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

Second European Sustainable Tourism Awards open for entries

EUROPE: Entries are now open for the second edition of the European Sustainable Tourism Awards “GrINN Awards 2023”.

EUROPE: Entries are now open for the second edition of the European Sustainable Tourism Awards “GrINN Awards 2023”.

Run by Quartz Inn Hotels, the main objective of the awards is to promote good sustainable practices and environmental awareness

All types of tourist accommodation, professionals and companies in the sector can apply to be recognised for their efforts in sustainability, by completing the nomination form found on the website.

Applicants may enter up to five categories within the 100 available.The jury is made up of experts from the sector, promoters of sustainability in the industry and with extensive experience in the hotel industry.

Alexander Zawadzki, organiser of the awards and co-founder of Quartz Inn Hotels said: “We are pleased to present this new edition of the GrINN Awards with the commitment to continue promoting good sustainable practices in the industry. The last edition was a resounding success in terms of participation and awareness and we are sure that this year will be even better. Our mission is to give small businesses a voice so that they can show their sustainable progress and encourage other hotels, clients and workers to follow in their footsteps in favor of the environment.”

Quartz Inn Hotels is the first European hotel collection formed by independent and sustainable hotels and properties London based startup, founded in 2021 by Ignacio Merino, Lidiia Tkachenko and Alexander Zawadzki. 

Last year’s full list of results can be found here.

easyJet launches sustainable hotels page on its website

Easyjet has launched a new part of its website, which helps those looking for hotels to choose the sustainable option.

Easyjet has launched a new part of its website, which helps those looking for hotels to choose the sustainable option.

The collection of eco-certified hotels all have the Global Sustainable Tourism Council certification or have achieved GSTC recognised standards for hotels.

These hotels are run “as sustainably as possible” and make positive impacts on the environment and their local communities. 

The GSTC is a global membership organisation, formed to manage global standards for sustainable travel and tourism. As a member of the GSTC Easyjet is encouraging all of its hotel partners to achieve certification by 2025.

Matt Callaghan, easyJet holidays’ customer and operations director, said: “We know from our own research that sustainability is an important factor when booking a holiday, and that consumers are looking to cut their impact on the environment.”

Last year easyJet became the first major UK tour operator to offset carbon emissions from its package holidays, which includes fuel used for flights, hotel energy and destination transfers.

easyJet’s sustainable hotel page can be found here.

Image: GSTC

Palladium Hotel Group ups sustainable energy goals

SPAIN: Spanish group The Palladium Hotel Group is hoping to showcase its sustainability efforts as it focuses on achieving its renewable energy goals this year.

SPAIN: Spanish group The Palladium Hotel Group is hoping to showcase its sustainability efforts as it focuses on achieving its renewable energy goals this year.

Currently 100 per cent all of the energy consumed in the group’s Spanish properties comes from renewable sources – either from guaranteed origin or the hotels’ photovoltaic (solar) panels. 

The group has installed 1,327 solar panels in Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza (pictured above from Palladium Hotel Group), Grand Palladium Palace Ibiza Resort & Spa and Grand Palladium White Island Resort & Spa. 

The solar panels create power up to 600 kWp and can produce 746,000 kW, avoiding 186,000 kg of CO2 emissions per year.

In the future, in order to achieve its sustainability goals the group plans to make use of other sustainable sources, including natural gas, thermal recovery systems and geothermal energy. Energy use for the rest of the portfolio in the rest of Spain, Italy, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Brazil hits 20 per cent for a guarantee of renewable origin, but Palladium Palace Hotel Group wants that figure to reach 50 per cent this year.

A recent report by Booking.com cited how travellers are looking for more sustainable accommodation options when they travel including more than 50 per cent of travellers from the UK.

It will do this by trying other methods of sustainable energy and continue to be proactive in other sustainability goals by focusing on waste management, the reduction of single-use plastics, and support for local products.

The Spanish hotel chain operates 41 hotels under nine different brands: TRS Hotels, Grand Palladium Hotels & Resorts, Palladium Hotels, Palladium Boutique Hotels, Fiesta Hotels & Resorts, Ushuaïa Unexpected Hotels, Only You Hotels, Bless Collection Hotels and the Hard Rock Hotels Brand under licence with three hotels in Ibiza Tenerife and Marbella.

 Palladium Hotel Group has achieved various different certifications of sustainability from different standardisation companies across the world and its portfolio, including those by ReThink Hotel Association, EarthCheck Silver and Platinum and Blue Flag awards.

The Stay Hotels becomes first in Turkey to gain carbon neutral status

TURKEY: The Stay Hotels in Istanbul has become the first hotel group in Turkey to be awarded carbon neutral status.

The Bosphorus – image from The Stay Hotels
TURKEY: The Stay Hotels in Istanbul has become the first hotel group in Turkey to be awarded carbon neutral status.

The luxury hotel group, which has opened its fifth hotel, was certified as carbon neutral in March this year.

The carbon neutral designation was awarded by the French Bureau Veritas, which audited the hotel's operations and then evaluated it inline with the ISO 14064-1 international standard for greenhouse gas verification.

The group's website explains what they had to do to gain the award.

- We measured total carbon emissions over the consumption plan of all of our hotels, headquarters and other venues and vehicles. 

- We invested in and supported projects approved by international certification systems including Gold Standard and IREC. 

- We underwent an audit Bureau Veritas, an internationally recognised institution, in order to verify our compliance. 

We will continue to contribute to the world and its future as we implement these stages every year, by offsetting emissions and continuing to invest at home and across the world.

The hotel has to meet the same standards year on year in order to keep the certificate. Other sustainable touches include the pool tiled with glass bottles, the recycled sun loungers, and vegan leather headboards for the property.

Ali Ispahani, managing partner at The Stay Hotels said: “From the very beginning, sustainability was at the heart of our hospitality and we moved forward with this in mind in every aspect of our business.”

The company also invests in green-energy projects and makes sure it works with sustainable suppliers as well as using recycled materials where possible. 
The aim for The Stay is to become a zero-waste operation across all five of its properties by the end of this year.

Turkey as a destination is also hoping to attract those who want to 'stay sustainable' and in 2021 the tourism authority became a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). This includes encouraging cycling instead of using cars as transport, as well as the trend of moving away from large resorts and focusing on small sustainable hotels.

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