“Does the average traveler care how sustainable their hotel is?”
I discussed this question with a few other journalists on a recent press trip. For years, every hotel group – especially in the luxury segment – has been outdoing itself with the claim to be environmentally friendly (a somewhat outdated term in the industry), “green” (ditto) or – nowadays – to outperform the competition – sustainable.
We couldn’t decide whether only the travel industry is dealing with the topic, or whether a lasting awareness has actually leaked out among the average holidaymaker. I hear a lot about this at work events, but far less in my everyday vacation conversation.
But current stats suggest a dedicated travel audience is caring. A Booking.com survey in April found that 71 percent of global travelers want to travel more sustainably in the coming year – a 10 percent increase from 2021 data.
In the same study, over a third (35 percent) said that accommodation providers’ sustainability efforts play a strong role in their booking decisions.
Unfortunately, and rightly so, many hoteliers have come under fire for “greenwashing” — adding nice-sounding but vague or flimsy touches to their hotels to beckon to potential guests as a brilliant distraction, while refusing to address the deeper issues Environmental impact of travel accommodation.
One such issue is the undeniable impact of building. The “built environment”, which includes construction, is responsible for around 40 percent of global CO2 emissions. Against this backdrop, some urban destinations are choosing to limit new construction to make their travel scene more sustainable – the Balearic Islands, for example, have committed to not building any new hotels or rental accommodation for the next four years.
At the other end of the scale is design and building innovation: the concept of minimizing the impact of a new building such as a hotel – or even designing it to make a positive contribution to its surroundings.
Now at least one hotel group believes they have dreamed up the ideal resort, Six Senses Svart, which is proving to be the world’s first Energy Positive Hotel.
A quick jargon lesson: Energy positive buildings (aka “net zero”) generate as much energy as they need to run, or more. In many cases, their developers also aim to use minimal energy and harmful techniques in the creation of the building.
Early drafts for Six Senses’ off-grid Norwegian utopia show it looking a little like a UFO gleaming at the end of a calm lake. Early PR materials state that it will be built from “earthy, organic materials that use the least embedded energy”, “float on poles above the crystal clear waters of the Holandsfjorden fjord” and will “harvest enough solar energy to return to the system.” ‘ through his roof.
Its position on pilings will “ensure minimal land impact and seabed disturbance” while the off-grid energy collected by the building powers everything from lights and heating to the boat shuttle to reach the resort.
The design is inspired by the Paris Agreement, in which countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep climate temperatures 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“Such energy-positive buildings could deliver 89 percent of the 45 percent reduction in emissions needed to achieve the scenario where global warming is limited to 1.5C,” says Six Senses.
The luxury hotel will also be self-sufficient with its own waste and water management, recycling and renewable infrastructure; The food and drink venues will partner with sustainable fishing and farming organizations for ingredients, as well as other local, like-minded suppliers. It will have an Earth Lab and a Design Lab to continue education and innovation related to sustainability and conservation.
There are many considerations that go into a carbon neutral or energy positive hotel.
“Over the last 10 years, architects and designers have been studying water use, color specifications – moving from oil-based to water-based paints – limitations on faucets and showers,” says architect Graham Currie, director of Edinburgh-based design agency S+ Co.
“We looked at how to limit obvious things like people leaving the heat or lights on. Things like key cards where your lights or electricity or heating go out; and the use of gray water – for example flushing toilets with rainwater collected on the roof.”
Now, he says, the focus has shifted to the physical building: “Like green roofs – they insulate the building, prevent heat loss, slowly capture rainwater and avoid flooding the sewage system and limiting pollution.”
Some developers aim to use sustainable materials such as wood, which can be offset by planting new trees during construction, or outfitting interiors with upcycled materials destined for landfill and sourced locally, often just a few miles from new location removed.
Another major focus is on the development of intelligent heating and lighting systems: “For a certain hotel group, we started looking at CHP or combined heat and power. Hotels consume an enormous amount of energy. With CHP, you’re using one device to do two things – generate energy by generating heat,” explains Currie.
“Another area is heat recovery technology. If it’s hot in one area of the hotel, you can extract heat from those spaces and redistribute it to another side. Or using naturally generated heat – like heat from the sun – to direct it to a part of the hotel where it is needed, such as to heat a pool.”
And Six Senses Svart isn’t the only next-gen design that aims to be a model citizen of the hotel community. Wren Urban Nest in Dublin has billed itself as “Ireland’s Most Sustainable Hotel”. Opening this month in Connecticut, Hotel Marcel bills itself as America’s first “net-zero hotel” powered entirely by renewable electricity. In a sweeping adaptation of a listed Brutalist building designed by Marcel Breuer, solar panels on the building will power its lighting, heating, cooling and hot water systems, while an efficient ‘Power over Ethernet lighting system’ aims to power the Reduce energy consumption by about 30 percent.
The hotel is expected to use 80 percent less energy overall than the average US hotel.
In London, Room2 Chiswick opened in December 2021 with the aim of being what management calls “Whole Life Net Zero”.
“Ultimately, we said that we need to take full responsibility for our total carbon footprint from our entire existence, because if we don’t and others don’t, we have no chance of even close to net zero – go future. ‘ Room2 co-founder Robert Godwin told dem New York Times. It’s expected to be 89 per cent more energy efficient than the average UK hotel.
While many hotel groups — Iberostar, Accor, Marriott — have recently committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, the Svart project stands out for being designed independently from real estate and architectural institutions, says Currie.
“What’s interesting about it is that it’s designed to a new set of energy standards – the Powerhouse standards. These are not managed by a third party but were set up by a coalition of companies – the architects (Snøhetta), the Skanska development company, the real estate company Entra, the consultancy Asplan Viak, the aluminum manufacturer Sapa Og and the environmental association-profit organization Zero he explains.
“It’s a standard that comes from Norway, where the goal is for all buildings to be carbon neutral by 2050. It is a cradle-to-grave – or rather, cradle-to-cradle – assessment that certifies buildings that produce more energy than they will use over their lifetime. The ‘lifespan’ was set by the group at 60 years.”
It’s part of a broader hotel design wave that considers not only how damaging building a hotel can be, but also how much impact it could have in terms of emissions or waste in each year of its existence – while considering the need for future work, repairs or upgrades.
While some in the construction industry have been slow to adopt better practices in line with climate concerns, Currie is optimistic that tourism thinking is becoming more holistic and more focused on the concept of the “lifespan of a building”.
“Hopefully more people are thinking long term – in terms of life cycle costs and not a set amount of money to start with.”
In that sense, we may see a chicken-and-egg scenario when it comes to hotel sustainability – vacationers will care because the designers and developers will care. And they’re doing something about it.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/travel-talk/what-are-energy-positive-hotels-and-are-they-the-green-future-of-accommodation-41661869.html What are “Energy Positive Hotels” and are they the green future of accommodation?