The future of hotels is circular… and two of them are opening soon

The future of hotels is circular… and two of them are opening soon

A couple of exciting new stories about two upcoming hotels suggest the travel industry is beginning to wake up to the potential of the circular economy for tourism.

In my most recent blog, I shared the story of Martin’s Hotels, winner of a 2017 EMAS award for its efforts to implement circular economy initiatives across its chains of properties in Belgium, and in particular for its innovative Ecobon loyalty scheme. This week I would like to add two more names to the emerging sector of circular economy hotels.

The Svart Hotel is being designed by Snøhetta at the foot of the Svartisen glacier, just inside the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. When it opens in 2021, it will be the world’s first Powerhouse hotel, and the first building to be built according to the energy positive Powerhouse standard in a Northern climate.

Powerhouse is a collaboration between Snøhetta, Entra, Skanska, the ZERO Emission Resource Organization and Asplan Viak. Buildings constructed according to this standard are designed so that over the course of a 60 year period they will generate more renewable energy than would be required not only to sustain their daily operations, but also to build, produce materials and demolish the building.

In the case of Svart, this means a hotel clad with Norwegian solar panels that themselves were produced with clean hydro energy. Furthermore the design of the hotel means that its yearly energy consumption will be approximately 85% less than a comparably sized modern hotel.

QO Amsterdam is set to open very soon – next month in fact. Like Svart, its design radically changes the way energy is used. Managed by IHG, it is set to be the first LEED Platinum hotel in Europe, with an intelligent, climate responsive exterior to the building that achieves energy savings of up to 65% by manipulating a series of moving thermal panels, responding to the seasons, the weather conditions and the presence or absence of guests.

The hotel has an underground energy storage system buried in a thermal aquifer located 70m below ground; heated water is transferred down there from the hotel in the summer and storing it underground to be pumped back up when needed. Likewise inside the hotel, all water used in the showers and sinks is then reused to flush the toilets. Even the hotel’s carpets are made 100% recycled yarn previously used in fishing nets, weaving a connection both to a less wasteful future and Dutch maritime history.

However, the innovation that excites me most takes place on the 21st floor. Here QO is working with restaurateur Persjin to operate a greenhouse that will supply as much of its fresh food as possible. But this is not just any rooftop greenhouse – it is a fully functioning, self-sufficient and self-regulating ecosystem that not only grows fresh vegetables there, but also houses fish in an integrated aquaponics system. While the fish live and grow in the QO’s tanks, their waste provides an organic food source for the plants – and the plants in turn purify the fish’s water. And when the fish have lived out their natural lifecycle in the tanks, they become part of the hotel’s menu.

In the research for my recent book Transforming Travel (2018), I gathered together the best examples I could find of solutions that hotels and other tourism enterprises are undertaking that can become part of a new circular economy for tourism. My aim was to frame a narrative from these individual initiatives – which were scattered across locations around the world – to imagine what our industry might look like if these pockets of excellence could be drawn together to become its guiding principles. These two properties – from their early communications at least – seem to be doing just that. By taking a truly holistic and circular approach to sustainable tourism, these hotels offer as positive a sign in sustainable accommodation as I have seen from the tourism industry this year.

The way to turn these early innovations into industry wide change is share them and build upon them. QO Hotel says that it is creating its greenhouse not just to supply its food, but as a platform for innovation, education, research and development, as well as being accessible as an educational tool for schoolchildren, guests and local visitors. Similarly, I found out about QO through the Circle Lab website, an open source initiative funded by Ebay that operates as an ‘online platform for cities, businesses, and citizens to explore, ideate, and implement circular business models and strategies to tackle universal and local challenges. There’s a challenge running on there at the moment, looking for ideas and solutions to How can small to medium-sized local businesses improve the legacy of major city events and conferences?

Anyone wondering how tourism, transport and city destinations might fashion a sustainable future should check Circle Lab out. And if you know of other transformative initiatives or circular hotels, please share them.

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Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.

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