According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the hotel industry contributes 1% of total global emissions. The good news is that the hotel sector can minimize emissions while profitably embracing sustainable development. Below you will find an introductory guide providing a description of green initiatives targeted for hotels and motels and how best to implement them.

How Hotels Impact the Environment

Hotel operations, when managed unsustainably, can lead to environmental disruption in various forms including:

  • Generation of enormous waste in landfills, contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases.
  • Intense use of natural resources like water for landscaping and cleaning, leading to severe water shortages.
  • Excessive use of fossil fuels that pollute and contribute to climate change.
  • Use of hazardous chemicals that contaminate water supplies.
  • Hotel construction and development that destabilizes natural ecosystems, impacts climate change and displaces local communities and cultures.

What Hotels Can Do To Be More Environmentally and Socially Responsible

By transitioning towards more sustainable business practices, hotel and motel owners have the unique opportunity to avoid some of the greatest threats towards environmental and human wellbeing. Pursuing sustainability in the hospitality industry reveals rewarding opportunities such as conserving natural resources and reducing waste while still providing a 5-star guest experience and maintaining the bottom line. Here are some examples for hotel and motel owners to consider when greening their operations.

Reduce Waste and Recycle

According to Reconomy, food waste accounts for more than 50% of waste in the hospitality industry. Besides being useless landfill garbage, food waste breaks down to release emissions that contribute to a warming world.

Further, hotel waste consists largely of common recyclable materials – aluminum cans, cardboard, paper, plastic bottles and landscape waste – all materials that could be processed into a new useful material. Here are just three initiatives of how to reduce waste while increasing net profits:

  • Implement food-waste-reduction by analysing how much and where the food waste is coming from. Rethink the use of breakfast buffets if your business is reporting the majority of waste as left over food. Perhaps organize an onsite composting program where guests can donate their food scraps.
  • Design a recycling program for your hotel that ensures employees and guests are all partaking in this initiative. This can be done by installing conveniently-located recycling bins throughout the building as well as including small bins in every room.
  • Move away from over packaged bathroom-toiletries and work with local vendors to reuse packaging. Consider using Clean The World, an organization that incorporates a waste reduction program with soap and bottled amenities that are repurposed and distributed worldwide to vulnerable communities with limited access to hygiene products.

Improve Energy Efficiency

To provide guests with basic comfort, hotels and motels must attribute 4-6 percent of revenues to electricity. Adopting energy saving practices and appliances, however, is not only cost-effective but reflects your commitment to minimizing the effects of climate change. One other advantage of using high efficient appliances like washers is that they reduce demand for both electricity and water, thus conserving two valuable resources at once. Hotel energy demands can be mitigated in a number of ways such as:

  • Investing in energy efficient appliances like ENERGY STAR-rated heating and cooling systems. A great resource is Enervee Choice Engine, this online website searches all major retailers for the most energy efficient appliances.
  • Installing energy-efficient lighting systems like ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent lights which use 75% less energy than conventional light bulbs and LEDs which are 90% more efficient.
  • Creating spaces that optimize the use of natural lighting and airflow.
  • Invest in proper sealing and insulation to maintain indoor temperatures and avoid uncomfortable drafts.
  • Conduct a financial analysis to see how your business would benefit economically from an investment in green infrastructure like solar panels.

Implement Eco-Friendly Practices and Use Eco-Friendly Products

Within the scope of eco-friendly practices, hotels can commit to a number of powerful initiatives. Here are just two examples:

  • Replace conventional cleaning products with natural, non-corrosive cleaning products that cause no harm to human or planet health. There are several Green Seal certified cleaning products specifically designed for the hospitality industry on the market today.
  • Hotels account for 15 percent of total water used by commercial institutions in the U.S., so instilling water conservation practices is critical in hotels. This can be done by encouraging guest habits such as reusing towels and linens, or upgrading bathrooms to include low-flow toilets, motion sensored faucets and water leak detecting sensors.

Take Social Responsibility For Your Business

Being a sustainable business also means caring for community wellbeing and working to be socially and ethically responsible. Here are three social responsibility initiatives for hotel and motel owners to follow:

  • Ensure hotel planning is conducted ethically to ensure the preservation of native and cultural lands. While tourism is often beneficial to state and regional economies, hotel development has often displaced many indigenous communities and impacted the livelihoods of local residents. Work with local communities to hear their concerns and establish a plan that suits everyone’s needs.
  • Support the local community and economy. Partner with local businesses such as landscaping, housekeeping, arts and entertainment to support job security for locals. Other great ways to contribute to the local economy could be to source food from local farmers and promote local products at the gift shop.
  • Educate guests on sustainability and invite them to partake. For example, organize sustainability themed guest activities like a beach clean up or a showing of an educational documentary of the local culture and landscape.

Join a Green Business Community and Get Green Business Certified

Improving your hotel’s sustainability performance also comes down to being able to identify areas for improvement and developing an actionable plan. One way to tackle this is by completing a trusted third-party sustainability assessment such as Green Business Bureau’s online EcoAssessment. Third-party verified assessments help reveal your most critical problem areas and, when paired with supplementary tools like GBB’s EcoPlanner, can help you strategize and form a plan.

Becoming a certified green business not only makes staying on track with your sustainability agenda much easier, it is a sure way to communicate your commitment to guests and stakeholders.


There is a growing number of environmentally conscious travelers, so it is time that the hospitality industry begins instilling sustainable practices in every area of its operations. In the long run, transitioning your hotel towards sustainability will conserve a wealth of resources and lower emissions all while rewarding you with significant cost savings and brand elevation. Green hotels and motels stand out against the competition as being good stewards of the earth while providing a memorable guest experience.

About The Author

Luz Andrea Ramirez

GBB Green Ambassador

Luz Andrea Ramirez is a Global Sustainability graduate student at University of South Florida. She has worked on a variety of social impact projects including Red Cross oversees where she trained in the development of local communities and indigenous groups on a variety of issues. Her interests are in racial health disparities, sustainable food systems and the green economy.

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