Checking out carbon

9th June 2013


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A new measurement methodology is set to transform the way in which the hospitality sector reports carbon emissions. the environmentalist finds out how it works

The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) represent most of the world’s leading hotel chains, including InterContinental Hotels Group and Premier Inn. Through a joint working group, the ITP and WTTC have developed the hotel carbon measurement initiative (HCMI 1.0), a calculation methodology that its members and the wider hotel sector can use to measure and report carbon emissions from a hotel stay or event.

Launched in June 2012, the first iteration of HCMI was the result of many months’ work by the 22 hotel companies in the working group. Developing an industry methodology for calculating carbon emissions was no mean feat: it needed to be robust enough to meet international environment reporting standards, while remaining adaptable enough for hotel managers to implement around the globe.

“HCMI is a flexible and user-friendly measurement tool designed to be applied to any hotel around the world – big or small, casino hotel or bed and breakfast,” says Fran Hughes, head of programmes for ITP. “However, producing a simple methodology that meets the needs of such a diverse range of hotels required a lot of hard work.”

A common approach

The key impetus for developing HCMI 1.0 was to meet client requests for information on carbon emissions associated with meetings and overnight stays at hotels.

“During the ‘request for proposal’ (RFP) process, when hotels bid to host corporate events or meetings, potential clients are increasingly asking questions relating to the carbon footprint for an event or overnight stay,” Hughes explains. “But the many different methodologies and systems available to hotels in measuring and reporting carbon emissions have resulted in confusion when customers attempt to compare emissions from one hotel with another.”

ITP and WTTC saw an opportunity to improve how the hotel industry communicates its impacts by developing a methodology to report on carbon emissions in a uniform way. In the absence of a measurement framework suitable for the diverse range of organisations in the hospitality industry, the working group decided to start from scratch and build a bespoke tool.

HCMI 1.0 enables hotels to measure a carbon footprint per occupied room on a daily basis and per area of meeting space on an hourly basis. This information can subsequently be used to calculate the carbon footprint of an individual client’s use of the hotel.

The hotel companies involved in developing HCMI 1.0 compete for business on a day-to-day basis, but have also started to establish a tradition of working in partnership on issues that affect the interests of the sector as a whole. Managing and reporting on environmental impacts is a prime example, and building consensus on the details of the new carbon calculation methodology required time and commitment on the part of all working group members.

With HCMI expected to be relevant in any country and applicable to hotels ranging from four to 4,000 rooms, securing agreement on some of the finer details demanded serious discussion. It also required significant compromise by some hotel chains that had already developed their own measurement frameworks and would now need to adapt to the common methodology.

Dirty laundry

One issue that prompted extensive discussion was how HCMI should deal with the emissions generated offsite or through outsourced activities – most notably laundry operations, a significant source of emissions and a key area of many hotels’ environmental programmes. Some hotels – in the working group and those that gave feedback during the testing phase – voiced concern about including laundry services in the reporting framework.

However, the working group agreed that it would be counter-intuitive not to include it in the tool, since this is one of the most visible signs of a guest’s carbon footprint, with many hotels placing cards in rooms reminding guests of the environmental impacts arising from daily linen changes.

Facilitating the working group’s many virtual conference calls and in-person meetings also presented a practical challenge, with members based around the globe and operating within different time zones. Bringing together all the group’s members for regular face-to-face meetings was neither practical nor environmentally sound, but the project did involve two working group meetings – one each in the UK and the US.

Developing the tool

In partnership with external consultant Eric Ricaurte, phase one of the project involved developing a basic methodology proposal for piloting to stakeholders.

The methodology is informed by the greenhouse-gas (GHG) protocol and the working group also incorporated ongoing research from Cornell University’s centre for hospitality research to determine the materiality of certain mobile emissions (for example, from hotel cars, shuttle buses and lawn mowers) and fugitive emissions (such as refrigerants).

HCMI measures all energy used onsite and includes some carbon emissions that may arise offsite, such as the aforementioned laundry activities. It recognises that some hotels operate a number of different facilities and, to improve comparability, excludes emissions from private areas that are not accessed by guests.

Applied at an individual hotel level, the property manager can obtain the data needed for the methodology through readily available sources of information such as energy bills or via smart meters. The property needs to carry out the calculations once every reporting year, with the “standing data” – measurements for total area of guest rooms and meeting facility space – unlikely to change from year to year.

Annual data entered into the tool includes the total number of occupied rooms for the reporting year, together with total energy consumption. If a hotel does not have data for the whole year, there is provision to approximate its consumption based on the Environment Agency’s estimation techniques.

Emission factors, that convert energy consumption into GHG emissions are also taken into account and the tool provides guidance on selecting the most current and relevant factors.

The third and final data category is “supplementary” and relates mainly to outsourced laundry activities. Hughes says that many hotels have been able to obtain energy consumption data from their laundry suppliers, which can be incorporated into the methodology. Where this information is not readily available, the tool allows for the hotel to calculate the energy consumed by its laundry activities based on the tonnage of linen laundered each year.

The next step is to apportion energy consumption between rooms and meeting space, which provides a carbon footprint per room per night based on occupancy and, similarly, a meeting room footprint per hour.

HCMI 1.0 is supported by guidance and a spreadsheet for data entry and calculations, unless the hotel wants to use its own system for producing the carbon calculation based on the common methodology.

HCMI 1.0 in practice

Phase two of the project was supported by accountancy firm KPMG and involved testing HCMI 1.0 in 52 hotels across 16 countries. Aside from member companies and their properties, the ITP and WTTC working group reached out to more than 50 stakeholders – ranging from industry associations, travel management companies, certification schemes and academics – asking for input on the methodology.

The objectives of the testing phase related to:

  • General understanding – Was the process intuitive and easy to understand? Was anything unclear? What, if any, changes could be made to improve or refine the process?
  • Complexity – What effort was required to fill in the spreadsheet? What was difficult? What was easy? What were the time commitments?
  • Completeness – Could hotels input all the necessary information? Was anything missing? What was new?
  • Level of accuracy – Where did the data come from? Were estimations used? Was there enough granularity or options?

The working group developing HCMI received considerable feedback on the methodology, relating mainly to technical queries and clarifications. The comments received from hotels using the tool were generally positive, with the staff responsible for completing the carbon footprint calculations finding it user-friendly. On average it took just two hours to complete the spreadsheet.

The group categorised the comments received and the issues raised during the consultation phase. “The feedback was very useful and we made some changes as a result,” says Hughes. “But we had to be guided by our original objective of producing a methodology that was accessible and simple, and met clients’ needs.”

Responding to feedback

Some comments suggested that HCMI incorporate a different footprinting metric, based on carbon emissions per guest rather than per room. But this change was not incorporated because the calculation would have been more difficult to obtain and feedback from corporate clients confirmed they wanted to retain the original metric.

The consultation also raised the issue of emission factors. “Hotels in some countries, such as Kenya, are not as familiar with the concept or how to apply emission factors to the methodology, and have no national resources to help them,” says Hughes. “This means that it is very important to provide guidance on this area.”

Seasonality was another area of discussion: should the methodology be adapted to allow for a different carbon footprint for different seasons? Again, the working group felt that it was important to stick to the methodology’s guiding principle of simplicity – in its early stages, at least – and average out carbon emissions across the year.

The group took the same approach in respect of carbon intensity. Clearly, some hotel rooms – depending on size and other factors – produce more carbon emissions than others. But unless a property has smart meters installed it could be too complex for some establishments to calculate its carbon footprint on a room-by-room basis. “With all the feedback we received, we had to balance the perceived rigour of the tool against practicality,” says Hughes. “Our key aim was to encourage wide uptake of the methodology across the industry and so it has to be easy to use.”

Continuous improvement

HCMI 1.0 is just the first iteration of the methodology and the working group is refining it, together with the calculation tool, for relaunch later this year. The first-year review of the tool has taken on board new research and technical developments, revisited some of the issues raised in the consultation phase and further developed supporting materials and guidance.

About 25,000 hotels are now using HCMI 1.0 and Hughes reports that uptake is increasing steadily. So far, ITP and WTTC have received more than 400 requests for the methodology from about 90 countries. Most of these enquiries are from consultancies and hotels.

“There is a lot of energy and interest around the tool within the industry that we hope will increase further,” says Hughes. “The entire hotel sector now needs to adopt this freely available methodology – only then can the industry speak with one voice on the crucial and complex issue of carbon measurement.”

A free copy of HCMI 1.0 can be requested by emailing

InterContinental Hotels Group

Robert McCann, corporate responsibility manager for environmental sustainability at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), whose brands include Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn, is a member of the HCMI working group.

He says: “IHG has built the methodology into its online sustainability programme, called ‘green engage’. This enables hotels to measure, manage and reduce their environmental impacts, and suggests more than 200 green solutions for our hotels to implement.”

Up-to-date utility and fuel data, as well as correct information about each hotel, such as floor areas, is used to automatically calculate the carbon footprint, he explains. “Because we’ve been able to automate the process – which was one of our key objectives from the beginning of our involvement – our hotels are finding HCMI 1.0 very easy to use. HCMI will only be successful if it is used at scale, and embedding it into our tool enables just that.”

According to McCann there are several benefits to using HCMI 1.0 and having a common methodology across the industry. He says that InterContinental would much rather be compared using a standard methodology than what was happening previously, with some groups reporting by floor area, per guest, per available rooms and occupied rooms, and often with different units of measurement. “Now, the figures mean a lot more and will support carbon reduction across the industry. While it’s still not the perfect comparison, since every hotel and brand is different, it helps corporate clients to begin to make more informed decisions about sustainable hotels,” says McCann.

He explains that HCMI 1.0 also saves everyone at IHG time, from hotel managers and the sales teams to the corporate responsibility team. “Building the methodology into our green engage online programme enables our hotels to spend more time on understanding their footprint and how they can reduce it. As a group, we are seeing increased demand for green meeting spaces and to be able to measure the impacts of holding a meeting. HCMI 1.0 enables our hotels to provide corporate clients with a carbon footprint for a meeting, ensuring our hotels are able to compete and support our clients’ desire for more sustainable meetings.”

IHG had three key objectives for HCMI 1.0: build a trusted, reputable methodology that would be accepted by corporate clients; make it easy to use and understand; and make it scalable. “I think we’ve managed to achieve all three goals and we now have the chance to drive up usage both internally and across the industry,” says McCann.

Premier Inn, Whitbread Group

Chris George, head of energy and environment at Whitbread, which operates Premier Inn, serves on the HCMI working group. He says: “The HCMI measurement tool gave Whitbread an opportunity to improve how the hotel industry communicates and benchmarks its environmental impacts.

Previously established approaches to measuring and reporting carbon emissions in the industry tended to vary widely and could be difficult to manage and understand. This has led to confusion among customers, particularly for business clients, who are looking to understand their own potential carbon footprints to ensure they are meeting their organisation’s environment targets.”

He also says that implementing the HCMI tool across its hotel portfolio has enabled Premier Inn managers to share best practice and to better understand the carbon footprint of their site per guest and per hire of a meeting room. As a result, Premier Inn managers now look for innovative ways to cut costs on utilities, as well as practical approaches to raise awareness among staff and customers, confirms George.

After input from the International Tourism Partnership and its own key stakeholders, Whitbread integrated the HCMI tool into its internal energy tracking and reporting system to calculate and communicate carbon emissions from guest and meeting rooms in a uniform way. “Building on our own corporate responsibility language, Whitbread team members can now provide a clear and practical response to our guests’ carbon data needs,” says George.

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