Setting the bar for sustainability in hospitality

Cornell releases updated benchmarks to enable hotel owners and operators to measure the sustainability levels of their properties in a way that is practical and reflective of industry realities.

Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research, in collaboration with 11 international hotel companies, last week released the latest set of benchmarks measuring the sustainability level of a hotel. 

The publication of the index is part of an ongoing project to empower hotel owners, operators and buyers to check and understand water and electrity usage and carbon emissions levels at their properties by creating a database with statistics drawn from the international hospitality industry. 

The results of the 2016 Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmark Index (CHSB) is presented in the 17-page Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index 2016: Energy, Water, and Carbon report and features benchmark figures for energy consumption, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. These are further categorised into different segments and geographic locations. 

According to Eric Ricaurte, founder and CEO of hotel sustainability and research firm Greenview who led the research, data from some 8,880 hotels across the world was examined, and the index — now in its third edition  features new segments for climate and hotel type to ensure benchmarks are more industry-specific.

This year’s CHSB is the latest development in a long-term push to develop an industry-wide framework for the measurement of a hotel’s carbon emissions and water and energy consumption. Greenview embarked on this project in conjunction with Cornell in 2010.  

Although there have been other attempts to establish carbon benchmarking for the industry, the Cornell index is unique in that it reverses the approach of other studies by first undertaking benchmarking within a specific location and segment.  

“By adding new segmentation by climate and hotel type, we have strengthened our industry-centric approach to this effort, given the realisation that a practical benchmark must start within specific locations and segments, rather than trying to compare all properties,” said Ricaurte in a press release.

Sustainability has become a priority within the hospitality industry in recent years, growing in tandem with rising awareness of environmental issues among consumers.

Hotel giant Starwood Hotels & Resorts, for instance, has rolled out hotel brand Element, which sells itself as an environmentally friendly chain with sustainability at the core of its operations, while others including Hilton Hotels and Resorts and Marriott International have pledged to cut water and energy consumption rates in addition to having their buildings LEED-certified. 

LEED is a certification system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) that assesses the environmental performance of a building and is another standard by which the hospitality industry can gauge its sustainability. The industry also makes use of other programmes such as Green Key, EcoRoom & EcoSuites, and Audubon International’s Green Lodging programme that evaluates other aspects of the hotel business.

Green Key and Green Seal are two separate certifications that look at a hotel’s operations and practices to judge sustainability, with the latter also paying attention to the specific products that a hotel uses.

We have strengthened our industry-centric approach to this effort, given the realisation that a practical benchmark must start within specific locations and segments, rather than trying to compare all properties.

Eric Ricaurte, founder and CEO, Greenview

Publicly available from the Center for Hospitality Research at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration’s website, the CHSB contains instructions on how hotel owners, managers and buyers can compare the utilities usage levels of their hotels against the benchmarks listed.

This enables them to analyse internal operations or reasons for the consumption rates at their hotels and make the necessary internal adjustments to bring rates within environmentally friendly levels. 

Event planners who want to calculate the carbon footprint of their events may also find the report useful, as will city or municipal officials looking to understand the impact of hotels’ water or energy use in their area. 

Ricaurte is already preparing itself for next year’s index and is calling for hotel companies to share 2015 data sets for carbon emissions, as well as energy and water use.

Eleven hotel groups contributed data towards this year’s CHSB for a sample size of 8,800 hotels in total. They are: Diamond Resorts, Hilton Worldwide, Host Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Marriott International, Park Hotel Group, Saunders Hotel Group, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, and Wyndham Worldwide.

Natalie Chan, director, corporate responsibility and sustainability of Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, commented: “We appreciate this study’s effort to enable hotel companies to benchmark their environmental performance and build awareness across key markets.”

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