Updated: May 16
Staying in the world’s most sustainable hotels is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint when travelling. If you’re conscious about doing good for the environment (but still want an amazing travel experience), a sustainable hotel holiday is just want you need. Waste in the hotels and hospitality industries is a major problem – you only need to read the statistics to realise the staggering challenge the sector faces. But there are so many options around the world for a true ‘green hotel experience’, without having to sacrifice a remarkable holiday.
We’ve outlined a comprehensive list of the world’s most sustainable hotels, updated for 2021 (although you might not be able to visit them just yet … COVID).
We’ve broken up this blog into several parts:
What is a sustainable hotel?
Why should hotels be more sustainable?
Our Ultimate List of the World’s Most Sustainable Hotels in 2021
How can hotels be more sustainable?
What is a sustainable hotel?
The concept is simple. It’s an eco-aware hotel that seeks to reduce its carbon footprint as much as possible by adopting sustainability initiatives. Many hotels and accommodation providers seek sustainability by changing the foundation - moving towards eco-friendly hotel designs, as well as making short and long-term investments in eco-friendly infrastructure ranging from solar panels to water recycling facilities. Others choose to tackle waste problem which includes food and energy waste, but also water runoff. In addition, sustainable hotels try to source food locally, rather than transporting food from long distances in carbon emitting trucks. Finally, truly sustainable hotels incorporate reusable products (such as TOMbag reusable garbage bags!) in their day-to-day operations as a way to shift away from take-make-waste thinking.
Embrace the new world of eco-travel – these practices are here to stay.
Why should hotels be more sustainable?
The world is changing, and hotels should take (and are in fact taking) dramatic steps to becoming more sustainable. There are literally dozens of reasons why hotels should “go green”, but here are the main ones:
- They waste way too much.
Ranging from food and energy to water and plastic, hotels are some of largest wasters in the world. “Some are doing a great job, but most of the players in the industry do not care at all,” according to LightBlue Environmental Consulting managing director Benjamin Lephilibert.
Get ready to be shocked. The oft-quoted statistics on waste in the hospitality industry were presented by Wrap, a UK-based global charity with the prime objective to create a more sustainable world. Their study showed that, in the United Kingdom alone hotels produce 289,700 tonne of waste each year, 9% of which is food waste.
In Australia, the situation doesn’t fare too much better. According to the most recent statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia generated 76 million tonnes of waste in 2018-19. Data collected by the Western Australian Government indicate that hotels play a big part of the problem. Their study found that four and five-star hotels in WA dispose of 11,749 tonnes of waste every year. Approximately 7,707 tonnes of this waste ends up in landfill - or 181 semi-trailers full of waste! Those statistics were reported in 2008. We’ve progressed since then.
- Sustainable hotel business practices are becoming more and more and popular.
A 2018 BRITA UK report have found that 81% of surveyed hospitality businesses in the UK aim to reduce their waste levels - mainly through supporting a levy on using single-use plastic items, reducing consumption energy and seeking out work with more eco-friendly suppliers. The eco-aware hotel concept is on the rise!
- Reducing costs.
If helping the environment isn’t a good enough reason, the reduction of hotel waste from operations can really reduce both operating and running costs. In the United States energy consumption across hotels account for around 60% of their environmental carbon footprint – but also 60% of their utilities spending: an easy area to switch to renewable forms of energy. There are some great examples proving that “green” means cost-effective. The Chatwal Hotel in New York, for example, retrofitted around 1,300 lamps with smart lighting, achieving a 90% reduction in their lighting energy intake. Also the Hilton San Fransisco Union Square reported saving $200,000 a year by adopting a sustainable waste management plan.
- Consumers want it.
The market is rapidly changing, and consumers want their hotel providers to adopt more hotel sustainability initiatives in the accommodation they visit. The statistics back it up. Booking.com’s 2019 Sustainable Travel Report found that 72% of travellers believe we need to act now and make eco-friendly travel choices to rescue our planet. 62% of surveyed travellers also indicated they’d feel better if their accommodation had an environmentally friendly label.
- Hotels are the natural leaders of eco-friendly accommodation and tourism.
Whether hotels believe it or not, they have a responsibility as the natural leaders of global accommodation to make the change we need. There continues to be a battle between AirBnb and hotels over which is the more “green” option for guests. But despite this, hotels are the preferred option for business travellers. They must act now and continue to improve their sustainability. Below, we’ll show our top 8 list of the world’s most sustainable hotels in 2021.
The Ultimate List: The World’s Most Sustainable Hotels in 2021
We’re proud to outline our ultimate list of the most sustainable hotels in the world. The list is in no particular order – we love them all equally!
The Red Sea Project is an exciting new green hotels development off the Saudi Arabian west coast on an island called Shurayrah. Eleven new resorts are set to be built and open their doors on this slice of heaven in 2023. If you find yourself venturing there, you'll find the fourth largest barrier reef in the entire world (so not quite as big as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef)! This paradise is also referred to as "Coral Blue", and many endangered species such as the green and hawksbill turtle call the place home.
Yes, we know what you’re thinking: “Great, another resort being built to destroy our oceans”. But no - this isn’t just an ordinary resort. The prime objective of this resort is to “set new standards in sustainable development, respecting the natural world ... and protecting the destination for the future”. The project aims to be ‘smart & sustainable by embracing smart technologies ranging from the virtual concierge to biometrics, banning single-use plastics and aiming to generate 100% renewable energy at every hour of the day. The Red Sea Project also aims to take advantage of centralised journey planning with the ultimate goal of combatting over-tourism which has a huge impact on natural environments. All these sustainability initiatives will help this ambitious hospitality project to achieve complete carbon neutrality. Quite impressive, right?
Iberostar is an international Spain-based tourism company and major hotel group, headquartered in Palma de Majorca. The group announced a project known as the Wave of Change aimed at conserving the world’s oceans and promoting sustainable tourism.
For some background, and to understand the importance of this massive commitment, just check out the colossal impact climate change has on our oceans. Given that 80% of Iberostar’s hotels are on the beach, they’ve committed to tackling the threats to our oceans by eradicating single-use plastic, promoting sustainable fishing, and improving the health of the world’s coasts. The hotel successfully ceased using all single-use plastics across its operations in 2020, despite plastic waste increasing during the pandemic. The hotel has now committed to being completely carbon neutral by 2030. They deserve nothing but applause!
#3 1 Hotels
1 Hotels has been heralded as a “sustainability leader in the hospitality industry”. Why? Because they’ve adopted eco-friendly hotel designs and practices across their accommodation at a tremendous scale, including removing straws across their hotels, using key cards made from recycled wood and placing an hourglass in bathrooms so guests know how long they should be showering for. 1 Hotels also replaced their single-use products with more sustainable alternatives, such as glassware and recyclable materials for takeaway orders and introduced an “Earth Day Every Day” campaign back in 2018. 1 Hotels are designed with a sustainable vibe - for example, in 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge guests are welcomed by a forest-like lobby. They call themselves ‘sustainable luxury hotels’ for a good reason!
The Spanish-based Meliá Hotels was named the most sustainable hotel company in the world in 2019 by the SAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA). This is no small feat. The CSA looks at the performance of over 4,700 companies across a raft of industries, and Meliá came out on top for theirs. And we’re not surprised. The eco-friendly hotel chain has already raised their renewable energy usage to 60% across its entire international operation of hotels and to 100% in Spain. They achieved great results with carbon emissions, too - reportedly, Meliá Hotels International has cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 15%. They aim to cut it further and achieve 50% reduction in emissions per guest stay by 2035.
Earlier in 2021, Meliá announced its massive commitment to ‘decarbonise’ the entire sector. It aims to do this by driving a €129 million overhaul of hotel management, leading it to adopt a much more sustainable model of doing business. This hotel never ceases to impress – check out further detailed information in their Integrated Report 2019.
#5 Six Senses
According to global hotel operator Six Senses “sustainability is not something that we do; it is who we are”. And being one of the most impressive green hotels we’ve seen, that’s super clear from their sustainability strategy.
A part of this strategy is an ambitious goal of being completely plastic-free by 2022 and sourcing supplies locally which includes hosting their own organic garden. Six Senses also plans to use eco-friendly building materials to construct their properties and run a Sustainability Fund to restore wildlife habitats and populations.
A great example of Six Senses sustainability efforts is their Fiji resort on Malolo Island. This Six Senses property prides itself on being plastic-free, being constructed from natural stones and operating by running on a massive off-grid solar system.
They’ve also gone to extensive efforts to employ the local community, safeguard endangered species such as the crested iguana and convert rainwater into drinking water for their visitors.
It’s no wonder why their Fiji resort won the ‘Climate Action Category’ at the HICAP 2018 Sustainable Hotel Awards.
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Group (the HSH Group) boast “sustainable luxury” for their Peninsula Hotels – and they mean it. The operator has extensively committed to corporate responsibility and sustainability goals for decades, even during the tough COVID-19 pandemic. It involves a heavy-handed commitment to everything from waste management and water efficiency to sustainable building design and renewable energy.
Some of their incredible achievements over the past 10 years has included achieving a near 100% petroleum plastic-free bathroom amenity line and rolling out LED lamp replacements across their group. There are also some interesting sustainability initiatives rolled out across individual Peninsula hotels. For instance, Peninsula Beverly Hills installed waterless urinals, as well as a waterless car wash which helps to save a lot of water resource. The Peninsula New York introduced a food digester with a goal to repurpose the waste sent to landfill.
Finally, the Peninsula Bangkok developed a wastewater treatment facility to turn waste into resource again. You can see a comprehensive outline of all HSH Group sustainability commitments in their 2020 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Report.
IHCL is the largest hospitality company across South Asia – and they’ve adopted a firm commitment to achieving sustainability across their organisation. In fact, they’re calling sustainability a “prerequisite” for “wherever we do business”. The eco-friendly hotel chain has achieved some massive wins throughout the years. One of their main achievements was getting rid of single-use plastic and cutting their carbon footprint. The sustainable hotel chain also use renewable energy sources to power their hotels and recycle their organic waste. In 2019-2020 financial year 53 hotels under IHCL brand were recycling all of their organic waste. IHCL sustainability efforts are recognised - in total, 78 IHCL hotels hold a prestigious Earth Check Certification.
In 2021, the company announced their creation of bottling plants in 15 different IHCL hotels, operating on sustainable green energy – contributing to their further commitment to creating a more sustainable world.
#8 Sands China
Sands China, a resort operator based out of Macau and a subsidiary of the U.S. resort giant Las Vegas Sands, never cease to amaze. They boast a huge range of sustainability accomplishments including removing 2.2 million plastic straws across their operations and 15000 plastic garment bags from their laundries. Sands China also manage to divert over 8000 tonnes of waste through recycling and save over 23 million kilowatt hours through running 24 energy efficiency projects.
But that’s not all. Sands China have now committed to developing eco-friendly hotel designs and constructing green buildings. For example, the Sheraton Grand Sky Tower is going to be completely powered by a newly installed solar thermal hybrid energy plant. It’s no wonder the hotel was awarded LEED Silver Certification. You can read much more on these impressive highlights in their 2019 Sustainability Report.
How can hotels be more sustainable?
By taking inspiration from all the leaders in the hospitality industry we’ve discussed above. In order to be sustainable, a hotel must aim to reduce waste generated from its operational activities and embrace renewable energy. One of the top priorities will also be complete elimination of single-use plastics and transitioning to reusable alternatives instead. As seen from our ultimate list of the world’s most sustainable hotels, another important prerequisite is adoption of eco-friendly designs and building materials. At the end, all these strategies enable a hotel to cut their carbon emissions and be on the path to the environmental success.
We’re inspired by the world’s most sustainable hotels.
Here at TOMbag, we’re to help hotels achieve their sustainability goals through one unique tactic – removing single-use garbage bags. We’ve created TOMbag, the world’s first ever reusable bin liner. It’s a smart, cost-effective and creative hotel sustainability initiative that can be used in operations across the world.
Hotel sustainability trends in 2020 are sure to continue in 2021 – and TOMbag will be part of that trend. By cutting costs on wasteful plastic garbage bags or garbage bags made out of bioplastics, and embracing an eco-friendly reusable alternative, hoteliers will be able to exceed their sustainability goals and truly set new standards for the industry.
Interested? Learn more right here.