Hospitality Industry
4 min read

Sustainability in Luxury Hotels: The Inspira Santa Marta, Lisbon

Samrah AlShawi
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Set in an 18th-century building in Lisbon’s old town, the Inspira Santa Marta has been named Best Luxury Eco/Green Hotel of the World by World Luxury Hotel Awards 2018. The 89-room boutique hotel has been pioneering sustainable practices since its doors opened in 2010, such as inviting their guests to consume water bottled in-house, use in-room recycling bins or attend zero carbon emission “green” meetings.

EHL’s Master in Global Hospitality Business students met HR and Finance Director, Tomás Almeida to uncover their key to success: building a sustainable culture. Moving beyond token efforts, The Inspira’s story uncovers how hoteliers could reap higher rewards from a holistic approach to sustainability.

Leading the way in sustainability, since 2010

Sustainability is not a new concept. Historical inquiries uncover conceptual roots from the early 1970s, through to the 1990s with John Elkington’s popular coined term: the ‘triple bottom line’ of people, profit, and the planet. In hospitality however, the majority of companies are only now reacting more visibly to customers’ concerns for the planet with towel re-use policies and plastic bans.

Setting itself apart, the Inspira Santa Marta was founded with sustainability in mind.

Its main objective: to do the right thing.

At the time the Inspira first opened in 2010, sustainability was not a popular theme in hospitality. Our founders were visionaries who were convinced of the importance of sustainable business - Tomás Almeida - HR and Finance Director, The Inspira Santa Marta

The first challenge was to transform an 18th-century building into an environmentally friendly hotel. The 255’000 euros per-key-investment called for a long-term orientation, as well as partners and suppliers who could share in this vision. The subsequent trial was to win over customers and employees alike by spreading and repeating a message which, at the time, was relatively novel. Nine years later, the Inspira’s boldness has been rewarded with operational economies, customer and employee appeal, and industry-wide recognition from the World Luxury Hotel Awards, the European Hospitality Awards, and the National Geographic World Legacy Awards, amongst others.

Hospitality_Insight_Inspira_Before_RenovationThe Inspira: Before complete renovation


The Inspira: After complete renovation


A myriad of sustainable initiatives

Almeida emphasizes that an understanding and integration of the triple-bottom line is key. The hotel proudly implements myriad initiatives geared towards social, environmental, and economic responsibility, such as:

  • 100% renewable energy (green certified) powers the hotel
  • 35 solar panels (covering a surface of 70 m2) heat water
  • A heat-reflecting skylight illuminates the lobby
  • Cork flooring, double-glazed windows, and rockwool insulate the building
  • A hydrocarbons filtering system cleans the water collected in the parking area
  • Water is filtered and bottled in house, profits from which go to build water pumps in Africa
  • A take-back suppliers policy is in place to minimize waste production
  • Food is donated to people in need towards a Zero Waste Movement
  • Ingredients are carefully selected towards biodiversity protection
  • Hiring practices, working conditions, training and education demonstrate social responsibility towards employees

And the list goes on.

Building a sustainable culture

Doing the right thing" is the motto guiding everything we do at Inspira” shared Almeida.

With sustainability as a key consideration across the board, it is no surprise that the Inspira has gathered awards for its actions. Indeed, the embeddedness of sustainable thinking in corporate culture can be instrumental to its success. Higher levels of commitment - where CSR is a recognized strategic pillar and embedded into the corporate culture - is helping hotels like the Inspira stand out from the crowd.

As greenwashing or social-washing become increasingly prominent, the blurring lines between profit-driven and care-driven corporate sustainability are cause for consumer skepticism. This poses a challenge for hotels looking to promote their ethical practices, but an opportunity for those displaying an authentic commitment to sustainability.

How Inspira reinforces its sustainable mindset

Though not without financial, operational, and regulatory obstacles, executing sustainable actions is only a first step.

It has become normal for us to bottle our own water and recycle, the real challenge is to keep doing more” shared Almeida “our success is a credit to our corporate culture.

With this in mind, the more important question for hotel companies may not be what can be done to become more sustainable, but rather how this can be done.

Almeida shares how the hotel’s organizational systems help build and reinforce a sustainable mindset.

Walk the talkand set objectives

Setting relevant performance objectives has helped the Inspira embody its values. The company’s sustainable brand promise is measured and propelled by goal-oriented outcomes.

Extending beyond environmental KPIs such as recycling rate or energy, water, and gas consumption, the Inspira sets objectives across the triple bottom line. Examples of socially responsible performance objectives comprise staff wellbeing and turnover, participation in socially-sustainable initiatives, and stakeholder engagement.

Moreover, despite the costs associated with environmentally and socially responsible actions, economic responsibility is not overlooked as the hotel announces concrete plans for improving RevPAR and GOP performance.


Enlisting the workforce

The hotel’s training and involvement programs encourage employee commitment.

According to Almeida “the awareness we create inspires employees to become sustainability ambassadors both within the hotel and in their own homes”.

Education begins with an intensive introductory training for new recruits that focuses on the guiding principles of sustainability, best practices, and customer messaging. Additionally, periodic visits to recycling centers and meetings with suppliers help build a broader understanding and appreciation of such activity.

We establish goals for a more sustainable world, but we know only the dedication of our employees can help us achieve them.

While a dedicated manager oversees the hotel’s sustainable involvement, employees are encouraged to get involved. “Every month, select people from different departments are invited to form what we call the Green Squad”, explained Almeida, “providing a platform to discuss sustainability KPIs and encourage our people to take ownership and spread the message within their own departments.” This shared responsibility is further emphasized through the annual performance appraisal process, which evaluates individual sustainability engagement.

Financial and operational considerations are undeniably important determinants for CSR implementation. However, lessons from the Inspira suggests that hoteliers looking to build authentic sustainable commitment would do well to look beyond these factors towards developing systems that encourage stakeholder commitment at all levels of the organization. The rest will follow.

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Graduate Programs Project Manager at EHL

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