How hotels are redefining luxury and prioritizing sustainability

Every day, we see messages around climate that make us rethink how we use resources. Developers of large-scale building projects have the opportunity to break tradition and lead the way by not only stating their sustainability goals in environmental, social and governance reports, but by flipping the “luxury is more” model. Let’s make “luxury” mean ultra-low flow toilets, showerheads, and sink faucets, HVAC occupancy sensors and smart scheduling. Even if capital costs are slightly higher, a payback can often be found during operations.

Benefits of Prioritizing Sustainability

Sustainable hotels are receiving more attention and booking at higher rates compared to traditional resource intensive hotels, according to a recent Forbes article: “The requisite amenities of luxury hotels has long been focused on the room—free Wi-Fi, linens with high thread counts, widescreen HDTV and premium liquors in the minibar. Now, however, hotels have engaged more than ever in sustainable practices, not only to save themselves the effects and cost of climate change, but because their clientele are demanding it.”

The largest and most recognizable global hospitality brands, including Hyatt Hotels Corp., Marriott International, Hilton and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, continue to prioritize reducing energy, water and waste within their operations while simultaneously educating their guests with in-room messaging.

Then there are newcomers to the worldwide sustainable hospitality scene who are breaking traditional operational models and pushing the boundaries of what a hotel is. Beyond Green puts environmental sustainability at the center of everything it does.

Hotels across the U.S. and globally are upping their game by designing and building net zero hotels such as Hotel Marcel New Haven (Conn.) by Hilton. Others are tapping into geothermal energy such as the Novotel Rotorua Lakeside Hotel in New Zealand. Others are implementing smart building technology and using the Internet of Things, like the Sinclair in Fort Worth, Texas.

Water savings is an area of focus for all high-end hotels. Bathrooms are the largest users of potable water, accounting for about 30 percent of hotel water use, followed by landscaping and laundry, each with 16 percent, and kitchens with 14 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA estimates that typical water-saving measures can reduce operating costs at hotels by as much as 11 percent. Proven technologies such as water closets that use 1 to 1.1 gallons per flush, faucets that use 0.35 gallons per minute, and shower heads that use 1.5 gpm can easily convert a facility from a water hog to water star.

Case Studies

Let’s focus on a few leaders with sustainable hotels and corporate sustainability portfolios.

All Hyatt hotels managed by the company have set 2030 goals centered around climate change and water conservation, waste and circularity, responsible sourcing and thriving destinations. In 2021, Hyatt launched its World of Care program with new commitments to advance diversity, equity and inclusion and responsible business practices. Hyatt has also introduced science-based targets and is working on setting decarbonization goals.

How this manifests on the asset level: In connection with the Pledge on Food Waste Certification Benchmarking System, the Grand Hyatt Singapore introduced zero-waste dishes and saved the equivalent of 21,000 meals in 2021. Hyatt has set a goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent per square meter by 2030 compared with 2019. To address statewide drought challenges, Hyatt has installed an in-house water reclamation facility at the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tucson that treats up to 25,000 gallons of water per day.

Beyond Green has set goals that are people centric, environmentally integrated and drive toward its purpose “to demonstrate sustainable tourism leadership through actions and impact that also delivers a wonderful guest experience.” Beyond Green’s member hotels are thoroughly vetted to ensure they will maintain and celebrate the brand’s purpose and mission.

How this manifests on the asset level: Member hotels of Beyond Green are committed to being leaders in sustainable operations by eliminating single-use plastic water bottles, maximizing renewable energy sources and reusing water. They push further by forging local partnerships to restore habitats, build wells, educate youth and introduce guests directly to the local culture.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is a giant in the hospitality industry and synonymous with luxury, touting 22 brand hotels and franchise hotels around the world. An active member of the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, the company has Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified offices and other properties in addition to internal certification programs like Wyndham Green.

How this manifests on the asset level: As of 2021 the Wyndham Green Program has 570 certified hotels; only two have achieved the highest level of Expert. According to Wyndham’s 2022 ESG Report, “Through the Wyndham Green Program, the Company provides owned, managed, and franchised hotels with best practice energy conservation programs and procedures to help them reduce their impact. Forty percent of Wyndham Green Certification Program elements are focused on energy conservation.”

Greenhouse gas emissions are being baselined at all owned, managed and leased properties for scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, and energy-management thermostats are being piloted in a small group of hotels.

To some these might seem like small changes, but small changes from large global companies translate and transition into larger ones, collectively addressing the climate crisis. These companies are moving in the right direction.

Sustainability initiatives have a return on investment and where they don’t, they have marketing benefits to clients that spend their dollars with companies they believe are doing the right thing. Where they don’t have a return on investment or marketing benefits, it’s about self-preservation. No one wants to vacation amidst wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards, mudslides and unbreathable air quality. Build responsibly and it pays dividends. Build to benefit the local environment through strategies such as net zero carbon, net positive water, net positive waste, material health, community engagement and employee wellness, and you have reached the next level.

Adam Meltzer is a sustainability consultant at Stok.