Igniting Timely Changes for a Greener, Cleaner Luxury Hospitality Sector in Southeast Asia
Without a doubt, the hospitality sector continues to leave a monstrous carbon footprint in the world today. While there are officially no figures on the number of hotels operating in the region, there are over 430 properties proffering more than 70,000 rooms in Singapore alone based on figures released by the Singapore Tourism Board this year. Singapore is one of the smallest countries in existence so if we project this figure onto the geographical context of Southeast Asia with its countless burgeoning cities and tourist spots, the amount of energy, water and materials utilised by the industry in this end of the world alone is truly mind boggling.
While every hotel is bound to generate waste, it is troubling to consider how much more waste luxury class hotels are likely to create. For a business so inextricably tied to the promises of excess, a 5-star hotel is traditionally fused to so many expectations that some sustainable practices can be perceived as counter-luxury. A classic case in point is that after years of urging guests to reuse towels by hanging them up, new towels still invariably replace the used ones after rooms are made up.
‘It is challenging because sometimes guests who hang the towels still expect them to be changed because hanging towels after use is just habitual for them, but they still expect daily fresh towels. So after way too many complaints, housekeeping staff simply replace all the towels to avoid getting into trouble. Despite our best efforts, our failure to influence a change of mindset in the right direction can be frustrating.’ shared Olivier Lenoir, general manager of Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur, one of the Malaysian capital's most popular hospitality addresses.
Although it remains extremely challenging to change generational mindsets en masse and a pronto, it should be alarming to note that 9.6 million cubic metres of wastewater is generated annually in Thailand alone (according to a paper published by ASEAN Business Partners) of which a quarter of that is contributed by the hotel industry. It is thus heartening to learn that many luxury hotel managements have started to combat wastage collectively in the region.
‘Food waste is something that we try in earnest to reduce in our daily operations because we can make a difference through careful planning and execution. We buy what we need, cook what is needed and portion our dishes mindfully so we can cut wastage at its root. We also started using smaller plates and serving wares to control how much food guests can take each time. Our staff also proactively remind guests that our dishes won’t run out so there is no need to pile up on their plates ’ said Chan Tuck Wai, executive chef of Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay Singapore.
Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay Singapore was rebranded and relaunched in 2020 after an extensive renovation that imbued many green initiatives to its frameworks. Potable distilled water is now dispensed via newly installed drinking taps in every room, which in turn eliminated 360,000 single-use plastic bottles from its yearly inventory. The hotel, renowned for its urban oasis interior design and award winning restaurants, also had their focus on curbing food wastage from the start.
‘Because we have our own eco garden where we grow our own herbs and vegetables, we do not need to order in bulk anymore but are self-reliant on what we can produce. In the past we needed to order boxes of fresh herbs and greens just to use a portion of it for our garnishes before most of the rest had to be discarded because they deteriorate quickly. This has been rectified with us harvesting our own crops. We can now rely on our own garden for fresh ingredients which also creates a better dining experience for our guests on top of cost savings.’
For better or worse the concerns of costs have always been integral to sustainability efforts in the sector. An industry insider once shared that many hotel owners are hesitant to jump onto the sustainability bandwagon because of the high costs involved to effect the changes. At the stupendously luxurious Intercontinental Danang, general manager Seif Hamdy reported otherwise.
‘Óne of the good outcome of COVID for us was the changes we could make over the 2 years period to redouble our efforts to have a more positive impact on the environment. Firstly, we have planted over 50,000 trees and plants in and around our hotel. Today we also grow our own herbs and ingredients in our eco garden and have our own water plant to treat waste water and supply drinking water to all the rooms in the resort without plastic bottles. We are most proud of our ability to produce our own drinking water now, which has eliminated a yearly 420,000 plastic bottles from landfills.’
Hamdy also shed light on how he was able to share this vision with the resort’s owners and eventually got the green light for the green investments.
‘To create a truly sustainable hotel you have to take a step back. It is true that cost is a hindering factor but it is also down to how one makes a case to the owners. If an asset is worth some half a billion, it is just intelligent to spend a bit more to set up the necessary fixtures so waste can be properly managed and wastage can be eliminated. For example, the cost for our water plant was recovered within one year of operation so it isn't an unattainable goal at all.’
While cost is and remains intrinsically a major concern for the industry’s green transformation, the social cause isn’t entirely lost to some corporations.
‘Nearly five decades ago, in the 1980s, Sunway City Kuala Lumpur was little more than a wasteland, scarred by disused and abandoned mining pools, and virtually devoid of life following years of mining upheaval. It was then when our Sunway Group founder and chairman Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah had a vision to build a vibrant, integrated and sustainable township on this 800-acre piece of land. Through decades of ecological and environmental restoration initiatives, this desolate wasteland was transformed into a wonderland, cultivating a thriving biodiverse ecosystem brimming with flora and fauna. We have transplanted more than 30,000 trees and palms to serve as green lungs in Sunway City Kuala Lumpur and it is now home to more than 150 species of flora and fauna.’ shared Alex Castaldi, senior general manager of Sunway City Kuala Lumpur Hotels.
‘Sustainability remains a driving philosophy at Sunway, and many of the hotel’s high-tech upgrades, such as advanced air-conditioning systems, smart curtains, solar panels and motion-sensor LED lighting have further improved our cost efficiency. The use of plastic bags has been minimised and an urban hydroponic farm by Sunway XFarms supplies healthy, farm-fresh produce to all our restaurants including Gordon Ramsay Bar and Grill.’
Sunway Group, one of Malaysia’s largest conglomerates, is also taking food sustainability to the next level within its hotel operations and beyond. Beyond just tackling food wastage within its dozen properties across the country, the group has also invested in Sunway XFarm, an urban farm that specialises in utilising vertical spaces for pesticide free hydroponic vegetables.
‘At Sunway XFarms, our unique demand-driven business model allows us to ensure that every crop we grow has a buyer secured. This means that we are able to significantly keep wastage at a minimum without unnecessary surplus. We also adopt a same-day harvest approach with our customers as our produce is harvested and handed over to the food services within the same day to ensure peak freshness and flavour,’ shared Eleanor Choong, COO of Sunway XFarm. The green start-up provides wholesome fresh vegetables not just to Sunway hotels but also independent restaurants and residents across the country.
Echoing the sentiments of Castaldi, it is clear that besides green initiatives like urban farming and operational procedures, technology also plays an increasingly important role in the running of aspiring sustainable hotels today. The Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur is significantly reliant on emerging technology to aid its combat against food waste.
‘Regarding food waste management, our operations at Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur have undergone a transformation with the introduction of the Lumitics food waste tracking system since its inception in April 2022. Lumitics allowed us to harness valuable data on food waste, enabling us to make informed decisions about optimising food preparation for various dishes. This data-driven approach resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of food required for preparation, promoting more efficient kitchen operations.
'Comparing the years 2022 and 2023, we can discern the remarkable progress achieved through the Lumitics system, particularly when examining the data for our restaurants For example, in 2022, the anticipated food waste at our all-day-diner JP Teres was projected to reach 20,111 kg if the Lumitics system was not in place. However, the successful integration of Lumitics into our operations in 2023 resulted in an astonishing reduction, with the actual food waste amounting to a mere 2,118 kg.’ Lenoir shared.
Back at Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay Singapore, technological advancements have also aided their cuts in cost and carbon emissions.
‘The hotel switched from a traditional chafing dish system to the EcoBurner system, a new line of waterless and cableless chafing dishes. In 2022, the hotel saved a total of 14,400 litres of water, prevented 2,738kg of waste from going to the landfill, and reduced carbon emission by 12 tonnes in 2022’ said Chef Chan.
Out of the Cities
Compared to city hotels, resort folks seem to have simpler but no less effective strategies when it comes to sustainability. At the stunning Alila Uluwatu, a Balinese hospitality landmark perched dramatically on an ocean-fronting cliff, its earth saving remedies are quite literally down to earth.
‘Inside the Hyatt Universe, Alila is the brand that registers the lowest percentages of food waste related financial loss. One of the main reasons is that we tackle the issue at the source by eliminating the buffet system and by paying close attention to our occupancy rates to make purchasing decisions and to decide on the number of stand-by preparations. Regarding big events, we work closely with the event organisers to have early confirmation of the number of attendees to make better decisions as well. We also creatively make the most of the ingredients we purchase in the kitchens, and our liquid artist is widely known for creating an innovative line of drinks made sustainably, using ingredients grown organically in our own garden and varieties native to the Uluwatu area.’ shared Silvina Miguel, a sustainability consultant and permaculture designer working with the resort.
Progressing along similar tracks, Buahan, A Banyan Tree Escape raised within the pristine green belt of Bali’s Gianyar region, practises an initiative named the 'zero-mile policy' that is a fundamental aspect of their commitment to sustainability and responsible sourcing. The resort strives to procure the majority of their FnB operation’s ingredients from within the premises of the resort itself and if it's not possible to produce certain items on-site, they prioritise obtaining them from local sources within a certain radius around the resort.
Clearly, whether the approach is highly technological or simplistically down to earth, a single step taken today will have a tremendous impact on our living planet in the years to come. While the time is neigh, the collective stride forward taken by this massive industry may just be a timely antidote to the years of disastrous abuses and irreversible harm we have already inflicted on the planet, our only home in the entire universe as we know it.