Getting sustainability facts right worth the effort

Solar energy is a wonder, there’s no doubt about that. It takes a free, limitless source of energy — the sun — and supplies clean energy with no carbon pollution and no need to drill another barrel of oil, dig out another coal seam or frack yet more gas. Solar thermal has been cost-effective for 50 years and solar electricity for 20 years. Now solar energy is far beyond cost-effective. 

Solar thermal energy (using the sun’s heat) and solar electricity (using the sun’s light) can both make a contribution to the energy needs of hotels in many locations around the globe. Some can take advantage of the sun’s heat and light falling on their own rooftops. A smaller number can buy electricity that has been produced not on their own premises but at some large-scale solar installation elsewhere — so-called grid solar.

Although solar makes a valuable contribution to reducing carbon pollution by reducing the need to use fossil fuel, this should not be confused with being energy-efficient or saving energy. Energy saving and energy efficiency are terms related to how much energy is used, not to where it comes from.

Is it important to be clear about things like this? Well, every hotel has some percentage of customers, employees and investors who are well informed about sustainability and clean energy. Then there is the presumably much larger population of prospective customers, employees and investors — those the hotel would like to have on board. A portion of these also know quite a lot about the broad topic of sustainability and the narrower field of clean energy, renewable energy or unconventional energy, as it is sometimes called.

To satisfy or even delight these two groups, it pays hotel owners and operators to be equally well informed when it comes to what they are doing and what they are communicating about sustainability and clean energy.

Not doing so stands the risk of poor decisions being made and poor messages being communicated. Poor decisions will result in financial losses. Poor messages will suggest to well-informed audiences that the hotel’s decision-makers didn’t know enough to get the facts right or didn’t care enough to figure out what they needed to know.

An inaccurate media release or sustainability report, for example, damages reputations in ways that the originator may never be aware of. It is not difficult to conclude this is the reason some of the world’s leading hotel operators have their chief operating officer or their general counsel taking point position on energy and carbon matters — because energy and carbon are business risks and brand-value risks far ahead of being cost risks.

Getting the solar energy facts straight is just one example, of course. Our well-informed customers, employees and investors will expect hotel owners and operators to be well informed about all matters related to sustainability and clean energy. They need to have the facts straight and communicate the facts correctly.

It is true that there is layer upon layer of ever more technical information about solar energy and other sustainability matters that a hotel owner or operator would not currently be expected to know. But the universe of well-informed customers, employees and investors is growing in expectations as well as numbers. The whole spectrum of sustainability factors is in play. There is no reversing that trend.


Robert Allender, FHKAEE, CEM, managing director, Energy Resources Management, Hong Kong