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Please DO Disturb: Bringing Energy Efficiency to the Worlds Hotel Industry

By: Chris Glotfelter


In 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, 178 governments approved Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. Agenda 21 offered a blueprint for sustainable development, while the Rio Declaration articulated the main principles for sustainable development in the 21st century. Both documents challenged organizations, governments, and industries to work towards maximum levels of sustainability, defined by the Brundtland Commission in 1987 as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[footnoteRef:1] [1: World Summit on Sustainable Development, 26 August 4 September, 2002, Industry as A Partner for Sustainable Development at 11, available at (citing U.N. World Commn on Envt and Dev. [WCED], Report: Our Common Future, ch. 22, 8, U.N. Doc. A/42/427 (March 20, 1987)(prepared by Gro Harlem Brundtland)).]

The next generation of sustainable development begins today. Hotels around the world are currently overlooked when it comes to their environmental impact. Recently, however, the green building revolution proffered the idea that hotels can no longer hide in the background, as travelers are seeking out green lodging on a more regular basis.[footnoteRef:2] Based on this increased demand, hotels must be brought to the forefront of sustainability talks and highly scrutinized for their possible contributions to environmental harm, hoping that these contributions may be mitigated. These contributions come in the forms of energy usage, water usage and quality, greenhouse gas emissions, indoor and outdoor air quality, as well as other areas.[footnoteRef:3] Although all of these topics embody important pieces of the green building puzzle, this paper will focus only on energy efficiency in new hotel constructions as a meaningful first step. [2: Marina Krakovsky, Hotel Case Study: Peer Pressures Impact on the Environment, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, Oct. 31, 2008,; Travelers Prefer Green Hotels, HOSPITALITY TRENDS, July 13, 2010, ] [3: Glenn Hasek, The Top 10 Environmental Issues Facing the Hospitality Industry in 2007, ECONOMICALLY SOUND, Dec. 30, 2006,]

As will be further discussed later in this paper, hotels are great consumers of energy, most of which comes from an outside supplier such as public or private energy companies. Their production technologies include hydroelectric facilities, wind farms, solar farms, coal-firing plants, nuclear power plants, oil-fueled facilities, and so on.[footnoteRef:4] Because this energy production process is lineal, it creates a causal chain that has the potential to reach across national boundaries. This environmental element can be viewed in terms of transboundary environmental harm. Simply put, the energy demands of a hotel in Country A can causally affect the environment in Country B, but how? Picture this: [4: See Energy Production Technologies Library, HOWSTUFFWORKS, 2010,]

Country A is a developing country whose economy and infrastructure are utterly impoverished. However, based on new building in an area of the country, the current energy production facilities in that area have become overworked and are failing to produce enough energy to meet the growing need. To deal with the problem, Country As government proposes the construction of a new energy production facility that closely borders Country As neighbor, Country B. Say the facility uses coal to produce electricity. Coal can be found in Country A, but is in ample abundance in Country B. Therefore, it proves more economic to obtain most of the production coal from Country B; however, there are consequences. Now Country B must ramp up its coal mining efforts in order to meet the greater need of Country A. In doing so, the once modest mining operation takes on a new life as it expands its environmental footprint to outlying areas which were once green forests and hills. All of this came about because Country A was in need of more energy. Such a scenario is a very real portrayal of how expanded energy demand, not only in developing countries but also in places such as the European Union, Asia, and the United States, can affect transnational environments. Thus, the problem is very real, very palpable and, without preventative action, very devastating.Throughout this paper, I will use the term hotels as inclusive of both hotels and motels, regardless of their involvement in tourism; however, I will only deal with new constructions, not existing buildings nor substantial renovations. I will begin by discussing an overview of the problem at hand, then outline national and international regulatory efforts that have fallen short, and finally explain the international treaty that I propose as the first step toward a meaningful solution. The actual text of the proposed treaty is available for review in Appendix I.A. ThesisCurrent non-binding and aspirational standards in place on the international as well as national levels are insufficient for regulating hotel energy usage. Even more disturbing is the fact that every regulatory framework meant to encompass hotels disregards its unique hybrid attributes, being part-residential and part-commercial. This is coupled by the fact that most documents remain silent on funding, the impact of which can be astronomical. Taking all of this into consideration, this paper will propose an international treaty outlining minimum mandatory standards for new hotel construction, focusing on energy efficiency and conservation techniques appropriate for such a hybrid building, and requiring specific modes of financing these efforts. By reducing the massive strains that hotels energy usage place on the environment and its resources, the adopting States will be more able to efficiency provide energy services without being fearful of environmental harm caused by the overutilization of their natural resources.

B. The Problem: Quasi-Parasitic HotelsIn nature, a parasite attaches itself to a host from which it maintains life by draining the hosts resources.[footnoteRef:5] Parasites continue to act with this wanton disregard regardless of the hosts deleterious health.[footnoteRef:6] Conventional hotels, those that give no regard to energy efficiency or sustainability of resources, arguably act in similar ways to parasites. Hotels draw, in large quantities, from numerous utilities without thought of the effects on utility producers or the environment. The strain that these structures put on these utilities creates problems for energy companies, which can then be translated back to the consumer in the form of higher prices and a diminished environment. However, when looking at the problem internationally, this strain placed on utilities can be much further reaching than just the utility company or even the immediate environmental area. Areas of once pristine nature may be demolished to make way for energy production needs. Likewise, increased demand for utilities requires building new utility production facilities. As these are usually of dire need, they are quickly built, sometimes without regard to the environmental impact they may have on the surrounding area. Also, increased energy demands create a greater need for more coal, natural gas, and oil production which more than likely are not all harvested in the country of need. Thus, energy costs start steadily increasing based on each new barrier razed. [5: MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY (2010) available at] [6: Id.]

1. Recognizing Energy CostsHotels spend vast amounts of money each year on operating costs attributed to energy. On average, Americas 47,000 hotels spend $2,196 per available room each year on energy.[footnoteRef:7] [7: ENERGY STAR, Hotels: An Overview of Energy Use and Energy Efficient Opportunities,]

Buildings, including hotels, also contribute high numbers to countries total energy usage, in general.[footnoteRef:8] China, Brazil, the United States, and Germany are examples of countries with high total energy usage just for buildings: 42%, 42%, 39%, and 35%, respectively.[footnoteRef:9] However, numerous independent studies confirm that buildings certified by green building councils can consume 85 per cent less energy . . . than non-certified buildings.[footnoteRef:10] In doing the math with the numbers listed above for Americas hotels, an 85% reduction in energy usage for hotels alone would save over $4 billion, based on an average of 50 rooms per hotel, and that is just in America. This number is staggering in light of the number of green building councils already implemented across the world today. [8: See WORLD GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL, How Green Building is Shaping the Global Shift to a Low Carbon Economy 2 (Nov. 2009),] [9: Id at 11-20.] [10: Id at 2.]

2. Green Building Councils of the WorldGreen building councils exist in numerous countries as well as on the international plane. One can see them already implemented in Australia, New Zealand, China, the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, and South Africa, to name a few.[footnoteRef:11] These repr