Hotels and the climate: A complicated relationship
A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that a one-degree Celsius increase in temperature would mean the closure of 60% of Germany’s ski resorts . This is the obvious impact of climate change, but I’d like to focus on another effect. Hotels are experiencing increasing costs due to climate impact on other industries. For example, lower cotton crops would increase price for bedding thus increasing the cost of that inventory for a hotel. Hotels cannot control those industries nor the scale of impact climate change has on those industries. All they can do is mitigate internally.
AccorHotels: An early player
AccorHotels is a French multinational hotel group operating in 94 countries and managing over 4,000 properties . Although a still-growing brand, AccorHotels was an early player on the environmental stage, setting up an environmental department at the executive level in 1994. Soon afterwards they launched the Accor Hotel Environment Charter outlining sustainability initiatives and have since made strides towards a sustainable future [see figure below, 3].
A good deed leads to a not-so-good surprise
Hotels require energy to operate (think: kitchen and restaurants, laundry services, heating/cooling, pools, etc.; see image below, 3); AccorHotels knew that. To uphold their claim of caring for the Earth and to align with their own charter, they released a transparent report of their energy consumption. That year, their properties consumed just short of 18,000,000 MWh of energy – an amount equivalent to a city of half a million people – which produced almost 2,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide. They also found that they used 544,000,000 cubic meter of water, mostly consumed in the food and beverage operations .
Moving from some lessons to a first action
These results were appalling. By going public with the data, the company placed themselves in a position prone to reputational risk. By recognizing the potential of making this a great PR opportunity early, however, AccorHotels got ahead. They began making and advertising changes before industry-wide changes occurred, e.g. the World Tourism Organization implementing stricter guidelines on energy consumption and wastage . By the time other hotels scrambled to get on board, they already achieved compliance to standards.
AccorHotels decided to adapt their model and invest in sustainable solutions to decrease their costs and wastage. One of their first global initiatives was the installation of central LED lighting in all hotel rooms. The executive board asked for 100% penetration of the initiative and asked for detailed tracking of each hotel’s strategic sustainability implementation plan. Within one year, they generated a cost saving of $7 million and a reduction in over 80,000,000 kWh .
The results looked good. They advertised viciously as eco-friendly to draw in more guests to help promote sustainability and behind the scenes, worked on large process transformations that would ensure continued energy saving and waste reductions. Between 2011 and 2015, these levers managed to:
- Reduce carbon emission by 6.2%
- Reduce water consumption by 12%
- Implement sustainability tracking in 97% of their properties across hotels’ seven key activities [see image below, 3]
Those four years saw profit increases of 14% to which Mr. Bazin, CEO of AccorHotels, says, “The momentum was driven by the strategic, operational and cultural transformation […] and focused on a sustainable future” . With the rise of the bottom line came the rise in environmental awards and international sustainability certifications. Things were wonderful.
Looking ahead: What now?
Since January 2016, AccorHotels released a 2020-vision with clear actions and processes they intend to put in place to help them onwards on this path-to-sustainability [see image below, 3] and aligned incentives of all parties in the company by pegging management’s compensation with achieving sustainability metric targets.
Investing in sustainability generated profits. If they stopped or changed their eco-friendly stance, they risked losing reputation or worse, have a competitor become leader. There is one concern – sustainability is expensive. Sustainable solutions like the LED light bulbs or a guest option to reuse towels and bedding cost money to implement. Will there come a time when the cost of investment outweighs the savings? Should costs then be passed on to guests? But the hardest question to answer is: will guests actually pay more to save the planet?
My honest opinion is that AccorHotels continue to build and follow their fundamental message of sustainability. I will caveat this with one thing though; with all the changes happening, hotels must not forget that they are a service provider. Ultimately, guests are paying to have swim in heated swimming pools, dine in world-class produce, and sleep on finest linens. As much as sustainability is a noble cause, AccorHotels must continue to live by their tagline, “passion for guests.” Without guests, there is nothing.
(Word count: 798)
 Carlson, Paul, “The Hospitality Industry ’s Response to Climate Change: Is the Response Sufficient?” University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Accessed October 2016 <http://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2361&context=thesesdissertations>.
 “2011 European Hotel Group Rankings,” HospitalityNet. Accessed October 2016. <http://www.hospitalitynet.org/news/4050555.html>.
 “AccorHotels Environmental Footprint Report 2016,” AccorHotels. Accessed October 2016. <http://www.accorhotelsgroup.com/fileadmin/user_upload/Contenus_Accor/Developpement_Durable/pdf/EN/accorhotels_environmental_foot_print_2016.pdf>.
 “Accor 2013 Business Review,” AccorHotels. Accessed October 2016. <http://www.accorhotelsgroup.com/uploads/static/ra2013/en/97.html#/pageNumber=1>.
 “Global Code of Ethics for Tourism,” WTO. Accessed October 2016. <http://cf.cdn.unwto.org/sites/all/files/docpdf/gcetbrochureglobalcodeen.pdf>.
 Response in Press Release from annual financial review 2015. Accessed October 2016 <http://www.accorhotelsgroup.com/fileadmin/user_upload/Contenus_Accor/Finance/Pressreleases/2016/UK/pr_accorhotels_results_2015_vdef.pdf>.
 Becken, Susan, “Climate Change and Tourism: From Policy to Practice.” Routledge Publishing, 2012.