Wood from the Trees: Questioning carbon neutral and net zero claims in the hotel sector

The Advertising Standards Authority is clamping down on environment-focussed phrases when describing a product. What does this mean for the hotel sector?

The Advertising Standards Authority is clamping down on environment-focussed phrases when describing a product. What does this mean for the hotel sector?

Some hotels describe themselves as green, others as eco, and the phrases “net zero” and “carbon neutral” are common place. But there is some confusion generally among consumers about what these terms actually mean.

Last year, as part of its Climate Change and Environment Project, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) did some research to find out what consumers understand about certain “green” phrases.

The main phrases included net zero and carbon neutral. The results, which were published last autumn, showed that most consumers struggle with the meaning of these phrases.

A spokesperson from ASA said: “…worryingly, consumers struggled in particular with terms like “carbon neutral”… by often believing that this meant companies would be reducing their carbon emissions when this was not the case. Consumers were also confused by carbon offsets and, when the role that carbon offsets played in carbon neutrality claims was revealed, consumers told us that they felt misled.” 

The results from ASA’s research found that respondents believed when a company says it is carbon neutral it means it is actively reducing its carbon emissions. This is not actually true – carbon neutral can mean emissions are offset, so a company – or hotel – could be producing massive amounts of emissions, but offsetting them, and still be carbon neutral.

There are currently no fixed definitions that govern terms like “carbon neutrality” or “net zero” and there are no sources of authority that govern how such schemes should be delivered via agreed methodologies. Consumers who responded to the ASA research said they think that such terms and schemes should be defined and agreed, but this is not something ASA can do alone – there needs to be legislation backing up this thought.

When Sustainable Hotel News asked ASA what this all meant for the hotel sector (for hotels defining themselves as carbon neutral, or achieving net zero, and if they should be providing science-based evidence to prove these statements), ASA said it could not comment on individual sectors at the moment. 

However, the spokesperson added: “We’re currently monitoring these claims in ads, to determine what evidence advertisers will need to have to make claims about claims like ‘carbon neutrality’, and this is likely to include claims around carbon offsetting. However, we wish to emphasise that no decisions have yet been made on the forms of evidence, including off-set schemes, that are more or less likely to be considered as acceptable evidence to substantiate such claims. We’ll announce our findings in due course.”

If these terms have to be proved by hotels before they can call themselves eco or carbon neutral or net zero, there is surely a lot of unpicking to do, unless there is a clear reporting baseline to work from. e.g send in the sustainability auditors and get third party reporting on science-based evidence collected over a year, and then keep on repeating, reporting and improving year-on-year to gain a GSTC-certified accreditation.

Being carbon neutral or net zero is not something which can be proved overnight. For example, the Hotel Marcel, which is the first “Net Zero” hotel in the US has already received its Passive Building Certification, meaning it uses 80 per cent less energy than the average US hotel. It has also been certified by the Green Building Council and has a LEED Platinum rating, but it will have to take readings and measurements of its output and input (readings from solar panels, as well as waste and emissions) for one year, in order to produce a report which can verify if it is net zero. 

With the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) this year, not only will companies have to prove their sustainability reporting, but it will affect their supply chains too, such as travellers staying in sustainable hotels, so there may be the perfect marriage of CSRD making it legally binding to produce accurate sustainability reporting, and the Advertising Standards Authority saying you can’t just call yourself green, you have to prove it.

Unqualified claims are likely to breach existing rules, and the ASA will be taking proactive action immediately to address such claims. How this is directed at the hotel sector remains to be seen.

Updated ASA guidance below for advertisers in order not to mislead consumers – taken from the ASA website:

  • Avoid using unqualified carbon neutral, net zero or similar claims. Information explaining the basis for these claims helps consumers’ understanding, and such information should therefore not be omitted.
  • Marketers should ensure that they include accurate information about whether (and the degree to which) they are actively reducing carbon emissions or are basing claims on offsetting, to ensure that consumers do not wrongly assume that products or their manufacture generate no or few emissions.
  • Claims based on future goals relating to reaching net zero or achieving carbon neutrality should be based on a verifiable strategy to deliver them.
  • Where claims are based on offsetting, they should comply with the usual standards of evidence for objective claims set out in this guidance, and marketers should provide information about the offsetting scheme they are using.
  • Where it is necessary to include qualifying information about a claim, that information should be sufficiently close to the main aspects of the claim for consumers to be able to see it easily and take account of it before they make any decision. The less prominent any qualifying information is, and the further away it is from any main claim being made, the more likely the claim will mislead consumers.

Image: Pexels Free Photos

FOCUS ON: Embodied Carbon

In our new series we focus on common questions when it comes to discussing sustainability and hotels.

Today we are looking at Embodied Carbon.

In our new series we focus on common questions when it comes to discussing sustainability and hotels.

Today we are looking at Embodied Carbon.

What is it? Hotels contribute to about one per cent of global carbon emissions and most people think about this in terms of the emissions produced from operating practices. However there is another type of emission we rarely hear about. Embodied carbon is the total CO2 emitted when producing materials, which means when you build a new hotel or make extensive refurbishments or extensions you have to take into account the carbon footprint of that work. Embodied carbon is also calculated with the energy used to transport the materials as well as the emissions from the manufacturing process. 

What’s the issue? Concrete, steel, and aluminum are responsible for 23 per cent of total global emissions (mostly from the built environment). While a lot of hotels and hotel groups focus on the environmental cost of operating a property or group of properties, this is massively different from the emissions produced from building hotels. For example, the embodied carbon for room2 Chiswick, the UK’s first carbon neutral aparthotel (known as a hometel) was 2,500 tonnes of carbon, as opposed to the operational carbon for room2 Chiswick, which is 15 tonnes of carbon. A huge difference. 

How is embodied carbon calculated? Surveyors and architects, as well as designers, will be able to calculate embodied carbon at the point of design. Architects use Building Information Modeling (BIM), which is a bit like Computer Aided Design (CAD), but it has information embedded in the drawings – so if a hotel is being designed and all the materials and building management systems and material used / measurements are put into that design, BIM will be able to show the embodied carbon for the build. It kind of keeps the information in the walls of the design, which can be accessed at any time, even after the build, to be used for future measurements and adjustments.

What can hotels do about it? Hotel developers, architects and designers can keep embodied carbon emissions down by sourcing more environmentally friendly materials and products and using Passive House design principles for the most energy efficient building designs (60 per cent of operational carbon emissions come from hotels trying to regulate temperature). Hotels need to be transparent about embodied carbon when talking about sustainability. Once they have acknowledged the emissions during a build or refurb they can offer ways to offset them by operating the hotel to be carbon neutral – eg use solar / 100 per cent renewable energy, use carbon offsetting schemes and set targets to reach a carbon neutral status (which would mean being carbon neutral for both operational and embodied carbon).

Why not also check out our glossary of sustainable hotel terms for other commonly use acronyms and phrases…

WTTC to release benchmarking reports for members of Hotel Sustainability Basics

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) will release its benchmarking reports this summer for members of its Hotel Sustainability Basics initiative.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) will release its benchmarking reports this summer for members of its Hotel Sustainability Basics initiative.

Announced in April this year, the WTTC’s Hotel Sustainability Basics programme highlights 12 actions needed to raise the level of sustainability across the hospitality sector.

The goal is for all hotels to have a minimum level of sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices and then build on those basics year on year. 

WTTC invites all hotel operators, owners, associations, and investors around the world to officially support the initiative and work to implement the criteria over the next three years.

There are three steps in the programme. 

Step 1. Launch of Hotel Sustainability Basics (April 2022). All members must show robust approaches to measuring and reducing energy and water consumption, waste and carbon emissions within the 12 criteria.

Step 2. Benchmarking (Summer 2022). Of the 12 criteria, hotels need to comply with eight initially, while the others can be committed to and put in place within three years. WTTC invites hotels to participate in the Green Lodging trends Report (GLTR). Each hotel that successfully completes the GLTR study will receive a bespoke benchmarking report for their hotel this summer.

Step 3. Verification. WTTC will launch the verification scheme for individual hotel properties that adopt the Hotel Sustainability Basics Initiative in Q4 of this year. 

Julia Simpson, WTTC president and CEO, said: “We are launching the Hotel Sustainability Basics to ensure no hotel, however small, is left behind in the drive to introduce basic sustainability measures within a minimum level [over] the next three years. Sustainability is non-negotiable but not every small hotel has access to the science on how to make a difference. This gives everyone access to a global standard and [enables] consumers to travel with confidence. WTTC wants the hospitality industry to lead by example so that sustainability becomes the basic requirement used to drive change forward for this generation and the next.”

The WTTCs Hotel Sustainability Basics initiative is an internationally recognised programme and have been developed with the help of industry experts including the Sustainable Hotel Alliance.

Wolfgang Neumann, chair, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance said: “The hospitality industry is a force for good and while many companies are taking great strides and leading the way, others are only now taking their first steps. By offering an understanding of the simplest steps hotels can take to become more sustainable, the Hotel Sustainability Basics will help to raise the base level of sustainability across the entire hospitality industry.”

Major hotel groups already signed up include Radisson Hotels Group, Accor, Barceló Hotel Group, Huazhu, including its affiliate Deutsche Hospitality, Indian Hotels Company Limited, Jin Jiang International (Holdings) Co., Ltd. including its affiliates Jin Jiang Hotels, Louvre Hotels Group and Radisson Hotel Group, Meliá Hotels International, and Minor Hotels including NH Hotel Group.

The Sustainable Hotel Basics is available for any hotel or property to adopt and are intended as a first step in a progressive sustainability journey. The idea is they can be built upon and expanded towards achieving “positive hospitality”. 

Sustainable Hotel News recently wrote about IHG’s Green Engage system, which aims to get all its hotels to a basic level of sustainability with the idea they build on that towards a more positive sustainable future.

Image from WTTC.

Carbon neutral aparthotel planned for Harrogate

UK: Plans have been submitted to Harrogate Borough Council for a carbon neutral aparthotel, to be operated by Beyond Aparthotels.

UK: Plans have been submitted to Harrogate Borough Council for a carbon neutral aparthotel, to be operated by Beyond Aparthotels.

The aparthotel, which is a hotel with apartments instead of traditional rooms, will be in the centre of Harrogate and will have 17 apartments. The plans are another positive move for Beyond, which specialises in offering carbon neutral stays.

James Fry, founder of Beyond said: “Harrogate is a fantastic place and we are thrilled at bringing our sustainable, carbon neutral operating model to the town. This building is ideally placed so people can enjoy everything that Harrogate has to offer.” 

The plans include eight studio apartments, two one bed apartments, five two-bed apartments sleeping three people, and two two-bed apartments sleeping four people.

Harrogate Borough Council released a Carbon Reduction Strategy in April 2018 which outlines their pathway to achieve a net zero-carbon economy by 2038. The strategy supports measures to address the climate emergency as outlined by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as efforts in the district as a whole to reduce carbon emissions and generate and use energy more cleanly. A decision on the plans, by Harrogate Borough Council, is expected in September.

Beyond Apartments has one, two and three bed apartments in Fitzrovia, London. Soon to open are its Regent Park apartments and West End Apartments. The Harrogate aparthotel is not the first foray to the north of England. Beyond Aparthotels has partnered with investment management and advisory firm Vengrove to open a new-build aparthotel in York.

How does Beyond tick the sustainability and carbon neutral boxes?

The first way is to reduce the amount of energy used. Beyond’s buildings are double insulated and it has ‘noise cancelling’ windows and low energy appliances. 

Beyond uses LED lighting, energy efficient heating and cooling systems and solar panels. Beyond also uses 100 per cent renewable energy from Green Energy UK. 

To achieve a carbon neutral stay, any carbon which needs to be offset is with Treepoints, which monitors and reports on Beyond’s energy use.

All Beyond’s cosmetic and cleaning products are refillable and use reused and recyclable bottles or pouches. The company also uses Oxwash for all its laundry which is 100 per cent chemical-free and has compostable packaging. 

The organic tea and coffee is plastic-packaging free, instead using compostable pods. Even the paint used in the decor is chemical free.

Image Architect Corstophine & Wright: CGI of how the Beyond Aparthotel Harrogate will look.

In other net-zero news Six Senses hotels & Resorts has plans for an off grid, carbon neutral hotel in Norway.