Tourism, and in particular the hotel industry, demands monstrous consumption rates that in turn leave a huge strain on the environment. While no one is exactly sure the extent of such externalities, we can imagine it simply by looking at the standard modus operandi of most hotels. Hotels are veritable hotbeds of waste - simply consider all the disposable plastic bath amenities, bottled drinking water, in-room slippers, heaps of towels and mountains of bed linens a hotel go through every single day and it becomes clear that such operations are killing the earth one check-in at a time. The good news is that some hotels in recent years have been rallying to the call of sustainability in the tourism industry and introducing policies that not only cut waste but save costs as well. The elimination of plastic drinking water, plastic bath amenities and food wastage are just some of the measures implemented by hotels heeding the sustainability clause. But is sustainability incompatible with the luxury tenet? Do we really need our bed linens changed everyday, a dozen never-to-be-used towels on standby and TV welcomes that are glaring perpetually every time we check into a luxury hotel? Can a hotel trim down these excesses and still be deemed a luxury class accommodation? C T speaks to the general managers of 2 hotels in Singapore to get insights and perspectives on the matter.
The Capella Singapore and the Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay can't be more different than the proverbial chalk and cheese - the former is a sumptuous resort nestled in a historic and verdant enclave in Sentosa while the latter is one of Singapore's first luxury business class hotel in the bay area that evoke nostalgia with its timeless architecture. In recent years both hotels have stepped up their environment saving measures that mark a departure from standard SOPs expected of most 5-stars hotels. Speaking to GMs Fernando Gibaja and Melvin Lim of both properties, we get a feeling that while sustainability is now firmly etched into the DNA of hotel operations, some groups are more bold in introducing expansive policies while others are still adopting a wait and see stance. Parkroyal Collection, a new brand that took over the management of the Portman-designed landmark that was Marina Mandarin, had sustainability vividly etched into their brand manifesto. Resplendent after a year-long renovation that transformed much of the hotel, GM Melvin Lim shared that 'the hotel evokes attributes such as its iconic look and structure, sustainability and eco friendliness, as well as lifestyle and wellness which was married to create this brand.'
Is Sustainability Just a
Fad in Luxury Hospitality?
After decades of conducting business in a fixed and competitive environment, one can expect it would be challenging to alter the mindsets of guests who are used to certain creature comforts like bottles of drinking water all over the room and a bathroom overflowing with plastic amenities. 'We did not compromise on quality when it comes to introducing eco-friendly elements in our rooms and operations,' Gibaja shared. 'In terms of the attention to details and maintaining a high level of comfort, that is all still in place. What had changed is that instead of plastic bottles, we now use glass bottles for drinking water and instead of plastic straws, we now provide paper ones.' Lim added, 'I think the whole world recognises that there needs to be some change in way we approach things, particularly in terms of climate change. More and more, everybody is becoming very concerned about climate change, and part of climate change comes with sustainability, being eco-friendly, recycling efforts and all of these things. Sustainability is here to stay, and this is something we have consciously looked at, prior to making sustainability a part of the Parkroyal Collection brand.'
But the amenities in the bathroom are still plastic and disposable, which in turns leave a huge carbon footprint when they are trashed?
'There will still be constraints,' said Gibaja. 'We had plans to replace all our plastic shower amenities with refillable glass bottles but owing to the alterations they would cause on the property, we had to scrap the plans, which is really a shame.'
'I believe luxury can run alongside sustainability.' said Lim. 'We are engaging guests who also embrace sustainability, people who recognize that we must do something to try and at least curb the climate change that is taking place throughout the world. Being a hotel, we have to balance. Although I’ve said that we don’t want to pitch ourselves at the luxury end of the market, we still want to provide products that people can say are nice and unique, and eco-friendly at the same time.'
Keeping in Pace with
Sustainability in the Long Run
A good start bodes well for the sustainability movement as more and more hotels are introducing eco-friendly measures to their operations. At the end, if being a green hotel can in the long run make economic sense, why wouldn't more hotels want to turn green?
'Some hotel companies have adopted even more drastic moves, such as to stop providing housekeeping services. You get what you get in the room, and these are not three-star or four-star brands but are decent, good five-star brands that have decided that if you want housekeeping services, you opt-in. If not, the status quo is no housekeeping services', Lim shared.
Gibaja added, 'I think the bottom-line for all companies is still profits, and if being more environmentally conscious can help a hotel cut costs, then most hotels would be quite happy to jump onto the bandwagon. But the truth is that sometimes it isn't cheap to be a green hotel.'
In that respect, Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay had moved past that consideration and invested considerably to buff up their green efforts, such as installing filtered water taps in all their rooms and building a eco garden to grow herbs and vegetables for the hotel's kitchens. In fact, the new look of the hotel is literally green with its lobby and atrium space all decked with living plants and trees.
'We take our 'Garden in a Hotel' theme quite seriously. We are planting over 15,000 square feet of trees and shrubs in our hotel not just for aesthetic purposes but also to purify the air,' said Lim.
And one only needs to visit the resplendent new property to know that Lim isn't overstating his claim. Melodious birdsongs reverberating through the atrium is a scene both primordial and futuristic.
Optimistically, Lim also shared that there are big plans in the pipeline to reinforce the hotel's green manifesto as listed below -
Installing one of the largest rooftop urban farms in Singapore, with over 60 varieties of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers that brings to life the hotel’s farm-to-table, farm-to-bar and farm-to-spa principles of its dining outlets, bars and spa.
Recycling used Nespresso coffee capsules, as compost in the Urban Farm.
Using spectrally selective (lets in visible light and blocks away the heat) glass for its Atrium skylight, to allow light penetration but reduce radiation of heat and therefore maximise energy usage to cool the building.
Installing 200 solar panels on its rooftop to generate clean renewable electricity and reduce dependency on the power grids.
Using motion detectors in tandem with energy efficient LED lighting systems and air-conditioning throughout the hotel and event spaces to minimise use of electricity and reduce power usage.
Adding eco-friendly vehicles which doesn’t use gasoline or emit any exhaust fumes for guests' transportation.
Eliminating miniature toiletries and replacing them with permanent dispensers in all guest rooms.
'The current practice involving disposable plastic bath amenities generates a horrendous amount of single use plastics and wastage, so the installation of permanent dispensers is something that what we are most looking forward to completing in 2021,' Lim enthused.
Text and Photography by C T