Eco-friendly design: the rise of self-sustainability in hotels 

Reducing the environmental impact of hotels is a key issue, particularly for the growing number of eco-conscious consumers who are willing to fork out for a guest experience that ticks both ethical and luxury boxes. Patrick Kingsland profiles six hotels and brands integrating sustainable features into their designs.

According to data from the United Nations, international tourism is responsible for around 5% of the world’s total CO2 emissions. While aviation and other forms of transport account for the majority of those emissions, as the hotel industry expands its share is increasing.

Figures from the 2017 Hotel Global Decarbonisation Report have indicated that hotels will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per room, per year by 66% from 2010 levels by 2030, and 90% by 2050 to align with the Paris Climate Agreement - an accord that aims to keep global warming below the 2°C threshold.

“The hospitality industry can play a huge role in enhancing the environmental performance of its many properties and locations,” said Niclas Svenningsen, an official at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, last year.

Hotels go green

While few hotels have implemented the Hotel Global Decarbonisation Report’s ambitious targets, many have introduced important sustainability initiatives and strategies over the past decade.

It its latest responsible business report, InterContinental Hotels Group said it aims to reduce carbon footprint per occupied room by 6% to 7% in the coming years. Last year Hilton announced it will cut its environmental footprint in half and double its social impact investment by 2030.

The industry is also increasingly working together to realise emission reductions. In 2013, 23 leading hotel companies joined forces with the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and World Travel & Tourism Council to launch the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative - a “global carbon standard” that enables companies to consistently measure and report on carbon emissions.

The ITP - a global organisation that brings together many of the world’s largest hotel companies - has also developed the Hotel Footprinting Tool, which gives companies a detailed overview of their carbon emissions and enables them to identify which areas and facilities need improvement.

Sustainable and luxurious

Reducing emissions can help hotel operators attract a new generation of eco-conscious travellers who are looking for a guest experience that is equal parts ethical, eco-friendly and luxurious.

Recent consumer research by Hilton indicates that social, environmental and ethical considerations are now central to consumer buying preferences, with 44% of respondents under the age of 25 saying they “actively seek this information” before booking a room. As a result many hoteliers have put ecological principles at the centre of their brand propositions.

The Hotel Global Decarbonisation Report, which was written by ITP, suggests three methods for achieving the 90% emission reduction target by 2050: increasing efficiency of equipment and operations, increasing prevalence of renewable energy and increasing ‘electrification’. On the ground hotels are experimenting with a variety of approaches. Here are six of our favourites.

Six standout sustainability initiatives

Hyatt Regency Greenwich: Included as a case study in the ITP decarbonisation report, this Hyatt-owned hotel in Connecticut has installed a 500kW fuel cell that provides up to 75% of the hotel’s total energy load. Through generating on-site electricity the hotel has achieved carbon emission reductions of around 40%.

Radisson Blu Hotel Frankfurt: Another ITP case study, the Radisson Blu Hotel in the German city of Frankfurt has installed a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) fuel cell that covers up to 80% of the property’s total energy requirements. CHP is considered advantageous because it utilises the heat which would otherwise be wasted when generating power through conventional means.

Image credit: Hilton

New York Hilton Midtown

Like the Frankfurt Radisson, this 1,981-room hotel - the largest in New York - has also installed a CHP system, reducing the building’s carbon footprint by more than 30% - the equivalent of removing thousands of cars off the city’s streets. According to a press release, the seven engine generators satisfy more than 50% of electricity demand and 40% of steam demand.

Image credit: Meliá Hotels International

Meliá Serengeti Lodge

Set in the heart of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, this Meliá hotel puts sustainability and respect for the surrounding environment at the heart of its design. Around 45% of energy is generated by on-site solar panels, facilities are made from “sustainable architectural materials” and waste is incinerated on-site and turned into usable compost.

Image credit: Ana del Castillo /

Spain’s state-owned Paradores

At the end of last year the chairman of Spain’s state-owned Paradores - a chain of hotels in historic buildings including former monasteries and palaces - announced that all 97 of its properties will use electricity solely from green sources. The unprecedented move was described as “an important milestone in the Spanish hotels sector,” by Carlos Ortega, executive vice president of the Hotels division at Jones Lang Lasalle Spain.

Image credit: Six Senses

Six Senses Fiji

Awarded the Climate Action Category at the 2018 Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific, the Six Senses Fiji resort is designed to be 100% solar-powered and has an on-site desalination plant that takes water from the nearby ocean for irrigation and use in swimming pools.

The boutique hotel and spa brand is considered to be a trailblazer in sustainability after more than two decades of operations. “Long before it was considered fashionable, Six Senses has been recognized as the hospitality industry’s pioneer of sustainable practices, demonstrating that responsibility can be successfully wedded to uncompromised high-end facilities,” the company’s president, Bernhard Bohnenberger, told Forbes last year.

Image credit: Heaven Retreat

The Retreat, Kigali

Designed by Zeno Riondato from Active Social Architecture (ASA) - a practice based in the Rwandan capital of Kigali - The Retreat’s 11 rooms are powered entirely by solar energy and feature furniture crafted from a “sustainable teak wood sourced from Tanzania”.

According to ASA, “in addition to high standards for service and guest experience, the facilities themselves will be an example of modern vernacular and sustainable design in the Kigali of today.”

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Cover image credit: Eviart /