Sustainability in hotels – where to start?

Sustainability in hotels – where to start?

Over de thesis van Pauline Van Beneden

The Propriety and Necessity of Ecolabels in the Hotel Industry: Geographic and SDG Focus Analysis of European Hotel Ecolabels (2022)

Promotor(en) Dries Goossens, Faculteit Economie en Bedrijfskunde
Picture: Sherra Triarosdiana via Pixabay
Redactie Pauline Van Beneden; Emma Verboven

More and more hotels try to become sustainable and want to get certified with a hotel ecolabel. As there are over 200 labels in the hospitality and tourism industry, how to pick the one that fits the hotel best?

Hotel ecolabels, a handy tool or a tricky curse?

Sustainability is undeniably becoming more important in our lives as governments, companies as well as customers are becoming more aware of the challenges that come with maintaining our standards of living while also being able to provide for future generations.

With the travel and tourism industry accounting for 9.5% of the European GDP, incredible amounts of resources being wasted and CO2 emitted, it is not a surprise that many hotels are taking important steps to transition to a more sustainable future by getting certified with a hotel ecolabel.

Many hotels fall back on ecolabels to implement sustainability, but it is tricky to select the right label because of transparency problems, ambiguity in the grading systems, and the ‘eco’ perception of the ecolabels. All of these elements are obstacles for hotel stakeholders and might even evoke reluctance to these types of labels which is the opposite of what the labels should be achieving.

To resolve these problems, Pauline Van Beneden developed a quantitative comparison methodology and two interactive dashboards to help hotel stakeholders select the ecolabel that fits their hotel best and have all the information at hand.

bord met het woord hotel in neonlichten erop
Picture: Mara Conan Design via Unsplash

The necessity of hotel ecolabels

Why should a hotel choose an ecolabel in the first place? Well, you are asking the wrong question. Ask why not?

Ecolabels offer many benefits such as attracting more customers, creating educational opportunities and getting started on sustainability in general through the use of elaborate criteria that focus on energy, water and more. Therefore, choosing the right ecolabel is very important for hotels to achieve their personal goals and targets.

From hotel managers to employees to governments and suppliers and of course tourists, all of these hotel stakeholders are involved in the ecolabelling landscape and have interests in broadening the use of ecolabels. In short, these labels are a powerful tool for implementing sustainability in a hotel property and getting the message out towards tourists.

But let’s be honest, ecolabels are all over the place and this causes obstacles for using one, let alone picking the label that fits the hotel best. This is one of the reasons why this research is so important – to create more transparency and make ecolabels more accessible for hotels. The labels are there and offer many advantages for hotels and a sustainable future. Now they are also comparable, transparent and most importantly: accessible.

Creating order in the chaos

Where to start and how to compare? These two questions are often the beginning of a long journey for selecting a hotel ecolabel and lead to many more problems. Therefore, Van Beneden bundled all geographical data from over 40 European countries and 1575 criteria in two easy-to-understand dashboards to allow hotels to visually select a fitting ecolabel.

In the first phase of creating the comparison framework, Van Beneden gathered all general information on the 10 most prominent European ecolabels in order to provide a collection of ‘ecolabel fact sheets’ and geographical information.

In the second phase, she gathered the criteria that are necessary for getting a specific ecolabel and categorized them based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to create a quantitative methodology for equally comparing ecolabels. Lastly, she created two interactive dashboards with all this information to offer a visual tool that is ready to use.

Comparison of Hotel Ecolabels Dashboard. Graphs: Pauline Van Beneden

The selection procedure once used to be a very long search on Google, only to find scattered and unclear information. With Van Beneden’s dashboard, it is possible to select the country of the hotel to make a first geographical selection. The second step is to decide on which elements of sustainability – based on the SDGs – the hotel wants to focus.

For more advanced comparison of different labels, hotels have the possibility to dive into the numbers and details themselves, but this is very time-intensive and not their main concern. These dashboards solve this issue for hotels and can also serve as a reliable tool to find patterns and opportunities when it comes to making the tourism industry more sustainable for policy makers (e.g., governments).

Next to that, sustainable hospitality professionals, such as Ecotel Consultancy, already reap the benefits by putting this into practice.

Making sustainability easy and accessible

Never before did anyone attempt to create a framework to objectively compare the large number of ecolabels both on their general characteristics (geography, price, …) as well as on the content of their certification criteria. Until now.

There are several conclusions Van Beneden came across. The most important ones? Ecolabels are not just ‘eco’, quite the opposite in fact as most of the ecolabels have a balanced focus on all 3 sustainability pillars (economic, social and environmental).

There is still a long way to go, but this research shows that it is possible to offer a clear overview of the ecolabelling landscape as demonstrated in the newly created and visually attractive ecolabel dashboards.


Over Pauline Van Beneden

Pauline is the co-CEO of Ecotel Consultancy and a driven, professional sustainable hospitality consultant who is passionate about hotels and travel. Having visited over 30 countries and numerous hotels, Pauline knows exactly what leisure and business guests expect to have an outstanding experience.

Implementing sustainability throughout the entire supply chain while keeping costs low is a challenge she loves to take on with her thorough business and supply chain knowledge. She holds a master’s degree in Business Engineering: Supply Chain Management from Ghent University and is currently pursuing another master in Sustainable Hospitality Management in Switzerland to use the synergies arising from these fields.

With her company, she is making the hotel industry more sustainable and contributes to creating a world in which the question is no longer ‘where should we start?’ but rather ‘where do we go next?’.