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Kate Zerrenner headshot

Ecolab Has a Sustainability Plan for the Hospitality Sector

By Kate Zerrenner

Image: Between laundry, food, cleaning and, yes, swimming pools, 10 percent of hotels’ utility bills are linked to water consumption. Ecolab, a $13 billion company, says it has a plan to help industries, including the hospitality sector, become far more sustainable.

Ecolab is a 97-year-old company that provides consulting services and solutions on water, hygiene, and infection prevention to the food, healthcare, hospitality and industrial markets. In a bid to show its leadership over the next decade, the company recently launched its 2030 Impact Goals for streamlining both its own operations and how it will approach its work with customers.

For its customer-driven work, Ecolab aims to help the industries with which it works by conserving 300 billion gallons of water annually while helping its customers become carbon neutral by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 4.5 million metric tons.

When looking at its customer base, the company will face many challenges in executing this strategy over the next 10 years. The hospitality industry, in particular, has an uneven success rate in meeting sustainability goals. But Ecolab, with its presence at 3 million commercial locations, is primed to meet and even exceed these goals.

Ecolab could rethink how the hospitality sector approaches sustainability

With much of the world not traveling during the coronavirus pandemic, the hospitality industry has taken a major financial hit. But hotels will fill their rooms again, and they will once again be dealing with big utility bills.

One of the problems facing hotels when it comes to energy and water use is the same as apartment buildings: the split incentive. The people who build or own hotels are typically not the people who manage or run them. Those that do typically have more robust sustainability achievements as opposed to those who rely on investor-owned properties. Appliance and equipment upgrades have an upfront cost, which may not translate into savings in short-term profit statements.

Hotels are responsible for about 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in normal times, and they are also significant water users, from laundry to food services to meeting guests’ needs. About 10 percent of a hotel’s utility bill is for water. An important thing to note about Ecolab’s goals is that one of the ways it intends to help customers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is through water conservation and better water management practices.

This matters for two reasons: Looking at emissions and water holistically increases the opportunities and efficiencies in any strategy deployed as water conservation measures are typically cheaper to implement than energy-efficiency measures. The state of California found that utilities could achieve the same level of energy reductions using water conservation as they could using traditional energy-efficiency measures, but at half the cost. For an industry already faced with plummeting revenues, such a strategy could be an important selling point.

The global hospitality sector has set ambitious goals, but could use a lift

The hospitality industry is vast, with every conceivable size, budget, and level of commitment to sustainability represented. The industry as a whole has set significant goals and made commendable improvements. For example, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) states that the industry must reduce emissions by 66 percent by 2030 to stay within the acceptable 2 degrees Celsius threshold set by the Paris climate agreement. The ITP requires members to set science-based targets and provides a Hotel Footprinting Tool to help them do that.

But some insiders say that the goals being set by different companies are not as effective as they could be. Tangible goals designed for the hospitality industry could help with consistency and measurement as well as provide an understandable goal for the hotels themselves, such as a carbon dioxide-equivalent/room-night. Science-based goals and accountability are critical for success.

One day we will all be able to travel again. In the meantime, while more people stay home, it is a good opportunity for hotels to set serious goals and figure out how to implement them. Addressing water conservation as a way to reduce not only overall emissions but also water use itself must be a critical component of the hospitality industry’s sustainability goals. We’ll be pleased to see the strides they’ve made when we book our stay — and Ecolab’s work could be an important factor in experiencing a far different hospitality industry a decade from now.

Image credit: Luke Bender/Unsplash

Kate Zerrenner headshot

Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.

Read more stories by Kate Zerrenner