What is a sustainable hotel?

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Nowadays, it is very common to find hotels with sustainability practices. The most common are those aimed at the use of water and energy, but there are many others related to waste, generating income for communities, promoting local culture, using biodegradable cleaning products, among others.

Staying in a hotel or searching on the internet is easy to locate these types of practices. But is a hotel that has 15 types of sustainability practices more sustainable than other which has only 3? Or, a hotel that has implemented sustainability practices for the use of water, energy and waste is more sustainable than another hotel that has implemented sustainability practices only for the use of energy?

In fact, there are certification schemes that use this premise to grant a label, establishing levels of certification: gold, silver and bronze. The hotel that has more sustainability practices receives more “points” and, therefore, receives a “better” label, for example, the gold label.[Certification of sustainable tourism]

However, this idea does not make much sense. Sustainability practices have the function of minimizing the negative impacts generated by the hotel, whether these are environmental, socio-cultural or economic. So, what matters is not quantity of practices, but how much the hotel has managed to reduce the impact generated. A given hotel may need to implement 5 or 6 sustainability practices to significantly reduce water consumption. However, another hotel may achieve the same result of reducing water consumption by implementing only 2 of these practices.[ISO 21401:2018 – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments and Sustainable development Goals (SDG) from UN (United Nations)]

In addition, each hotel has its own characteristics (number of rooms, leisure infrastructure, type of plumbing, operating time, etc.) and the reduction in water consumption can be totally different from one hotel to the other. Thus, what matters for a hotel is to achieve its goal of reducing water consumption in relation to what it consumed before implementing sustainability practices. The number of practices adopted is irrelevant and the comparison between hotels, without the use of a standardized indicator, is unrealistic.

In this way, the ideal is for the hotel to establish a measurable goal to minimize the impact generated, for example, to reduce water consumption by 5% this year and, from this, use an indicator to measure current consumption (Liters or M3 of water / guest / night).

Using this logic, the hotel will be able to connect sustainability practices to business management, making decisions that generate actions to minimize environmental impacts (reducing water consumption) and economic impacts (reducing costs), as following:

Example of the basic logic for Sustainability Management

Aspect of sustainability  

water consumption

 

Impact of sustainability  

reduction of natural resource

 

Sustainability goal  

to reduce water consumption by 5%

 

Sustainability practices  

to install water flow reducers in showers; implement a program to change towels every 2 days and establish an inspection routine to identify leaks from the facilities

 

Sustainability indicator  

Liters or M3 of water / guest / night

 

Result (before practices)  

150 liters / guest / night (March 2019)

 

Result (after the practices adopted)  

142.5 liters / guest / night (March 2020)

 

Final result obtained  

5% reduction in water consumption

 

 

Finally, we can say that it does not matter the amount of sustainability practices adopted, but the management of sustainability.

To learn more about Sustainability Management see ISO 21401 – Sustainability Management System for accommodation establishments.

 

A road map to Sustainability Management System for accommodation establishments: Part III How to implement a Sustainability Management System based on ISO 21401? (continuing Part II)

Road map Diagrama para ISO 21401.002

12. Competences

A Sustainability Management System include to develop competences of the workers which is very important to achieve that objectives of sustainability established. For that, we start to be defining which are competences desirables for each function in the accommodation. After, we will compare it with the actual competences identifying potential gaps, following prepare a plan to improve competences that we needed. The implementation of this plan includes do capacitation or other actions and evaluate the effectiveness of those measures.

13. Awareness

Also is important to assure that workers be aware their contribution to the effectiveness of the sustainability management system, including the benefits of improved sustainability performance and the potential consequences of non-observance of specified operating procedures and actual or potential significant environmental, socio-cultural or economic impacts of the accommodation’s activities.

14. Communication

According ISO 21401 the processes of communication with interested parties shall be defined to help the effectiveness of the sustainability management system. Accommodation shall understand and define on what it will communicate, when to communicate, with whom to communicate and how to communicate.

15. Supply chain management

To understand this step is important to realize that some impacts are generated by suppliers, but the accommodation can exert influence. In this case the accommodation shall establish and communicate the criteria for its selection of suppliers, taking into consideration the sustainability aspects, impacts and objective

16. Documented information

The accommodation shall determine which documented information are being necessary for the effectiveness of the sustainability management system. Also, it is important to control of documented information to assure that information available is current and reliable.

17. Internal audit

At this time the accommodation shall implement a process of internal audit, which will check if the sustainability management system is comply with ISO 21401 and if is effective in achieve the objectives established.

18. Nonconformity and corrective action

The results of internal audit process could be finding some requirements are not being comply. In this case the accommodation shall implement corrective action to eliminate the cause(s) of the nonconformity, in order that it does not recur or occur.

19. Management review

Based on audit results, customer perceptions, monitoring and measurement evaluation results, communications with interested parties and others information the accommodation shall review the sustainability management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.

20. Improvements

Finally, the accommodation shall identify opportunities and take action to continually improve the suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the sustainability management system.

A sustainability management system could be understood as a tool for anticipate and prevent problems, plan how to fix these problems and use it to implement improvements and strengthening the own sustainability management system.