Published 9 months ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Hotel Belmar
Embodied carbon, clean energy, resource efficiency, and supporting local communities and biodiversity are among the many critical factors in making tourism fit to flourish in a climate-challenged future.
In a race to avert the climate crisis, the tourism
is evolving. More travelers decide to keep their feet on the ground; the
with flight-free services and itineraries. Concerned with how the climate
areas, many tour operators began actively supporting carbon
It turns out that where travelers finally lay their heads at the end of a busy
day affects the climate, as well.
conducted by the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, “The hotel industry needs
to reduce its carbon emissions by 66 percent per room by 2030 and 90 percent per
room by 2050 to ensure that the growth forecast for the industry does not lead
to a corresponding increase in carbon emissions.”
Responding to regulatory changes, consumer preferences and proactive climate
commitments, hotel chains and independently owned accommodations are making
changes — though at varying speeds and to differing degrees. This includes
pursuing LEED certification, shifting to
and reducing waste and water consumption, among other actions.
“When I designed our first villa, Villa Punto de
was back in 2007 — just after the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth — so I was already in tune with the concept of a warming planet and
designed the building with an eco-conscious mindset,” said David
co-founder and architect of the Costa Rica property. “However, ten years
later and after seeing the devastating storms and worsening drought ravage our
planet over that next decade, I designed our second villa (Villa La
Isla) with even
more emphasis on carbon neutrality.”
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From natural fiber ceilings produced by Indigenous Peoples living in Costa
Rica’s mountains to the microfiber bedding made from recycled plastic bags,
nearly every square inch of the property reflects Konwiser’s climate concerns.
“The villas’ materials and finishes had to be of premium quality, ecologically
sourced, and surpass the challenging esthetic and safety expectations of the
world’s most discerning travelers,” he said.
Villa Punto de Vista certainly isn’t the only property built from the ground up
with the climate top of mind. In fact, there’s been a wave of them lately:
— a luxury property in Norway expected to open in 2024 — is said to be the
first off-grid, energy-positive resort. The recently opened Hotel
Marcel in New Haven, Connecticut, is
completely powered by solar electricity.
Similarly, Populus — a 265-room hotel
currently under construction in Denver, Colorado — is being billed as the
first carbon-positive hotel in the US. It features window “lids” that
provide shade while improving energy performance and a roof terrace planted with
regional vegetation intended to attract local wildlife and insects.
Critics of “sustainable” buildings rightly point out that an eco-friendly,
resource-efficient building is one thing; but construction itself has a massive
carbon footprint. As noted in a 2022 Bloomberg
the Marcel may be designated LEED Platinum; but on its way to being the US’s
first net-zero-emissions hotel, its calculations failed to include embodied
— which includes all the greenhouse gases emitted during renovation,
construction, demolition and disposal of a building.
According to Transforming Existing Hotels to Net-Zero Carbon,
a guide developed by four companies including IHG Hotels & Resorts, embodied
carbon makes up between 30 and 70 percent of a typical building’s total
lifecycle emissions. Further, approximately 80 percent of the buildings that
will be in use in 2050 are already in existence today.
“Adapting and retrofitting existing buildings to lower GHG emissions is critical
and needs to be embraced as part of the hotel sector’s ‘Routemap to Zero
Carbon,’ particularly as expectations of hotel investors, owners, staff, and
guests shift towards greener, more sustainable models of investment, business
operation, and living,” noted Gillian
Breen, director of
Gleeds at the time of Transforming Existing Hotels’
The natural solution for most properties, then, is to renovate existing
buildings with an eye on sustainability. For example, Hotel
Belmar — located in Costa Rica’s Monteverde
cloud forest — was built in 1985 with environmental stewardship, cultural
appreciation and economic benefits for the local community in mind. Upgrades
nearly 30 years later further reduced its environmental footprint.
“The 2012 renovation of Hotel Belmar kept our traditional wooden architecture;
but we adapted most rooms, some bathrooms and hallways to have floor-to-ceiling
windows, skylights and big sliding glass doors,” said Pedro
Belmar, CEO and general
manager of the hotel. This increased lighting efficiency and ventilation, and
decreased energy consumption. Property owners also invested in solar panels,
upgraded water-treatment systems and installed rain-collector systems.
Regardless of whether properties are renovated or built more sustainably (while
accounting for embodied carbon), time is of the essence when it comes to making
climate-conscious accommodations an industry standard.
“It is widely acknowledged that this decade needs to be one of climate action,”
wrote Simon Gill, hotels and
leisure business leader for UKIMEA at Arup, in his
forward to Transforming Existing Hotels. “Without taking bold steps now, we
will not be able to achieve the net-zero carbon target set for 2050 and avert
Published Mar 7, 2023 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
JoAnna Haugen is a writer, speaker and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for her entire career. She is also the founder of Rooted — a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact and storytelling. A returned US Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer and intrepid traveler, JoAnna helps tourism professionals decolonize travel and support sustainability using strategic communication skills.