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

Premier Inn hotels to cut water consumption by 20 per cent per guest

UK: Whitbread, owner of one of the UK’s largest hotel companies Premier Inn, has announced it will cut water consumption by 20 per cent per guest by 2030. 

UK: Whitbread, owner of one of the UK’s largest hotel companies Premier Inn, has announced it will cut water consumption by 20 per cent per guest by 2030. 

A trial of water-saving technology is taking place at a number of hotels and has revealed the potential to cut the group’s gas consumption and related carbon emissions by 5 per cent, following a reduction in water use of just over 20 per cent.

Whitbread, which joined the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance at the end of last year, has been pushing its sustainability goals with its Force for Good sustainability programme. The programme has a goal for Whitbread to be Net Zero by 2040.

To cut water consumption the group will roll out water-saving technology across its entire UK portfolio (more than 845 hotels) prioritising those in areas at higher risk of water stress. 

These are areas where the Environment Agency (EA) declares a drought. Last July was the driest on record since 1935 and the EA declared eight of its 14 areas across the UK as drought areas. 

This will be achieved by the installation of upgraded WC valves, water-efficient showerheads, and flow restrictors on taps.

Rosana Elias, head of sustainability, Whitbread, said: “Reducing water use and gas consumption not only benefits the environment but makes perfect business sense. Not only are we looking at potential significant savings on our water and gas bills, but our hotels will be less impacted by the water restrictions placed on drought-stricken regions which we are seeing with increasing regularity, most recently in 2022.”

With the majority of Whitbread’s water consumption classed as domestic (any water used by guests at Whitbread hotels is water that they will not be using at home) the new target is directly comparable to the UK government’s goal to cut household water consumption by 20 per cent by 2037.  The hotel group wants to achieve this target by 2030 for hotels operated by Whitbread.

More information on Whitbread’s Force For Good strategy can be found here.

Image supplied by Whitbread.

Preferred Travel Group commits to reducing emissions

WORLDWIDE: Preferred Travel Group has become a signatory of The Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism.

WORLDWIDE: Preferred Travel Group has become a signatory of The Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism.

This means the group is helping to align the sector with global commitments and will help to find solutions to the challenges facing businesses and destinations globally. 

The Glasgow Declaration encourages commitments to reduce emissions in tourism by at least 50 per cent by 2030 and to achieve Net Zero as soon as possible before 2050. 

The Declaration was officially launched at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021.

As a signatory of the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, Preferred Travel Group commits to develop and deliver a climate action plan by September this year. 

The plan will align with the five pathways of the Declaration (measure, decarbonise, regenerate, collaborate, finance), report publicly on an annual basis, and work in a collaborative spirit, sharing good practices and solutions, and disseminating information.

Nina Boys, vice president of sustainability for Preferred Travel Group said: “As a travel industry leader committed to addressing climate change, Preferred Travel Group believes in action and impact.Through collaborative partnerships and company-wide initiatives, we will accelerate our sustainability goals by establishing a corporate climate action plan by September 2023, guided by the five pathways of the Declaration. We are proud to join this inspiring network of global travel and tourism organisations to address climate change now to protect our planet for future generations.”

The Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism brings together the latest research and global expertise to galvanise climate action. It is hosted within the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Program’s website, supported by Recommended Actions for tourism stakeholders across the world to consider as part of their action planning, alongside other resources.

The declaration states: “A just transition to Net Zero before 2050 will only be possible if tourism’s recovery accelerates the adoption of sustainable consumption and production, and redefines our future success to consider not only economic value but rather the regeneration of ecosystems, biodiversity and communities.”

Research into CO2 emissions carried out by UNWTO/ITF and released in December 2019 showed that transport-related emissions from tourism were forecast to increase by 25 per cent by 2030 from 2016 levels.

Accor recently committed to Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Net positive hospitality at heart of sustainable partnership

UK: The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and the Considerate Group have teamed up to help advance net positive hospitality.

UK: The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and the Considerate Group have teamed up to help advance net positive hospitality.

The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (the Alliance), the leading network for responsible hospitality, and sustainable advisory firm, Considerate Group, have announced an agreement to support the hospitality industry to become measurably more sustainable. 

Alliance CEO Glenn Mandziuk and Considerate Group Managing Partner & CSO Xenia zu Hohenlohe met with His Majesty King Charles III at a reception at Buckingham Palace, which was also attended by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Global CEOs and politicians also attended.

The agreement will represent the hospitality industry as part of a co-ordinated private sector effort to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable future. 

Both organisations have a strong focus on impact monitoring and reporting, and aim to innovate measurement tools to better support and deliver services to the hospitality industry.

The Alliance recently updated its global methodology and tool for carbon measurement, the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI), as well as offering water and waste measurement resources. 

HCMI is now being used by over 30,000 hotels worldwide including those of Hyatt, Marriott International and Radisson Hotel Group, as well as being recognised by business travel platforms, Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index (CHSB), and business associations.

Considerate Group’s Con-Serve data-monitoring platform enables hospitality clients to measure resource consumption and broader ESG metrics including electricity, heat, water, waste, food miles, business travel and volunteer hours and aligns to the HCMI. The Considerate Group’s tailor-made, hands-on consultancy services also helps hospitality businesses to set and achieve their sustainability goals. 

Glenn Mandziuk, CEO, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, said: “We have a history of collaboration with the Considerate Group and I am hugely positive about the momentous projects that we are leading together. This partnership will support the advancement of Net Positive Hospitality through research, development and promotion, and together we’ll drive industry action on biodiversity, climate change and other leading issues.”

Xenia zu Hohenlohe, Considerate group managing partner & CSO, said: “We are delighted and honoured to be partnering with the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, as such a highly recognised organisation with a truly international reach. Their solid frameworks set guiding principles which the entire industry can follow. This collaboration will help us drive the much-needed change in our sector and achieve goals the entire planet needs, as well as focusing on creating a positive impact for hospitality businesses.”

Sustainable Hospitality Alliance signs commitment to collaborative working with WTTC

UK: The World Travel & Tourism Council and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work towards improving sustainability in the global hospitality sector.

UK: The World Travel & Tourism Council and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work towards improving sustainability in the global hospitality industry.

The MoU means that both organisations will work more closely to improve the environmental and social impact of the global hospitality industry.

Through the MoU, WTTC and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance have pledged to work together in a united voice, cooperating on new research projects and driving change and innovation in sustainability in the hospitality industry.

In August we reported that the WTTC was to release its benchmarking reports for hotels which are members of its Hotel Sustainability Basics Initiative.

Glenn Mandziuk, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance CEO, said: “We are proud to be partnering with WTTC on promoting sustainable growth. This partnership combines the Alliance’s sector-specific expertise with WTTC’s scale and reach to enable both our organisations to enhance collective impact across the industry and drive progress further towards net positive hospitality. We have partnered in the past, including on the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI), and I am very positive about the future potential of our two organisations working together alongside our members and the wider industry.”

Julia Simpson, WTTC president & CEO, said: “The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance has been a valuable supporter of our Hotel Sustainability Basics which are the first step in the ladder to advance sustainability in the industry. Although the hospitality industry has transformed dramatically in recent years, we recognise that there is still more that we can do together. Our collective efforts will enable the hospitality industry to continue moving towards a greater positive impact through this new partnership.”

The signing took place at the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance’s Net Positive Summit in London on October 12, where WTTC President & CEO Julia Simpson joined Alliance CEO Glenn Mandziuk to address delegates representing a broad range of industry experts, examining the current sustainability challenges the sector faces.

The Summit also coincided with the 30 year anniversary of the organisation. Founded in 1992, as the International Hotels Environment initiative (IHEI) – part of the then Prince of Wales’s International Business Leader’s Forum, the charity was founded by 11 hotel company CEOs in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit in recognition of the “urgent need to support moral and ethical conviction with practical action.”

Over the years, the organisation expanded its scope to tackle social issues as well as environmental challenges, and evolved first into the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and now as an independent charity, the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance. Nine of the original brands are still represented through their modern-day equivalents demonstrating their long-term commitment to operating sustainably and supporting the wider industry through collaborative action.