Navigating the Hospitality Sector’s Sustainability Journey through Reducing Hotel Waste

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Within the vast scope of global environmental issues, hospitality may not be the first industry which comes to mind when you think of the key barriers to reaching the UK’s goal of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It is easy to think that other industries, such as agriculture or aviation, predominantly make – and therefore should take – the heat. Yet, hospitality is responsible for up to 15% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a growing number of environmentally aware consumers are making it clear they expect the issue to be taken seriously, leaving behind those businesses which fail to rise to the occasion.

What Contributes to the Sector’s Large Production of Carbon Emissions?

Within hospitality, hotels are a major contributor of the sector’s output of carbon emissions. A large part of hotels’ struggles with sustainability is waste management. In the EU, waste is the fourth largest source of emissions, and in the UK alone, hotels produce 289,700 tonnes of waste each year.

The supply chain relies heavily on packaging, which makes up 24% of the UK’s total emissions. Mass produced plastic packaging, such as hotel toiletries, pose harm to the environment by adding to CO2 emissions from their conversion from fossil fuels in the manufacturing process. As it stands, the plastic problem isn’t going away; rather it is only getting worse. In 2021, plastic product manufacturing in the UK produced roughly 3.32 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions – nearly six percent more than the previous year.

What are the Main Barriers to Hospitality’s Investment in Sustainability?

A Race to Net Zero report published last summer found a number of factors were curtailing the UK hospitality sector’s drive to fully embrace sustainability. Covid-19 lockdowns proved near lethal for many businesses, while Brexit increased the cost of imported goods. Since then, inflation and the cost-of-living crisis have been a perceived barrier to what businesses often assume will be a costly strategy to become more sustainable. The cost of change is one of the greatest barriers, coupled with a lack of education around the cost benefits in implementing environmentally sustainable initiatives.

Additionally, prominent sustainability goals such as the UK government’s 2050 Net Zero target, can seem too opaque and far away for individuals to grasp. The inability to directly quantify the impact any hands-on initiatives may have on carbon emissions can breed a lack of motivation among many business owners.

What Can We Do to Help the Industry Embrace Sustainability?

Embracing more immediate concepts, such as circular economy, is therefore the best practice for simplifying sustainability in a way all businesses can understand.

Despite the aforementioned barriers, embracing such a principle does not have to be expensive and can help businesses save money.

The main principle of the circular economy is the focus on reduction rather than offsetting. Improving waste management is a sure way to initiate a business into a circular economy, while reducing costs. Some hotels are already experimenting with waste reduction initiatives, such as implementing door hangers promoting water conservation for customers to signal to housekeeping that they do not require their linen to be replaced daily.

Yet, businesses need not reinvent the wheel in order to reduce their carbon emissions. Partnering with established sustainability initiatives can make the transition to new waste management processes less daunting.

Sustainability Sells

When it comes to understanding the cost-benefit of such initiatives, one only has to look at consumer habits. According to a study of over 11,000 travellers, 90% of travellers look for sustainable travel options. Gen Z in particular are leading this charge, with over 65% of 18 to 24 year-olds in the UK basing their purchasing decisions on the ethical and sustainable implications. Since The UK’s Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) legislation came into effect in 2019, requiring organisations to publicly report on their carbon emissions, consumers now have the ability to make more informed purchasing decisions.

Hotels should heed this call from these increasingly environmentally conscious demographics by implementing mutually beneficial, waste-reducing practices that positively contribute towards a collective goal.

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