cent “often or always” choose eco-friendly options.

Another study of 72,000 Hilton guests found a third were actively seeking information about the hotel chain’s social, environmental and ethical commitment before they’d make a booking. The signposts are pointing in one direction and the message is clear: sustainability matters. While globetrotting travellers increasingly go green, organisations – both public and private – are increasingly looking towards a ‘net zero’ future. And this means making serious commitments to slash carbon emissions, water consumption and waste to landfill. As they turn their attention to delivering on these commitments, they are beginning to scrutinise staff travel. A sizeable proportion of people are now making proactive choices to ensure their travel makes a positive impact on local communities and cultures.

A supersized footprint
The leaders in the hotel sector are already beginning to take action to shrink its supersized footprint. Food waste sent to landfill from Hilton Sydney has halved since a sustained campaign to adjust menus, reduce portion sizes and increase donations of surplus edible food to charity. The Schwartz Family Group, which owns Mercure and Ibis properties around Sydney, has reduced water consumption by 17 megalitres each year – the equivalent of saving nearly seven Olympic size swimming pools of water. And the TFE Group, which owns a stable of 13 Sydney Vibe, Adina and Travelodge hotels, has cut its carbon emissions by 447 tonnes a year – the same amount of carbon emitted by around 80 homes – through its smart approach to sustainability.
These leaders understand it’s time to take sustainability seriously.

And not a moment too soon. The International Tourism Partnership estimates that, globally, the hotel sector must reduce its emissions by a whopping 66 per cent by 2030 to help meet Paris targets and limit global temperature increases to less than 2˚C.

The case for certification

When we speak to hotels about how to improve the sustainability of their assets, we are often met with the same response: “We’ll become more sustainable when our guests ask for it”. This makes corporate and government procurement the critical driver to catalyse positive change in the hotel sector.

While the challenge may seem overwhelming, the good news is that procurement teams do not need master’s degrees in carbon accounting or deep backgrounds in corporate social responsibility policy to understand where their accommodation providers sit on the sustainability scale. Third party ratings and certifications can help.

Ratings and certifications are essentially a proxy for good management. An accommodation business with a recognised ‘trust mark’ offers its guests extra assurance that resource use is carefully monitored and managed. These schemes also provide a clear and robust valuation method during procurement of preferred providers.

Ratings or certifications used in Australia include NABERS for Hotels, Green Star – Performance and EarthCheck. Each is based on actual performance, requires an external party to verify data, is benchmarked and requires building ratings to be renewed periodically. The office sector has embraced environmental ratings for more than a decade to demonstrate corporate commitment and drive efficiency improvements.

There is now ample data that year-on-year ratings in office buildings drive efficiency improvements and operational cost savings. In fact, Australia’s commercial office sector has been named the world’s greenest by GRESB, the global real estate sustainability benchmark, for eight years in a row. This recognition isn’t just a pat on a back – it’s directly linked to the sector’s ability to attract international capital and blue chip tenants, and deliver long-term investment returns.

To achieve similar improvements across the accommodation sector, we need hotels to embrace ratings in the same way.

From a money saver to a business attractor
When the NSW Government set minimum performance standards for government leases of office space, that single action transformed the business case for sustainable investment. Sustainability went from being a money saver to a business attractor.
Similarly, government and corporate organisations can adopt policies to procure accommodation venues with environmental performance ratings, moving to minimum ratings as market capacity grows. The Global Business Travel Association Hotel RFP template already includes clauses about third party certified ratings that can be tailored to include sustainability
ratings recognised in Australia.

The periodic supplier meetings culminating in the annual or biennial RFP cycles provide the perfect opportunity to signal to suppliers your organisation’s interest in accommodation ratings and certifications. In the first year, the RFP can simply ask suppliers whether they possess or plan to get a third-party rating, with a note that subsequent tenders will score third party
certification in much the same way cost, location, amenities and security are scored.

Corporate leaders with a strong track record in responsible procurement and sustainable supply chain management are already using their purchasing power to ensure the hotels they choose for their staff align with their corporate values and standards. During developer Stockland’s annual hotel tender, for example, accommodation is assessed against four main
criteria: location and accessibility; safety and security; cost; and sustainability.

City of Sydney, which last year endorsed its Making Sydney a Sustainable Destination Plan, has amended its travel policy to preference rated hotels, and has also published a ‘Choose sustainable accommodation’ guide for those who want to learn more.
So, join the growing market for sustainable tourism by working with your accommodation suppliers. Get them to use ratings to guide how they measure, benchmark and improve their sustainability to align with your organisation’s values and standards. As Impact Travel Alliance says: “The travel industry is ripe for positive change”. Let’s work together to be part of that
change.

Kate Read is the Sustainability Engagement Coordinator, Sustainability Programs at the City of Sydney. 

About Author

Kate is a Sustainability Coordinator at the City of Sydney currently helping deliver the City’s 5 year strategic plan for Making Sydney a Sustainable Destination. She is an experienced sustainability professional with a strong background in the fundamentals of program and project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. A current project focus is helping organisations procure accommodation that supports their company’s sustainability commitments and values.

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