Search the web for “Green Hotels Africa”, and you’ll be surprised – at how few hotels there are listed!  One hotel in Egypt, a couple in South Africa, and that tends to be it.  Even responsiblehotelsoftheworld.com, surely an organisation that every hotel in the world would want to be part of, has only two hotels listed in Africa.  And who says they are “green” or “responsible” anyway?!  The website?  The hotel?  Or the customers?  One website says “This property is purported to be ‘green’ but has not been verified”.  You know what? – I reckon that hotel has those little signs in the bathrooms asking you to consider the environment, and to reuse your towels – which are then replaced by the room attendant each day anyway.

That really is as far as most hotels are prepared to go – the towel business – but they’re missing a trick.  Because the experience of hotel developers in the USA shows that the payback on the additional cost of building a sustainable hotel is measured in months, not years.  The new Proximity Hotel in North Carolina spent an additional US$7,000 on water-saving equipment, and in the first year is on track to save more than US$13,000 – and will continue to save in future years.

There are no benchmarks for how much extra “building green” costs, one industry commentator in the USA thinks it needs to be no more than 1 per cent additional, but even if it is 5 per cent, even 10 per cent more, with returns like that, it must make sense, mustn’t it?

And it isn’t only about operational cost savings.  Ten years ago, we didn’t much care about whether a hotel offered internet services, did we?  Today, a hotel that doesn’t have high speed, wireless broadband is at a distinct competitive disadvantage.  And I can see the day in the near future when a hotel that doesn’t have green credentials will also suffer, because the customer has a choice.  And being environmentally aware, being socially responsible, is the right thing to do, isn’t it?

The availability of potable water in some parts of the world, and in many in Africa,  is a huge issue, which is only going to get worse.  Fairmont Hotels reckon that the average water consumption of an occupied hotel room is 825 litres – and according to Infochangeindia.com, the average daily water consumption of a luxury hotel room in Delhi is a staggering 1,600 litres, ten times that of the average city resident.  Such inequality cannot be right.

At the Fairmont hotel in Toronto, under the City of Toronto’s ICI Water Saver Program, businesses are rewarded for demonstrated water savings.  In 2005, the hotel installed a commercial water softener that reduced water use in the laundry to one

wash and one rinse per cycle, saving 476,000 litres of water per day – enough water to supply 500 homes!

Apart from Fairmont, all of the hotel chains are promoting green operational practices.  Rezidor, one of the fastest growing chains in Africa, produces an annual Sustainability Report which in 2008 reported that energy consumption decreased 6 per cent in their Radisson Blu properties and 14 per cent in Park Inn, water per guest night down 3 per cent and 7 per cent respectively, and waste per guest night down 2 per cent for Radisson Blu and 22 per cent for Park Inn.  InterContinental’s new on-line Green Engage system envisages energy savings of up to 25 per cent.  Marriott has developed a five-point strategy in collaboration with Conservation International which includes reducing fuel and water consumption by 25 per cent per available room over the next 10 years, installing solar power at up to 40 hotels by 2017, and expanding existing “reduce, reuse, recycle” programs.  All of these means higher profits for the owners, and increased capital values.

In the USA, there’s a scheme promoted by the Green Building Council called LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  LEED provides certification for “green” buildings, and the Proximity Hotel was the first to obtain a Platinum Award.  In some states in the USA, there are generous tax breaks for being certified, as well as savings on sales tax on recycled materials.

Given the phenomenal activity in the African hospitality business today, as evidenced by the unprecedented number of internationally-branded hotels which are under construction or in advanced stages of planning, shouldn’t Africa be taking a lead?  The triple benefits – cost savings from operations, consumer acceptability, and “doing the right thing” in a continent which still retains much of its natural environment – far outweigh any additional investment required.

And in conclusion, back to those bathroom towels.  Without the right attitude, green initiatives will not work.  Unless the guests, the staff and the management are all thinking “sustainable”, it becomes what the critics call “green wash” – all talk and no real action.  Accor are trialling their Green Shield programme, picking up on a Cornell study which proves that everyone responds best when the payback is clear.  They are calculating how much money can be saved by reusing towels, telling the customers and staff what that is, and donating the money to the UN’s Billion Tree Programme.  At the same time, staff are being trained to implement and communicate the initiative.

According to Kurt Ritter, CEO of Rezidor “We are living in a world which increasingly views green initiatives as a crucial foundation for business.”

For more information about green hotels:

http://www.tourismpartnership.org/

http://www.greenhotels.com/

http://www.responsiblehotelsoftheworld.com/

Katrina, I can add more if you think this works…..

Trevor Ward

W Hospitality Group, Lagos

trevor.ward@w-hospitalitygroup.com