“Over the past decade a quiet revolution has been taking
hold within the international hotel industry.
International Hotel Environmental Initiative, 2002
Commercial lodging establishments have existed since the dawn of human civilisation. Today hotels, amounting to over 300 000 facilities worldwide, represent one of the most important sectors of the travel and tourism industry, the world’s single largest employer. Compared to most other categories of commercial buildings, lodging facilities are unique, with regard to operational schemes, the types of facilities and services offered, as well as the resulting patterns of natural resource use.
In view of the globally increasing environmental degradation, in recent years, the need for more effective measures of environmental protection in all branches of industry has been publicly presented. Even though the tourism and hotel industry has for many years claimed to be a “smokeless industry”, it has only recently become aware of the substantially negative impact the trade has on the environment. Indeed, hotels interact with the environment at every stage of their life cycle, and this influence is often negative. Hotels are designed to provide multi-facetted comfort and services to guests, frequently accustomed to and willing to pay for exclusive amenities, treatment and entertainment. Resorts are often developed in pristine and fragile ecosystems with little or no consideration taken for the natural or cultural surroundings. Many of the services offered by lodging establishments require the consumption of substantial quantities of energy, water and non-durable products. The resource use efficiency of the many end-users in hotel facilities is frequently low, and the resulting environmental impacts are, typically greater than those caused by other types of commercial buildings of similar size.
Fortunately, the industry is slowly increasing its efforts to embark on a more sustainable path. Over the years, a number of documents aimed at incorporating environmental and socio-cultural responsibility into the tourism business practice have been published. Among the most significant ones are the 1995 Lanzarote Charter for Sustainable Tourism (issued jointly by the World Tourism Organisation, the United Nations Environmental Program, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Commission of European Communities), and Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry: Towards Environmentally Friendly Sustainable Development (launched in 1996 as a result of co-operation between the World Travel and Tourism Council, the World Tourism Organisation, and the Earth Council). Also, major tourism and hotel organizations and associations are launching initiatives into making the hotel business more environmentally responsible. Numerous guidelines have been developed and best practice case studies collected and published. Leaders in environmentally friendly operations are awarded with prizes and certificates. However, the mere existence of such documents, and the scarceness of environmentally responsible hotel businesses cannot aspire to achieve the significant changes necessary within the travel and tourism industry en-route to a more eco-friendly practice. Competent professionals will need to endorse the necessary changes. While there is very little data on the exact level of environmental awareness in the industry, it is already obvious that a significant amount of education and training will be required to authorise all relevant stakeholders with the knowledge required.
In this section I will be presenting environmental impacts arising from the design, construction, and operation of hotel facilities. I will also include information on impacts of hotel refurbishment and demolition. Most of the information contained here comes from my licentiate thesis (for more information please contact me).
The planning stage of a hotel development project has a relatively low overall environmental impact, as it primarily includes office activities supplemented by necessary site visits. Major environmental impacts associated with this stage of the hotel life-cycle result from the decisions made in terms of location, siting, and design of the facility, as well as construction materials and technology to be used. These decisions affect all future environmental impacts generated by the facility.
The planning phase is essentially an uncomplicated and inexpensive stage to make things right. The design of the building is fundamentally liable for all future impacts imposed by the hotel facility on the local environment. For many years, issues of environmental compatibility and responsible design were not considered at all, moreover, they were practically non-existent. Hotels were typically built to look pleasant or be unique, but the design often required a substantial amount of energy and other resources, used by various mechanical systems, to make them habitable. Only recently have architects and planners started considering the influences their designs may have on the natural surroundings. Today, many hotel design and development guidebooks mention (but do not stress) the need for environmentally responsible designs and materials . It is typical in the case of resorts, but not so in the case of city hotels.
Table. Possible impacts and mitigation measures at the planning stage.
Most of the mitigation measures listed in Table above can be summarised as an environmentally responsible design (sustainable design), suggesting the design of buildings needing fewer resources and materials to build, occupy and maintain, but being mutually more comfortable and healthy to live and work in.
The designer of an eco-friendly hotel facility should consider the incorporation and utilisation of locally available renewable energies in powering the facility. A number of commercially available and reliable renewable energy technologies applicable to hotel facilities are accessible, including:
If a hotel is to be environmentally friendly, it should be constructed using environmentally complaisant materials. These materials should generally be less toxic, more durable and stronger, made of recycled materials, or environmentally certified. They should also have low embodied energy and be produced and available locally, in order to avoid transport-related impacts.
An environmentally responsible design generates a number of benefits including considerably lower resource consumption and related maintenance and operational costs, as well as improved comfort and productivity for the occupants. The corporate image is also improved, thereby attracting new customers, as people come to prefer the “green” alternative. Hotels designed according to sustainability principles are, however, not analogous to “sustainable hotels”. The construction and operational phases should be performed and managed taking environmental principles into consideration.
Construction represents the second stage in the hotel life-cycle. It is relatively short-term, but extremely intensive as it results in the transformation of the design team’s vision into reality. It is widely regulated by construction and building laws, as well as various building safety precautions.
The impacts associated with the construction stage are significant, but to a large extent, short-term. The long-term, practically irreversible impacts include the change of local landscape resulting from compulsory rock blasting, excavations and grading operations. These operations may lead to a possible disturbance, and even the loss of previously unidentified sensitive on-site sub-surface cultural and historic resources, as well as sensitive and unique ecosystems (wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs). Generally, any construction of a new hotel facility requires the removal of existing vegetation, unless the building is erected on a previously occupied site, following the demolition of a former structure. The temporary loss of an ecosystem and habitats of local animals is almost inevitable. Despite frequent attempts at restoring the ecosystem after project completion, native and often sensitive flora and fauna species may be irreversibly lost.
Among the short-term impacts associated with the construction phase increased heavy-vehicle traffic, as well as related emissions and noise are virtually unavoidable. Among the air pollutants emitted during the construction stage, dust and other particulate matter is of major significance. In the case of building demolition, a serious risk of asbestos release from building materials, as well as lead from plumbing and lead-based paints is encountered. Furthermore, various volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons may be emitted from materials, paints and solvents used and improperly stored. Increased traffic and noise levels combined with impaired air quality and possible vibrations have a significantly adverse effect on the local population, fauna and flora. Careless work and improper plans of the location may result in the accidental damage of the existing superstructure, such as electric, phone, TV lines as well as gas, water and sewage networks, or neglected and unmarked underground tanks. Such accidents may have catastrophic consequences for both on-site workers, and the local environment and population.
The erection of a new, and occasionally heavy structure located on loose or improperly prepared ground may lead to soil compaction and the sinking of the building. If the ground water level is high and deep cellars included in the structure, water may penetrate to subsurface levels of the building leading to the growth of mold. In earthquake active areas seismic shaking may be induced. All of these aspects create a potential hazard for the building occupants and must therefore be properly dealt with.
Many of the impacts related to the construction phase can be diminished by proper legislation (i.e. a ban on materials containing asbestos and lead- and organic-based paints, currently enforced in many countries), the use of environmentally friendly technology and equipment (efficient and silent compressors) or work organization and safety (precise working time). A number of these impacts are however unavoidable.
Table. Possible impacts and mitigation measures at the construction stage.
The operational stage of a hotel life-cycle is substantial, both from an economic and environmental perspective. This phase defines the purpose of the hotel. It typically lasts for 25 – 50 years, but with proper maintenance, regular refurbishment and renovation, the lifespan of a hotel building can be significantly extended. Some of the currently operating hotels are located in buildings erected centuries ago (e.g., European palace and castle hotels). Famous hotel brands and names can last even longer.
The operation of a hotel is the most resource intensive stage of the entire life-cycle. It results from very specific operational patterns, a 24-hour-a-day, year-round, catering to large numbers of customers having highly diversified needs and attitudes. Hotels utilize large quantities of energy, water and various consumable materials in providing services and comfort to their guests. Furthermore, the efficiency of many end-users in a hotel is low, resulting in a relatively large impact, as compared to other types of similar size buildings. It is estimated that 75% of all impacts exerted by hotel facilities on the environment are associated with the extensive use of resources (APAT 2002, pp.28). This has resulted in increased pressure on local utility systems (power and water supply), sometimes leading to shortages experienced by locals. It also contributes to the depletion of resources.
Hotels generate large quantities of waste and sewage, thus increasing pressure on local sewer systems and plants, as well as landfills. They are also responsible for the release of various air pollutants, either directly from on-site heat and power generation, or indirectly by the use of electricity and heat/cold produced at power plants, thereby contributing to the deterioration of local air quality, acid rain and global warming. Many of the goods purchased have environmental effects associated with their manufacture, transportation, use and disposal. Furthermore, a number of substances and products used at hotel facilities are exceedingly environmentally harmful. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) still used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems contribute to ozone depletion, and various detergents, often released without proper treatment, contribute to the eutrophication of surface water.
Maintenance, refurbishment and the demolition phase
The life span of a hotel building is usually estimated at 50 – 100 years, although many existing hotels are located in much older buildings (i.e. most European castle and palace hotels, as well as hotels created in former monasteries and prisons). Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure the proper performance of a building and its system, as well as the safety of the occupants. The demolition stage results, when the building in its present structure and condition poses a serious threat to its occupants, is visually or otherwise unattractive, or the purpose and function of the site is proposed to be modified, and a renovation is not economically feasible.
Regular maintenance requires the use of resources such as energy and water, as well as various chemical substances (e.g., detergents, insulation foams, etc.). Impacts associated with these activities have been described in the previous section. Refurbishment involves the generation of large quantities of waste, and poses a risk involving the discharge of various air pollutants (including lead and volatile organic compounds from paints, and ozone depleting substances from refrigeration and air conditioning installations).
Responsible housekeeping and maintenance procedures can effectively reduce maintenance needs and associated impacts. The refurbishment stage is, nevertheless, an excellent opportunity in making the facility more environmentally friendly by introducing many energy and water efficiency measures, or even changing to renewable energy. More environmentally benign construction materials and furnishings can be implemented during refurbishment. Many hotels have already taken this opportunity to create a “green” environment on their property.
From the perspective of sustainability, the re-use and re-adaptation of a building is typically a better solution than demolition, but occasionally it is inevitable. The demolition process should be carried out by an expert team, equipped with the proper safety equipment, as well as taking into consideration the possible release of asbestos and other air pollutants. The safety of neighbouring buildings and their occupants should also be carefully deliberated. Demolition debris should be transported and disposed off at a proper landfill, provided that re-use or recycling is not feasible.
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