It must be NOW

By Charlotte Winterbourne

On 13 and 14 January this year, I attended the 27th Hotel Leadership Conference presented by the Master Innholders at Hilton London Bankside. Across two days, the event aims to inspire and educate, offering unrivalled networking opportunities for those within the hospitality industry and a chance to find out more about the upcoming trends and increasing pressures that we face in the sector.

Following the launch of his initiative NOW Transforming Hospitality GmbH in 2017, which aims to encourage hoteliers to be more responsible, conscious and transparent, Onno Poortier, gave a thought-provoking presentation on why changing consumer attitudes to sustainability and the rising pressures on our planet have provided one of the biggest opportunities of our time to the hotel industry.

Accountability and sustainability

Sustainability can be defined as accountable and transparent actions that take responsibility for our total impact on the community and the environment, to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Today, travel is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries, expanding by between 3-5% every year, and contributing to 8% of global carbon emissions, with 20% of those emissions coming from the hospitality industry. If it was a country, travel and tourism would be the 5th largest emitter of carbon in the world, and by 2025, tourism is projected to contribute a staggering 12% to global carbon emissions.

However, many hoteliers still act like it’s business as usual, instead placing their focus on financial operations like profitability. In addition, accountability and sustainability has been unregulated in the hospitality industry since the 1980s and most hoteliers worldwide are doing little to nothing to reduce and offset their carbon emissions yet claim with creative PR that they’ve become sustainable – this is greenwashing.

Conscious hoteliers, however, are aware and deeply concerned of their negative impact, and consider profit, people and planet in all strategies and solutions.

Climate change

In October 2018, the UN IPCC report revealed that we have a 67% chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and we are now projected to reach this increase by 2028. This climate change has been attributed to some of the extreme weather conditions we are currently seeing, including wildfires, droughts and water shortages. Are hotels built and prepared for climate extremes, to both support their communities and their own business?


We are endangering our ecosystems and losing biodiversity at mass-extinction rate. Hotel business and tourism are so dependent on natural resources, the environment and attractive destinations for the experience it offers, therefore maintaining and protecting wildlife should be a key consideration for our industry.

We are endangering our food sources, including pumping plastics into our oceans. Food safety is paramount to hoteliers, so we show a lack of responsibility knowing we are part of the contribution of plastics in the sea, which in turn is consumed by the fish that our own guests eat.

Hoteliers must confront the new reality of tourism and take measures to protect their employees and guests from harm, and themselves from liability.


Most consumers are aware of the challenges that face the planet and what responsible companies should be doing to manage this operational footprint. By early 2019, global inactions and escalating anxieties marked the bold statement of activism across all age groups. Over 10 million people went on strike, supported by families, friends and those with social influence.

Climate change activism fuels changes in behaviour, such as movements like flight shaming. More are thinking about how they travel and are flying less, while night trains are making a return in popularity. Next will come cruise shaming, as this emits three times more carbon emissions than flights, and from a financial point of view, carbon taxes will keep rising as we get closer to the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase.

Conscious travellers will continue to grow. In 2019, 71% had stated that they wanted more sustainable travel choices, 68% wanted their travel investments to go back to the communities they travel to, and 78% said that they sought authentic, local experiences.

To earn the highest levels of consumer trust, brands must back up their brand promise with action, accountability and transparency. The conscious hotelier knows that business as usual is no longer an option, and they act. They are responsible and do the right thing. Luxury need not be wasteful, and the biggest standards of luxury can be delivered in a sustainable way. They know that sustainability has a tangible return on investment – it is doing well by doing good.

For the brand, the return on investment is customer loyalty. For talent, the return on investment is to attract and retain employees. For reputation, the return on investment is to be held in high esteem. For initiatives implemented, the return on investment is saving money.

To support conscious hoteliers, the NOW force for good alliance was launched – ‘good ROI on sustainability’:

  1. Form a sustainability team and collaborate with major stakeholders
  2. Establish a vision and action plan with budget for the long-term
  3. For accountability, implement an accredited sustainability programme with independent audits
  4. For transparency and trust, the NOW sustainability tool reinforces that your hotel is a brand that travellers can trust
  5. To reduce carbon footprint, use the NOW offset carbon tool
  6. Collaborate to support communities and deliver on the UN’s global goals

Find out more about NOW here, including how they can assist hotels in becoming carbon zero before 2025 whilst supporting the UN’s 17 global goals.

Get in touch to discover how Custard can help you communicate your sustainability strategy transparently and authentically.