Why sustainability is the new competitive advantage

Before COVID-19, corporate travel teams were already prioritizing hotels with strong sustainability programs. Now, as the travel industry comes back to life, hotels with clear emissions-reduction plans will find a competitive edge.

According to JLL research, corporate travel can account for 20 percent or more of an organization’s total supply chain emissions. Hospitality leaders who rise to the challenge of reducing business travel-related emissions have an opportunity to differentiate their brands as sustainability gains importance.  

Reducing Carbon Emissions in Hotel Construction, Renovations

Although major hotel companies have taken important steps to reduce waste, hotel facilities overall still have some of the highest rates of carbon emissions, as well as power and water consumption, of any property type. However, net-zero carbon emissions can be pursued in many ways during new construction or renovation. 

First and foremost, hotels should incorporate sustainability goals into new construction and renovation design. Environmentally friendly building materials can be included everywhere from the façade to the floor coverings. New or old hotels can potentially adopt high-efficiency building-automation systems, water-treatment solutions and even onsite renewable-energy generation. Renovations are prime times to replace lighting, toilets or shower heads with high-efficiency options; adopt wall coverings and carpets made from recycled materials; and pursue other conservational options. 

Environmental, Social and Governance Performance

Corporate travel leaders want to know which hotels are sustainability leaders, so it’s important for hotels to report on their goals and successes. However, the hospitality industry lacks a standard recognizable certification to help corporate travel buyers to distinguish hospitality sustainability leaders from laggards. 

Hotels do have the option of pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a major sustainability certification for commercial buildings. However, other third-party certifications are also competing in the hospitality industry, and not all require carbon reporting. Furthermore, some big hotel groups have their own self-reported sustainability certifications. 

One option is to use hotel industry-specific sustainability benchmarking tools. Examples include the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance State of Green: Greenprint Performance Report and The Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking index, which provide hotel industry-specific benchmarks 

A focus on reducing carbon emissions can directly boost the bottom line if effective environmental policies and practices are clearly in place, communicated and measured. By walking the walk toward a net-zero future and demonstrating progress along the way, hotel leaders can help set their companies apart from the competition—while playing a part in slowing the climate crisis.

David A. Black is JLL’s managing director, project & development services. Rex Hamre is JLL’s national director for sustainability services.