Green drive: Dusit Thani Dubai staff at the One Root,One Communi-Tree initiative,organised by the Emirates Environmental Group Image Credit: Supplied

The hospitality sector in the UAE may have miles to go before it can catch up with its European counterparts, but it is consciously undertaking measures to slash the environmental impact of its operations.

A recent study conducted by Farnek Avireal, a facility management company, found that five-star properties in Dubai consume on average 225 per cent more energy than hotels in Germany. The study calculates that hotels in Dubai use 1,250 litres of water per guest, compared to 350 litres in Germany, and 275-325 kWh over only 100 kWh in German hotels.

The federal UAE government and local emirates authorities are earnest about implementing and aligning the sector in line with environmental best practices. The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), for example, launched the Green Tourism Award in 2009 in a bid to reduce hotel carbon emissions by 20 per cent. The initiative has helped Dubai’s tourism industry to reduce its carbon footprint by 17 per cent by adopting sustainable practices.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) is also galvanising the hospitality sector to adopt various green guidelines to control its annual consumption for water, energy and waste.

Inspiring initiatives

 The hospitality industry is one of the biggest consumers of resources such as land, energy and water and a green check is therefore imperative. Sensing an opportunity to boost their environmental credentials while impacting the bottom line by saving on energy bills, hoteliers in the UAE are showing interest in adopting green technology. Thai hospitality major Dusit Thani Dubai recorded annual energy savings of upto 20 per cent, 30 per cent in water and 20 per cent reduction in waste disposal after embracing green standards. Meanwhile, the Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach saved 80,000 kWh in electricity and 5,000 cubic metres of water in 2011 by undertaking green initiatives.

"The huge water savings is attributed to water balancing, optimising hot water circulation efficiency, installing water savers, repairing leaks and creating employee awareness," says Srilal Palihakkara, Director of Engineering for Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach. "The amount of water we saved is sufficient to fill two Olympic-size pools," he adds.

The trend is not confined to only foreign hospitality brands.

Dubai headquartered Jumeirah Group aggressively employs ecologically credible business practices and technologies to reduce any adverse impact on the environment as a result of its operation.

Sean Harrison, Director of Corporate Responsibility, Jumeirah Group, points out that the entity consistently benchmarks its operations against best practices to create a positive, balanced and sustained impact economically, socially and environmentally. From recycling wash water in its laundries to running a turtle rehabilitation centre, Jumeirah is an active partner in the environmental protection drive.

Jumeirah Essex House, the group’s property in New York City, recently completed a $90 million refurbishment to make it more environmentally sustainable. As part of the upgrade of in-room technology, all rooms and suites now feature touch screen control pads for guests to select their preferred lighting, mood and temperature settings. The use of this technology for temperature and light settings helps significantly reduce energy consumption.

Another hotelier playing the environment-friendly card is Radisson Blu, having invested $1.26 million (Dh4.59 million) in various green initiatives between 2006 and 2011. Initiatives include replacing 100-watt bulbs in guest rooms with 18-watt energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs and using diesel-powered boiler steam heat exchange for pool heating over a electrical heat exchanger.

The Mövenpick Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel is the latest five-star property in the Middle East to be accredited by the internationally-recognised Green Globe, the global certification and performance improvement programme for the travel and tourism industry. The hotel has developed a multi-level sustainability programme that impacts the entire operation, from back-of-house areas to guest rooms and public spaces. It has also invested in special software to maximise energy efficiency and make substantial cost savings.

 Waste disposal systems

In yet another step to strengthen its green credentials, the UAE hospitality industry is looking at innovative mechanisms to dispose of waste in a responsible manner instead of just dumping them off in landfills. The Jumeirah Group’s Bokashi compost programme recycles all raw food waste using an anaerobic process. "Using Bokashi, Al Qasr hotel at Madinat Jumeirah alone recycles 2.1 tonnes of raw food waste each month and uses the compost to fertilise its own organic herb garden," says Harrison.

As sustainability becomes a key to a prosperous future for the UAE hospitality industry, hoteliers are looking at empowering staff with the knowledge and skills to conserve resources to successfully implement green practices. Radisson Blu has started implementing two training modules to educate employees about its responsible business programme, with a dedicated section on environmental responsibility. Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach regularly publishes its utility consumption reports.

Though the UAE hospitality sector is striving to build its business on a solid green plank, the sector still needs to address several issues.

Johnny Ding, Director of Engineering at Dusit Thani Dubai says for instance, "While we aim to implement initiatives and energy saving devices, the sourcing of necessary equipment from suppliers is sometimes not very cost effective."

Despite such concerns, going green definitely makes sound business sense for the UAE hospitality sector.