Embarking on the pathway to net zero: A guide for hotels

net zero hotels

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Benedetta Cassinelli, CEO of Considerate Group, outlines the steps towards net zero emissions for hotels, including the challenges and opportunities.

The urgency to address climate change has never been more pressing, demanding swift and comprehensive action across various sectors, including hospitality. Given its substantial environmental footprint, the hospitality industry is well-placed to lead by example, making significant strides in carbon emission reduction and embarking on a pathway to net zero.

“Net zero” differs from related concepts like “carbon neutrality.” While both aim to address climate change, “net zero” typically involves a deeper commitment to reducing emissions across all scopes (1, 2, and 3) and may include more rigorous standards for offsets. Hotels around the globe are increasingly committing to net zero, recognising the importance of reducing their carbon footprint. This commitment is not merely about staying ahead of regulatory and market trends; it unlocks numerous business and sustainability benefits, including financial gains through improved efficiency and compliance achievements to enhanced brand reputation.

Yet, embarking on this path can be daunting for many hotels. It requires a methodical, data-driven approach to turn the aspiration of net zero into a tangible, achievable goal. In the diverse landscape of the hospitality industry, a one-size-fits-all approach to decarbonisation falls short. Each hotel brand, asset owner, and investor encounters distinct challenges and opportunities, necessitating tailored strategies. Developing a customised decarbonisation plan that accounts for the unique circumstances of each business, focusing on energy consumption, resource management, and adherence to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria is essential.

A successful decarbonisation strategy rests on a solid foundation of data. This begins with a detailed carbon footprint assessment, guided by international frameworks, such as the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the GreenhouseGas Protocol, and the Net Zero Methodology for Hotels. Employing high- frequency data collection, such as smart meters, and automating the process via a central ESG data management platform, are key steps in enhancing data quality and completeness. Understanding the full scope of emissions, including the often-complex Scope 3 emissions, lays the groundwork for setting realistic near-term (five-10 years) and long-term (2040 and beyond) science-based targets.

Following a comprehensive carbon inventory and the establishment of clear targets, the next step is the development of a decarbonisation roadmap, to set out exactly how your business will achieve its goals. This strategic plan should include technological upgrades, efficiency improvements, renewable energy investments, and the operational changes necessary to achieve the emission reductions. Actions will need to be prioritised according to their potential impact and their feasibility.

Lastly, understanding and anticipating policy changes and regulatory requirements can be a significant factor in planning for net zero. This awareness enables businesses to stay ahead of compliance issues and leverage governmental support and incentives aimed at facilitating the transition to a low- carbon economy.

Several key actions are central to the successful implementation of a decarbonisation strategy. Conducting regular energy audits is vital to identify opportunities for savings and efficiency. Investing in intelligent technology also plays a crucial role in enhancing energy and water management across operations. Furthermore, comprehensive training for staff is essential to cultivate a culture of sustainability within your organisation. Engaging further stakeholders, such as guests in your sustainability journey is equally important, as it helps to build a collective commitment to achieving environmental goals.

Hotels on the path to net zero frequently encounter several obstacles that can impede their progress. Among these challenges, a shortage of capital and investment capacity stands out as a primary hurdle. The financial constraints faced by many hotels can significantly limit their ability to make significant energy and water-saving investments. While this lack of capital poses a significant barrier, it’s important to note that impactful progress can also be achieved through low-cost or no-cost measures. These can include simple behavioural changes and enhancements in operational efficiency.

A lack of clear understanding about the economic benefits of investing in net zero can deter stakeholders. Often, the direct financial advantages, like energy cost reductions and the potential for increased profit margins, are not fully comprehended. Hoteliers may consider engaging with external partners who can clarify the tangible value of sustainability investments to investors and board members, facilitating informed decision-making.

Collaboration between asset owners and hotel operators on sustainable investments also presents its own set of challenges. Successfully navigating these relationships requires clear communication of the benefits associated with sustainable improvements, including potential cost savings and increased property values, to secure support and alignment. It is vital for the two parties to agree on the investment that each party will contribute to and the benefits that each will draw from it. Without this agreement, there is no progress.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the availability of reliable and comprehensive data stands as a critical hurdle. Without access to accurate data, making informed decisions that drive toward net zero becomes significantly more challenging. Partnering with expert data analysts and implementing advanced data collection methods are valuable steps to bridging this information gap, ensuring that hotels are equipped with the insights needed to navigate the complex path to net zero effectively.

However, the ambition doesn’t end at achieving net zero. The industry’s ultimate goal should be to go beyond net zero, striving for a net positive impact where hotels not only eliminate their carbon footprint but also contribute positively to the environment and society where they operate. 

The Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality framework, developed by the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, guides the industry toward not just neutralising its environmental impact but actively enhancing it. This broader vision includes initiatives such as restoring natural habitats, supporting biodiversity, and engaging in community upliftment projects that go beyond the premises of the hotel. This pathway emphasises the importance of regenerative practices. providing a comprehensive blueprint for the industry’s evolution toward a net positive future.

Achieving a sustainable, net-positive future is crucial for the hospitality industry. With comprehensive data, robust strategies, substantial support, and a unified drive to meet and even exceed net zero ambitions, the sector is well-positioned to reduce its environmental impact significantly. This pursuit demonstrates the hospitality industry’s capability to drive transformative change and create a benchmark for sustainable business practices with long-lasting benefits.

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