Swissness is a synonym for precision, serenity, cleanliness, reliability and fairness, - and is marketed as being typically "Swiss", (Swiss Confederation). What steps can be taken to preserve this country's reputation for being a hub of natural beauty and civic efficiency when it comes to sustainable hospitality?
Traveling to Switzerland
People travel to escape their everyday life and to discover the beauty our planet has to offer. This ranges from culture and food to natural wonders. If these perish due to the unsustainable consumption of natural resources and little respect for the local lifestyle, Swiss tourism and hospitality loses its main competitive advantage.
The question is, how should Switzerland begin to make sure all these natural resources are well conserved? Based on Switzerland’s geography, it would be wise to focus on its natural wonders, like mountains and winter destinations (60% of Switzerland is covered by the Alps). For example, ski resorts heavily depend on reliable snowfall and conservation of glaciers to attract customers. Forests, lakes, and rivers make up for other delicate ecosystems impacted by our tourism choices. The goal is to make sure everything we use or take from the limited natural resources is given back in one or another form, to create a circular economy.
To provide the stunning regions of Switzerland with these prerequisites and become more regenerative, the hospitality sector and every component of the tourism value chain need consider the following five areas of focus:
#1 Priority: Energy
Switzerland's power is not 100% carbon-free. A third of energy produced today is non-renewable. Hotels and tourist locations therefore need to find a renewable energy source that can work as a good alternative in the long run, by being reliable, efficient and affordable to cover the right levels of energy needed.
Plasma Gasification might be the answer! This technology transforms waste into hydrogen, which can then be used to create electricity, heat, and fuel. During this process, carbon dioxide is produced. To prevent carbon dioxide from going up to the atmosphere, this needs to be liquified, captured, transported to a suitable location and injected into the ground. Plasma Gasification encourages a circular economy and is less expensive than producing hydrogen from an electrolysis process, making hotel heating and cooling systems more carbon-free. Moreover, we recommend installing passive cooling panels that make air conditioning systems more efficient (for example, SkyCool Systems).
#2 Priority: Food
Switzerland produces 2.8 million tons of avoidable food waste every year. This food waste takes the space area equivalent to half of all the agricultural land used to grow food in Switzerland. Even though most of it is generated in households (38%), the hospitality industry ranks second (18%). Hoteliers should therefore take responsibility, cut down food waste and recycle the inevitable excess to become more regenerative.
Technology using artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor and track food waste in hotels and restaurants provides leading edge solutions professionals. Hotels and restaurants achieve remarkable results after the implementation of AI technology; for example, the Pullman in Dubai cut its food waste by 50% within four months. These outstanding results have been recently shared in academic research (see references below).
#3 Priority: Materials (including building, cleaning, amenities, linen and furniture)
The building itself is a vital part of a circular economy as it can help save energy through the use of materials. For instance, rainwater can be a great asset. Once collected, it can be used for growing crops, garden irrigation and planting, non-potable use indoors, and potable use once filtered and disinfected. There are several examples of hotels in Switzerland that have invested in sustainable materials (link)
Detergents introduce chemicals to the water supply. By choosing to use eco-friendly cleaning products that are naturally derived, non-toxic, and have biodegradable ingredients, hotels have the opportunity to give back to the environment. Using local low-impact products will reduce the negative environmental damage. Hospitality and tourism can partner up with manufacturers to cut production costs and reap economies of scale.
Amenities is a waste problem in hotels. Switzerland uses three times more plastic than the European per capita average but recycles only 30% of it. Hotels can adopt a circular economy by cooperating with non-profit organizations that collect thrown away soaps from hotels to reprocess and distribute recycled soaps. At a larger scale, the industry needs to collaborate with local and cantonal administrations which are responsible for waste management plans.
The torn and toss system of bed linen in hotels has a significant impact on the environment. Upcycling (giving used products a second life) can be the solution. Hotels can give away the used bed linens to local companies that recycle them and create new threads to sew new bed linen or turn them into curtains. Promising circular economy startups are committing to this new economy (see for example, Green Alley Awards, Europe´s startup prize for the circular economy established by Landbell Group)
When hotels refurbish their hotel, hundreds of furniture and items get thrown away. To counteract this irresponsible waste, hotels can give it to upcycling companies or donate it to institutions that redistribute it to people in need. The Swiss tourism industry along with its main associations and stakeholders need to stand up and develop long-lasting agreements with Applied Universities, professional schools, and to capture value while actively contribute to reaching the SDG objectives and CO2 emissions objectives
Transportation is also an important matter to consider when it comes to being more sustainable. The rising demand for decarbonization across transport means a growing interest in engines such as hydrogen-powered trains. The contribution of hoteliers in encouraging the use of this transportation is non-negligible.
For example, while numerous direct lines to ski stations, offering door-to-door baggage transports and allocated space for the ski equipment already exist, hoteliers can propose, through a partnership, reduced or free public transportation for their guests. Rather than working out deals independently, hotels and touristic destinations should partner up and negotiate special prices with cantonal authorities and SBB (Swiss Federal Railways).
#5 Priority: Human Capital
The hospitality industry is notoriously known for unfavorable working conditions and low pay. Therefore, businesses have to look at their human capital if they want to become regenerative. It must be a minimum standard to comply with the collective bargaining agreements, but real leaders of regenerative businesses should go beyond these. Offering fair pay, enough recovery time and flexible hours to combine private and business life are crucial for people to live a decent life. By including local schools, apprenticeship positions and open days, the hotel becomes an integral part of the community and not an island in a town, which strengthens the partnership and creates a symbiosis.
Additionally, when outsourcing certain tasks, the company does not just pass on the responsibility to the contractor, both are responsible that environmental, social and other standards are met. To raise the bar toward more sustainable hotels and restaurants, one can look out for companies labelled as Certified B Corp, Green Globe, Regenerative Organic Certification or EarthCheck.
B-Corp offers a free B Impact Assessment (BIA) that helps measure and manage a company's positive impact on its workers, community, customers, and environment.
It is in our hands to make sure that future generations can enjoy the beauty of our country and ensure that our industry survives. This means that we have to take an active approach and shape a future that we all can live with and in. By enhancing the operations, our partnerships and collaborations, we take the first step in the right direction.
Discover EHL Group's Sustainability Commitments video
This article was co-written by Daniela Dalmau Schütz, Cecilia Granberg, Livia Schmidt, Chih-Jou Tien and Mathilde Tisseron, EHL's Students.
Martin-Rios, C., Hofmann, A., & Mackenzie, N. (2021). Sustainability-Oriented Innovations in Food Waste Management Technology. Sustainability, 13(1), 210. (Available here, free access)
Martin-Rios, C., Zizka, L., Varga, P., & Pasamar, S. (2020). KITRO: technology solutions to reduce food waste in Asia-Pacific hospitality and restaurants. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 1-8 (Available here).
Martin-Rios, C., Demen-Meier, C., Gössling, S., & Cornuz, C. (2018). Food waste management innovations in the foodservice industry. Waste Management, 79, 196-206 (Available here).