How hoteliers can use Cornell’s sustainability index
How hoteliers can use Cornell’s sustainability index
19 SEPTEMBER 2016 8:17 AM

Hoteliers can use the Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index, published by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research, to judge how well their hotels’ sustainability efforts compare to their comp sets. 

ITHACA, New York—Hoteliers have teamed up with academics at Cornell University to create an index that helps benchmark sustainability around the world.

Now in its third year, the index is the creation of global hotel companies, Eric Ricaurte, founder of sustainability benchmarker Greenview; and Cornell professor Howard Chong.* This year’s report, titled “Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index 2016: Energy, Water and Carbon,” was created by Ricaurte in collaboration with 11 hotels and analyzes data from 8,880 properties globally. The report is published by Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research.

In a virtual Q&A with Hotel News Now, Ricaurte detailed how hoteliers can benefit from using the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index, and also gave insights on how the hotel industry currently perceives sustainability.

Eric Ricaurte, Greenview

HNN: Are there any significant trends or changes you’ve seen in the years you’ve been putting together the index?

Ricaurte: “We definitely have seen several. First, the overall sense of collaboration among hoteliers and companies is very positive. Hotels realized that rather than each chain plotting its own strategy internally to a range of sustainability topics, they can work together more easily to solve challenges. The index only exists because several companies came together taking leadership to get this going. Sustainability will require much more collaboration and communication to scale its solutions, and this is a big step. More hoteliers are joining the various initiatives like CHSB and looking critically at this together.

“Second, data in general is getting much better. Property teams are monitoring this more closely. Data systems, both internal and external, are becoming more prevalent, and in general people are paying closer attention to these types of performance metrics and spotting holes.

“Also, ‘green’ or ‘sustainability’ has now become mainstream. We see the majority of consumers and businesses addressing it. And it’s not a matter of ‘caring’ anymore. There are clear risks and opportunities that hoteliers must address. So having good data becomes more important to the discussion.”

HNN: How can hoteliers who are already benchmarking sustainability efforts use the index to further benefit their hotel(s)?

Ricaurte: “Most of the current participants already benchmark substantially within their portfolio. They participate in CHSB because it enables each property to get a positioning relative to its specific market that they can’t get internally. This also helps bring awareness to the issue of carbon emissions, which come alongside utility performance in the index.”

HNN: How can hoteliers who are thinking about sustainability efforts use the index to start benchmarking and analyzing sustainable efforts on-property?

Ricaurte: “Rather than go down the rabbit hole of trying to amass dozens of data points for each property and come up with a master algorithm to rate all hotels worldwide, the index takes the fundamental premise of our industry: You compare first and foremost among similar properties in your market. This approach was even argued against by academic peers doing similar research or reviewing out first reports. But as a result, CHSB was able to gather a much larger data set, is more management-focused, helps mainstream concepts and, most importantly, it puts the onus on analyzing performance directly on each property.

“So a hotelier thinking about sustainability efforts can first use the index and see where in the range of performance the property falls within its location and segment and then seek to answer two questions: 1) What attributes of my property are causing me to be in the current positioning, and 2) How can I improve my performance?

“Those just starting to benchmark can participate in CHSB as a platform to analyze their data and build awareness at the property level. Awareness and dialogue on sustainability are still key issues, and CHSB is a cost-effective platform with global reach for helping get the discussion going across the industry.”

HNN: From your perspective, what’s the biggest benefit of the index to the hotel industry?

Ricaurte: “The biggest benefit is having a single, referential data set tailored specifically for hoteliers and available for all to use. We can cut out a lot of the noise, and many initiatives can build off it, as we’re starting to see. Anyone can access the basic benchmarks, while participants get a deeper dive into positioning and data analysis. This saves hoteliers time in not having to field multiple requests so they can concentrate on the things that matter.

“Climate change will be one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issue, of our lifetime. Ultimately it comes down to a numbers game. We have a limit to how much we can withstand global temperature rise, which translates directly into a metric of greenhouse gases that can be emitted into the atmosphere. Carbon metrics will be at the heart of discussions from global leaders down to everyday consumer decisions. CHSB helps hoteliers and travelers accurately relate carbon emissions to hotels, and, in aggregate, we have an understanding of the hotel industry’s overall contribution to climate change. Everyone needs to get involved in the discussion, and the index helps that discussion at every level of the industry.”

HNN: What types of sustainability trends are you seeing overall in the hotel industry?

Ricaurte: “Existing properties are becoming more efficient, with so many new solutions becoming common. And carbon emission intensities are going down as a result of shifts and efficiencies in the power grid. However, with the added supply in Asia over the past decade and its large pipeline, we’re seeing a difficulty in overall average industry metrics. Hotel chains made massive strides and gained expertise to improve efficiency and begin on a path of renewable energy.

“For the industry to continue to improve sustainability performance it will require buy-in from hotel owners. Up until now, hotel owners have been a disparate group in the sustainability discussion. Yes, you have REITs and private equity focusing heavily on sustainability because it makes good financial sense and they have shareholder pressures. But the wider, global owner community has been largely disengaged. Getting hotel owners involved in the discussion and providing scalability for capital-intensive solutions will be the next step.

“Fortunately, the same spirit of industry collaboration that led to the launch of CHSB is working on initiatives for this to be the next trend.”

HNN: What type of feedback have you received from hoteliers who are using the index to improve their properties?

Ricaurte: “Participants like the ability to see a hotel’s positioning within a city and segment among peers, and the validity testing performed on the data also helps them spot data inconsistencies. They also value getting property-level teams engaged with the results. In general, we’re getting positive feedback from the CHSB participant community we’re building over time, with more hoteliers joining the discussion to help make it better. Each year we work to improve the process, the outputs, the segmentation capabilities and the data set.

“Other benchmarking initiatives have been frustrating when they encompass all types of buildings, with hotels only being a subset and not getting a proper voice. So adding global climate zones, more hotel segmentation, in both English and metric system units for floor area, and incorporating metrics like the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative and eventually the recent Hotel Water Measurement Initiative, participants like the ability to make and keep this relevant to the industry.”

Clarification, 19 September 2016: An earlier version of this story omitted naming Cornell professor Howard Chong as a co-creator of the index. 

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