Tourism sector gears up to reduce carbon footprint | The Daily Star
03:00 PM, December 19, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:06 PM, December 19, 2015

Tourism sector gears up to reduce carbon footprint

For most people, staying in a hotel is usually a pampered experience. Who doesn’t like having someone else to make the bed and getting freshly laundered towels every day, even for just a few days of hotel stay? It is not until the recent years that some hotels began hanging the “reuse your towel, save a penguin” signs on the towel racks. While cynics might dismiss this approach as greenwashing, saying that the move would only help the hospitality industry to save on laundry bill rather than saving planet Earth, a few major players in the travel industry are engaged in a streamlined operation to reduce carbon emissions.

In 2009, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) issued a call to action with a long-term target for its members to reduce carbon emission by 50 per cent from 2005 by 2035. Six years into the plan, WTTC published the “Travel & Tourism 2015: Connecting Global Climate Action” report earlier last month before the COP21 climate change conference in Paris. According to the report, WTTC member companies are 20 per cent less carbon-intense now than in 2005.

The data was compiled from over 32 companies—major hotel chains with the likes of Hilton Worldwide, The HongKong and Shanghai Hotels, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and NH Hotels which have recorded over 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. One of the ways for hotel guests to find out about the carbon emission from their stay is through the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative. The methodology is open to public and can be requested through WTTC and International Tourism Partnership.

Hilton Worldwide, for instance, achieved 20.2 per cent reduction in emissions per square meter from 2009 through 2013. The global hospitality company targeted several key areas—sustainable living, energy, carbon, waste, water, responsible sourcing—in its roadmap to reach the goals.

On its waste reducing initiative, the company provided US$1.3 million in seed funding to support the Global Soap Project , an initiative that recycles soap bars discarded in hotel bathrooms. It is estimated that 2.6 million soap bars are disposed from hotel rooms in the United States alone. Global Soap Project has since reproduced 4 million soap bars that are distributed to communities in need from over 31 countries.

On the other hand, a number of luxury hotels including the Waldorf Astoria in New York and the Mandarin Oriental in Paris are abuzz with urban beekeeping to fight colony collapse disorder. It is reported that Waldorf Astoria keeps over 360,000 bees on its rooftop 20 stories above Park Avenue. The 136 kilograms of honey produced annually from the beehives finds its way to the hotel menus and signature spa treatments offered at the hotel.

But the star achiever and one of the greenest hospitality players in the market is the Soneva Group. The company which owns luxury resorts in the Maldives and Koh Kood in Thailand became carbon neutral in 2012 for its direct resort operation and in 2014 for both its direct and indirect report operations including guest flights. (Soneva recorded a total carbon footprint of 32, 637 tonnes of carbon dioxide for 2014-15.)

In an interview with Asia News Network earlier this year at the WTTC Summit in Madrid, founder and CEO Sonu Shivdassani said the company measures Scope 3 emissions which take into account all indirect emissions that occur in the value chain. The emissions in turn are offset by a carbon levy of 2 per cent of room revenue for all room nights. This initiative raised US$5.5 million between 2008 and 2014, benefiting various projects including a 1.5-megawatt windmill in India, half a million trees planted in northern Thailand and the distribution of cooking stoves in Darfur and Myanmar.

Offsetting efforts aside, Soneva starts from the home ground by building its resorts with sustainable materials and low-impact designs.

“I believe very strongly that our company must reinforce our core purpose beyond enriching our shareholders,” said Shivdassani.

The “core purpose” that Shivdassani referred to was the “Slow Life” philosophy that maximises sustainable practices and recycles 80 per cent of its waste. The resorts also ban branded water and encourage guests to enjoy fresh produce from its organic farm.


With just 20 years to go, WTTC has identified five priority areas—integration of climate change into business strategy, transition to low carbon economy, strengthening local resilience, responsible travel and engagement across the value chain—that will help to reach the 50 per cent reduction target. Asked whether the target was realistic, WTTC president and CEO David Scowsill said the industry players and the governments need to take the responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the sector given its contribution to the economy. The travel and tourism sector contributed US$7.6 trillion, or 9.8 per cent to the GDP in 2014.

“We are all working towards a goal of reducing the impact of carbon emissions from travel and tourism by 50 per cent by 2035. ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) has a goal of stabilising aviation emissions of C02 at 2020 levels—carbon neutral growth, and all airlines are working to this,” said Scowsill in an email interview.

He added, “Accommodation, cruise, car hire, booking systems are working to decouple growth from emissions and I believe that this target is achievable. We need to live in a world where the temperature does not rise on average about 2 degrees and to do this means that business, governments and consumers will need to work together”.

Copyright: Asian News Network


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