COPENHAGEN, Denmark—Hoteliers in the capital of Denmark are letting their green flags fly as they emerge on the front lines of sustainability in the global hotel industry.
According to Danish hotel, restaurant and tourism trade association, HORESTA, 65% of Copenhagen’s hotel rooms, representing nearly half the city’s supply, have a globally recognized eco rating such as Green Key.
Head of HORESTA’s environment department, Mikal Holt Jensen, said these figures establish the city as an incontestable green tourism pioneer on a national, Scandinavian and international stage.
“Twenty-five percent of Danish hotels have an eco-label compared to 46% of Copenhagen hotels. It is mostly the bigger hotels that are green,” he said.
Mikal Holt Jensen
Lars Bernhard Jørgensen, managing director of Wonderful Copenhagen, the city’s promotional arm, pointed to the “COP15 effect” in greening the city’s hotel industry during the past three years.
In 2009, Copenhagen hosted COP 15, the United Nations climate change summit, which was certified as the world’s first sustainable political international summit, he said. “The rise in the number of environmentally certified hotels is partly due to that event. At the close of 2008, only 8% of the hotel rooms where certified. (At the) end 2009, the number was 51%.”
“The fact that Denmark decided to host COP 15 at a far greater level of sustainability then required by the U.N. has been a catalyst for the city’s tourism industry,” Jørgensen said. “The hotels are far greener than prior to the summit, and there is a very big emphasis here on environmental awareness.”
Kirsten Brøchner-Mortensen, director of marketing for Copenhagen-based Brøchner Hotels, said the U.N. climate summit made the Green Key label compulsory for groups such as itself.
“Under a government requirement, all hotels involved in the accommodation of COP 15 guests had to adhere to the Green Key label,” she said, which took the number of members up by approximately 20% to 30%.
Brøchner Hotels is an industry leader, Brøchner-Mortensen said. “We were the first carbon-neutral hotel group worldwide as from 2007. We have taken a long list of initiatives such as neutralizing our emission by carbon offsets and quotas, and implementing many energy saving ideas, on the initiative of guests as well as staff.”
A driving force
Officials at HORESTA said the development is also due to a broader green awareness among corporate and leisure guests.
“There is a demand for environmentally certified hotels from major companies in particular,” said HORESTA Chairman Jens Zimmer Christensen.
“They need to show their employees or clients that they act in an environmentally responsible way when selecting hotels.”
As the Danish government and Copenhagen City Hall turn up pressure on the hotel industry to go green in line with the capital city’s 2025 carbon-neutral goal, Brøchner-Mortensen also believes the business sector is a key driving force.
“For several years now, many large Danish corporations such as Novo, (owned by global health-care company Novo Nordisk) have asked us to address global warming as well as other sustainable efforts. They would not even consider us as a potential hotel supplier unless we have proved our sustainable behaviors.”
Some hotel industry players are more cynical about the extent of Copenhagen’s green pioneering status.
“It depends how you define ‘green,’” said Allan Agerholm, managing director at Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers.
“We consider the Green Key certification to be an absolute minimum certification requirement,” he added. “To be truly engaged in sustainable hotel operations needs much more than that.”
Since opening in 2010, the carbon-neutral building has made major green strides, installing Denmark's first groundwater-based heating and cooling system and the largest solar panel coverage in northern Europe.
Its 85-meter exterior and roof generate a huge amount of the hotel’s energy. And all kitchen waste is converted into organic fertilizer.
“Our hotel building is the only one in Scandinavia to be certified under the EU Green Building program as a low-energy building as well as being truly (carbon)-neutral because all energy for the building operation comes from windmills.”
“The goal of being (carbon)-neutral by 2025 still only applies to the Copenhagen municipality and has not spread so far from there,” he added.
“We do believe, however, that sustainability will be an increasingly important parameter when companies and private guests choose their hotel suppliers in the coming years, and we will use that to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.”
A costly exercise
Agerholm said implementing green measures can be a costly exercise, but we clearly see that it pays both on top and bottom lines.
For HORESTA’s Holt Jensen, the price tag alone is a big consideration in opting for one green rating over another.
“I think the hotel choose the classification that is most relevant and offers them the best value. (Scandic AB) has chosen the Nordic Swan, which has a good reputation and is well known in the Nordic countries. Green Key has strong criteria, is present in 35 countries and 2,000 companies, and is less expensive than similar eco-labels.”
For these reasons, he said, Danish hotels do not subscribe to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s hotel carbon measurement initiative.
“They use brands that are most relevant and accepted in local business. As such, 37% of Copenhagen’s hotels have the Green Key rating and about 10 % Nordic Swan,” Holt Jensen said.
The WTTC’s aim to harmonize carbon emission management in the hotel industry with its new benchmark might be as difficult to implement as worldwide hotel ratings in general, sources said.
Despite the varying criteria among Danish hotels, the green momentum is moving into higher gear.
Far from being put off by costs, hoteliers at small hotels such as the 3-star franchise Hotel Guldsmeden Bertrams believe green investments will pay off.
Nikolas Hall, owner of the 3-star franchise Hotel Guldsmeden Bertrams, said the property champions sustainable operations by using energy-saving devices, sorting garbage, recycling paper and sourcing organic foods.
“I believe that being sustainable and environmentally friendly is the only correct way to run a hotel,” said owner Nikolas Hall. “And it gives long-term financial benefits.”
“We practice this with energy-saving devices, sorting of (garbage), recycling of paper and organic foods. And we work with suppliers who share our beliefs,” he added.
Hall is waiting for his pending Green Globe certification, in the footsteps of the other two Guldsmeden-branded properties.
While Denmark in particular is at the forefront, he said, many suppliers—and to a lesser extent customers—still have a lower green threshold than others.
“Customers indicate that they like the efforts we put into doing things correctly, but they also want the ability to choose where the border line goes ... It is like, ‘Don't shove too much green at me.’