No longer just a buzzword, sustainability is the overarching blueprint to which hotels in the 21st century are judged by travellers all over the world. Recent research from a number of industry think-tanks has found hotel guests will actively investigate a hotel’s green rating and determine whether their personal environmental footprint can be minimised during their stay.
As hotels have moved to curb their emissions, this has given rise to organisations such as Finding Infinity, headed by the worldly Ross Harding. One of the world’s foremost sustainability engineers and risk assessors, Harding has lived in no fewer than six cities around the world, working with companies and governments of all sizes on projects aimed at eliminating reliance on single-use resources and transitioning to a fully renewable future.
Harding will be in Melbourne on May 5, 2020 as the keynote speaker for the DesignInn Symposium– the sister event immediately preceding AHICE 2020.
Ahead of his visit, HM sat down with the enigmatic futurist to get his take on the Australian self-sufficiency landscape.
In your eyes, where does Australia’s hotel industry currently sit in terms of carbon neutrality?
About as far from it as you can get.
What are some sustainability initiatives you see the hotel sector already doing well?
Talking about it. There are some great individual examples out there, from minimising energy demand onsite, energy generation on-site, water collection and reuse, water treatment and reuse, treating organic waste on-site, avoiding the purchase of products that are destined for landfill, supplying consumers with products without packaging or plastics, operating very low waste, purchasing locally sourced food, giving back to the local community. But as a whole, the industry is really still just talking about it and doing very little.
What can Finding Infinity do for the hotel industry over both a short and long term?
We help find the most cost-effective way of helping clients have no negative impact on the environment. We provide cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate the best bang for buck. Our advice is objective.
What are some of the big environmental hurdles Australian business seem to struggle with?
Legislation would help to force everyone to do something that is good for nature and good for their wallet, but actually it’s not a barrier at all. There are so many cost-effective environmental initiatives that the hotel industry is not currently implementing. Time to get on with it.
It seems from design renderings we see these days that the most sustainable and environmentally efficient buildings are also quite quirky in their design. Is this a natural and unavoidable by-product or is this just for the wow factor? Can the best and most sustainable features of a building be incorporated into conventional building designs in order to appeal to more traditional owners?
Most of the initiatives required to make a hotel 100% renewably powered, water neutral and zero waste do not necessarily need to be seen. These renders you talk of are because sustainability initiatives are often architecturally led, blowing cash on crazy ideas that do not necessarily have a strong technical and financial argument but still tell a story for the designer. The typical design process is for an architect to come up with the concept and get engineers to justify their design. This is not how we operate.
Our preference is to get involved before architecture and inform the brief with science and finance. What we actually need is to normalise projects that have no negative environmental impact. That is when things get interesting. Now is the time when we can create profitable projects without having a negative environmental impact. Once you get the right functionality into the project from the beginning, you can make it look however you want.
What sort of everyday changes can frontline hotel staff make to improve their own daily footprint at work?
Listen more to the consumers. Ask them how you can improve the experience without making a negative impact. They already have all the answers you are looking for. But rarely does a hotel give them an opportunity to let them know.
Is Australia ready to move to a 2050 zero net emissions system, despite the apparent reluctance by politicians?
We don’t have time to wait for countries to agree, and 2050 is too late. It is cities that must move forward, not waiting for the nation. Cities like Sydney and Melbourne are some of the wealthiest in the world and also some of the highest polluters per capita. The UN has stated we need to halve carbon emissions by 2030 globally and 70% of global emissions come from cities.
It is profitable for us to transform our cities to become self-sufficient (100% renewable energy, water neutral and zero waste). If Australian cities can’t fully eliminate emissions by 2030, what hope do we have for other cities around the world to do the same by 2050? We have a perfect opportunity to lead in this country and instead, we tend to come up with a long list of excuses. There are no excuses anymore and the ones that are continuing to use these excuses are starting to look pretty foolish.