How automated sustainability reporting and management can drive competitive advantage

Demand for more sustainable travel options is on the rise. According to the 2023 Sustainable Travel Report, 74 percent of global consumers want travel companies to offer more eco-conscious choices (up 8 percent from 2022), and 43 percent are willing to pay more to minimize their carbon footprint while traveling. Yet consumers often find it challenging to travel more sustainably. Just over 50 percent believe there aren’t enough sustainable travel options and 44 percent don’t know where to find them. These findings point to two connected challenges facing the travel industry when it comes to sustainability: how to create effective solutions, and how to communicate actions, as well as results, to end users.

Both problems could be solved by better sustainability data management practices. The hospitality industry in particular would benefit from technology that streamlines and automates the collection, analysis and communication of sustainability data.

Currently, according to our estimates, hotels spend $8 billion every year on sustainability management thanks to complex, fragmented and largely manual processes. These outdated data collection methods, which utilize tools such as e-mail, excel and online surveys, are endemic to the sustainability data ecosystem, from the way hotels send their information to third-party green certification bodies and different sales channels, to how they collect data from different sources like suppliers or, in the case of a hotel chain, different operators.

The result? Hotels are falling behind when it comes to meeting sustainability targets. In fact, global carbon emissions from the hotel sector are predicted to increase.

Per the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, hotels need to reduce their carbon emissions by 66 percent per room by 2030 and by 90 percent by 2050 to curb any rise. But without reliable, easy-to-understand data, stakeholders simply aren’t empowered to make big, sweeping changes that result in a positive impact for the planet. They aren’t able to benchmark, set goals and communicate their successes to customers—not to mention that manual data collection, processing and analysis requires human resources many hotels simply don’t have, and if they do have the staff, they might not be properly trained. 

The business case for tech-backed sustainability management is also clear. Hotels with eco-credentials convert four times more guests compared to ones that don’t have sustainability certifications. When you consider guests’ willingness to pay more for an eco-friendly hotel, we estimate that poor sustainability management actually ends up costing the industry $21 billion, including $13 billion in missed revenue.  

The Makings of Effective Sustainability Management 

What does a good tech-supported technology sustainability management look like? First, it needs to act as a central hub for the collection of all sustainability data—an intuitive, scalable platform with AI capabilities that can be used by staff at the property-level as well as the higher ups in the chain tasked with looking at sustainability across the group. 

Second, it should integrate with third parties like regulatory bodies and sales channels through plug-and-play APIs to enable the fluid transmission of sustainability data., for instance, allows consumers searching for a hotel to filter accommodations based on their sustainability score, from level 1 to 3+. Specific actions a hotel has taken to earn its sustainability score—like eliminating single-use plastic and installing electric car charging stations—as well as any certifications it may have earned, like Green Key, are listed and available to view. A hotel that automatically communicates its sustainability data to sales channels such as (instead of sporadically through infrequent data dumps) can use sustainability metrics as a key differentiator and to show progress over time.

Taking these ideas one step further, the right platform should automate sustainability data collection by integrating with tools such as smart meters, thereby reducing the risk of human error, and providing real-time, transparent insights into energy usage and waste management. With this accurate, real-time data, an AI-enabled platform can automatically provide suggestions for sustainability solutions across a wide range of variables to improve operations, reduce water and meet certification requirements, freeing up valuable human resources for other high-value tasks. 

Hotel brands realize that developing this kind of technology and expertise in-house is not sustainable, particularly with the recent labor shortage—it’s just not what they do. That’s why many brands are seeking partners with easy-to-implement solutions that ease the burden of sustainability reporting to make it more efficient. However, brands should be wary of partners who claim success in sustainability management but have little experience in hospitality. A partner focused on the hotel industry is best positioned to understand the nuances and challenges it faces, enabling to create solutions that specifically target pain points so that these brands can put in place more ambitious, eco-friendly policies that help them save money, drive revenue and up their competitive advantage.   

Frederik Steensgaard is the CEO and co-founder of BeCause.