Luxury hospitality means offerings guests a five-star service no matter the method, but the industry and its customers are starting to recognize that the future of this business will be cut short without a focus on the environmental impact of their operations.

Luxury today often means going where no one else can go with all the bells and whistles of a five-star property, which poses a challenges for operators who must balance their customers’ lavish expectations while protecting their sensitive ecosystem.

For many of these hotels, the pure landscapes, clear seas, and fresh mountain air that they sell are at risk from their operation. Luxury hotels in more urban settings are also becoming aware that daily sheet changes consume far too much water.

The emergence of a social trend that emphasizes consciousness around conservation is influencing the market and making this an important factor (and marketing tool) in gaining luxury travelers’ approval.

“Sustainability is a growing priority for these customers, and therefore an urgent imperative for upscale labels—and one that will only become more critical as they increasingly look to younger customers who grew up steeped in “aspirational” culture,” summarizes Marc Bain in a Quartz article titled. It’s a trend that transcends fashion, automobiles or travel to impact the entire luxury market.

Highlighting the shift in focus towards sustainability is the UNWTO’s designation of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. More and more hospitality companies are adopting the concept of a triple bottom line which takes into account environment and social performance in addition to profit-based financial reporting.

The industry is responding quickly and promoting its green initiatives, but are they doing enough?

We speak to those in charge of leading environmental sustainability at luxury brands and individual properties across the spectrum — including The Ritz-Carlton, Six SensesSingita, and Hotel Terra Jackson Hole — to learn how the demand for sustainability has changed, what ground-level efforts have the largest impact, and whether they can back up their marketing claims with real action.

The future of luxury hospitality and the planet demands on it.

Skift: How have you seen demand for sustainability change over the past 10 or 5 years?

Amber Marie Beard, Vice President Sustainability at Six Senses: Across all industries, there is a growing awareness around sustainability which has evolved from a “nice thing to do” to being an integral component of business strategy as companies look towards the future with regards to the impacts and associated challenges of climate change, growing regulation, and demand for transparency around sustainability-related topics.

Tu Rinsche, Director of Global Responsibility for The Ritz-Carlton: Environmental and community responsibility has become more and more of a priority for guests in recent years and they want to know that the companies they choose to engage with are having positive impacts on the world around them.

Stephen Lane, Director of Marketing at Hotel Terra Jackson Hole: Now it is standard operating procedure for most hotels and companies – so if anything the demand is now an expectation.

Andrea Ferry, Sustainability Coordinator at Singita. : Absolutely, our guests are much more aware of sustainability than they were a few years ago. This is especially so for our younger guests. Guests will question our practices, food offering and community involvement; and we welcome this. Guests are practicing sustainability at home and so expect us to provide the opportunities to carry on their good practices (such a recycling) while they are on vacation.

Skift: Which of your efforts has the biggest impact on overall energy efficiency?

Beard of Six Senses: Basic passive architectural strategies. Buildings need to be designed right (siting, orientation, massing and efficient building envelopes) before mechanical energy efficiency strategies and renewable energy concepts are applied for maximum efficiency.

Rinsche of The Ritz-Carlton: One thing that many of our hotels across the entire portfolio are doing is switching out all of hotel lighting over to LED or more energy efficient alternatives. Taken cumulatively across more than 90 hotels worldwide, what can sound like a small change, makes for a really big impact in increasing our overall energy efficiency.

Lane of Hotel Terra Jackson Hole: Our windows are Energy Star approved and extremely efficient, with “Low E” reflective coating to keep heat in during winter and out during summer. Beyond energy, our water conservation efforts have had major impacts with low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets.

Ferry of Singita: Transitioning a number of our lodges form fossil fuels to renewable energy has had the biggest impact. The aim is ultimately to use Zero Carbon Energy.

Skift: What do you do when faced with the question of sustainability versus economics?

Beard of Six Senses:: It’s important to be able to develop a financial ROI as well as a SROI (sustainable return on investment). The two need to be presented and considered in balance with each other when considering the investment.

Rinsche of The Ritz-Carlton: That’s an interesting question and I think LED lighting is a perfect example of this. LED bulbs are more expensive than traditional light bulbs when they are first purchased, but in the long run, not only do they last longer, they dramatically cut back on energy costs.

In business it can be difficult to balance short term profits versus long term investments, but conservation is something that we as a company have always felt very strongly about and it allows us to strive towards goals such as this.

Ferry of Singita: This is always a challenge, but it depends on the view one takes. At Singita, sustainability is part of our business strategy and we also take a longer-term view — hence our 100 year purpose. We see sustainability initiatives as enhancing our ability to attract guests, quality staff and goodwill from local communities. These all attract financial benefits.

Skift: What are the biggest challenges you face in terms of sustainability for the future?

Rinsche of The Ritz-Carlton: One of the biggest challenges with something as large and all-encompassing as sustainability is measurement – How do we monitor and evaluate success? No matter how much great work we do, there is always more that can be done, so how do we take note of the steps being taken and set goals and benchmarks for continued success?

Lane of Hotel Terra Jackson Hole: Are guests willing to pay more per night knowing that our property is one of the leaders in sustainability efforts in the area?

Ferry of Singita: The conservation of wildlife and the continued recognition of Protected Areas is our biggest challenge. Increasing human demand for grazing land, food (poaching), and areas to live means increased pressure on the Protected Areas in which Singita operates. We aim to ameliorate these effects as far as possible by maintaining good relationships with the communities we operate alongside, providing economic support for their businesses and employment opportunities.

Skift: How do you communicate your sustainability efforts to guests?

Beard of Six Senses: While sustainability is mentioned on our website, we use social media a lot to communicate our efforts in sustainability. In addition to that, on each property we have ‘The Good Stuff’ as part of each in-villa compendium which outlines what we do in sustainability both as a company and on that particular resort. We offer sustainability tours, guided by the property’s Sustainability Manager, for guests who are interested in learning more about how we operate sustainably to explore our Six Senses Water plants, water treatment system and Earth Labs where we recycle, reuse and compost our waste material as well as where our grow our organic produce.

Rinsche of The Ritz-Carlton: In the past, we haven’t really communicated it, but this is an area we plan to focus on in a big way going forward. We want to encourage our guests to get involved in the diverse programs at our hotels and the only way to do this is to communicate these opportunities to them.

Ferry of Singita: Our primary method of communicating our sustainable efforts is through our employees. They are our best ambassadors, who are fully equipped, to explain this message to our guests.

Skift: Do you think that some hotels use sustainability more as a marketing tool than internal value?

Beard of Six Senses: Absolutely. It is the same with any other industry. It’s a shame because those that do are missing out on the true power that sustainability can have when fully integrated into their business.

Rinsche of The Ritz-Carlton: As sustainability becomes more and more of a priority for guests, it is important that hotels communicate their work in this arena, however, it is also important to remember why we do these things in the first place and the true purpose of these initiatives.

Ferry of Singita: Guests are increasingly motivated to travel to places that implement good environmental practices in their operations. Including this type of messaging in our marketing is helpful to guests when making decisions on travel. We understand the importance consumers are placing on this and we’re sharing our success stories with them.

Photo Credit: The entrance to Hotel Terra Jackson Hole -- a 132-room, Silver LEED Certified, luxury hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Hotel Terra Jackson Hotel