Why Hotels Need to Wake up to Biodiversity
As we approach the COP26 Climate Change conference in Glasgow, the airwaves are full of net-zero ambitions and commitments from across governments and industries. The hotel industry is no exception, with recent announcements by both the larger players such as Marriott and IHG, and smaller groups such as the Lamington Group’s roadmap to net-zero. Despite the industry’s growing commitment to the consequences of climate change and its response to consumer and investor pressures to address it, we shouldn’t lose sight of one of the other great, if not the greatest, challenge to our existence – biodiversity loss.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become apparent that the incredible loss of biodiversity globally has played a major role in making the spread of infectious diseases more prevalent. Biodiversity is the variety of life in the world; this includes life in all its forms and interactions, from genes and species to communities of creatures and entire ecosystems. This variety of life has functioned as an ecological buffer zone that has protected us from wildlife-borne viruses. Biodiversity loss is a huge risk to humanity, like climate change, but unlike climate change the losses incurred are irreversible and once a species or form of life is lost it is lost forever.
Hotels can rely heavily on biodiversity, which often provides the attractions that draw travelers to destinations in the first place.
At the same time, however, hotels impact biodiversity at all stages of their lifecycles, including the planning stage, construction, operations, and closure. These stages impact biodiversity through material choices and physical footprint; size, location, and resources used; energy and water usage, as well as the sustainable purchasing of food; and reducing, treating, and disposing of waste appropriately.
As the world’s eyes are looking to Glasgow, delegates met last week in Kunming in China (and virtually) to discuss the steps which need to be taken to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. Culminating in a further meeting in April 2022, delegates will determine the global targets we need to meet to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. A ‘Paris Agreement’ for biodiversity. The precise targets are still being negotiated but the First Draft of the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework lists 21, some of which will have direct impact on and opportunities for hotels and tourism:
Target 3. Ensure that at least 30 percent globally of land areas and of sea areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and its contributions to people, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.
Target 12. Increase the area of, access to, and benefits from green and blue spaces, for human health and well-being in urban areas and other densely populated areas.
Target 15. All businesses (public and private, large, medium and small) assess and report on their dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, from local to global, and progressively reduce negative impacts, by at least half and increase positive impacts, reducing biodiversity-related risks to businesses and moving towards the full sustainability of extraction and production practices, sourcing and supply chains, and use and disposal.
Target 16. Ensure that people are encouraged and enabled to make responsible choices and have access to relevant information and alternatives, taking into account cultural preferences, to reduce by at least half the waste and, where relevant the overconsumption, of food and other materials.
And the two COPs do not exist in isolation from each other. Climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked. The COP26 Nature Day will bring climate change and biodiversity together and a major campaign has been launched in the run up “Get Nature Positive” which encourages business to put nature at the heart of the agenda.
As momentum is growing and awareness increasing, there is also a push for businesses to improve how they measure and report on biodiversity.
In April 2021, IUCN launched its Guidelines for Managing and Reporting Corporate Biodiversity Performance Corporate Reporting which sets out a strategic approach to managing impacts on biodiversity.
Hotel operators and owners are getting to grips with reporting to the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), now a requirement for most of them, and next in line will be the Task Force on Nature Related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) which will build on the TCFD approach to climate risk management with a similar reporting structure for biodiversity and nature-related risk.
Biodiversity is gaining unprecedented momentum in the global environmental and sustainability agenda and businesses, including hotels, will soon have to meet expectations in what they are doing to reduce biodiversity loss similarly to their response to climate change. The good news for the hotel sector is that there is a great deal of work already underway to promote and protect biodiversity. Hoteliers know that their product is closely linked to the natural surroundings, from beach to mountain destinations and from quality local produce to authentic locally sourced design. It is in their interest to protect it.
In making hotels biodiversity friendly, operators can choose to source food sustainably, particularly fish and seafood; make responsible choices in selection of wood in the procurement of furniture; and use indigenous plants for landscaping. If you are wondering where to start, a good guide is the IUCN’s Biodiversity Principles for siting and design of hotels and resorts,:
- Adopt an ecosystem-based approach in tourism development planning.
- Manage impacts on biodiversity from hotel development and attempt to achieve an overall positive contribution.
- Design with nature and adopt nature-based solutions.
- Respect, involve, and support local communities.
- Build collaboration among stakeholders.
There are plenty of inspirational examples of hotels taking positive action on biodiversity.
The Soneva Fushi in the Maldives is home to the world’s first mosquito free island. Traditionally, resorts would use chemical fog to rid their properties of mosquitos, which are harmful to native plant and insect inhabitants of the Maldives. Soneva Fushi has partnered with Biogents, a company on the forefront of mosquito control research, to introduce a sustainable, insecticide-free management system. Since its implementation, the island of Kunfunadhoo has seen an abundance of native insect species, including butterflies, bumble bees, dragon flies, beetles, and more. Likewise, these natural pollinators will mean that a greater number of plant life will thrive as well.
LaPlaya, Naples, FL, has installed 2 artificial reefs to boost biodiversity, clean water, and instances of red tide at Vanderbilt Beach and is committed to creating 23 more mini reefs in their mission to positively impact the long-term rejuvenation of local biodiversity. These artificial reefs help to filter out red tide and filter over 30,000 gallons of water per day and house over 300 fish and 200 crabs a year, which protects all sorts of marine life including manatees, turtles, and fish.
Mandarin Oriental, Paris houses a rooftop vegetable garden, which contributes to their year-round supply of fresh, organic produces, including herbs and vegetables that are used by chefs in their restaurants and bars. In addition, the hotel houses two beehives, with the help of urban beekeeper Audric de Campeau, in an effort to restore the decreasing French bee population and support essential pollination. With 100,000 bees which gather nectar from the vegetable garden’s flowers, Mandarin Oriental, Paris was able to harvest 30 to 40kg of honey every year for use in dishes and cocktails.
So as the hotel industry is getting to grips with net-zero and carbon reduction, it mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture and the important role it can play in reducing biodiversity loss and promoting responsible enjoyment of biodiversity. Because of the hospitality and tourism industry which surrounds it is in a unique position – not only to reduce its own impact biodiversity but to promote and help share it to raise awareness, provide a financial incentive for its protection, and protect it for the long term. But initiatives in the long term will not be enough, a strategic approach to biodiversity protection including measuring impact, assessing risks, and embedding biodiversity throughout operations is what will be expected before long.