Dutch hoteliers are leading the charge to make hotels more sustainable with solutions such as moss-covered roofs and reusable water bottles made from sugar cane.
REPORT FROM EUROPE—Showing typical Dutch innovation and a strong sense of social responsibility, green measures in hotels in the Netherlands are snowballing at an impressive pace, according to sources.
The number of certified “Green Key” establishments—recognized for their excellence in the fields of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation—increased fourfold in a decade, sources added.
The country’s cultural capital, Amsterdam, claims to be the “most bicycle friendly city in the world” and one of Europe’s most-sustainable.
“The goal of making it as green as possible is high on the political agenda,” said Manon Zondervan from tourism agency Amsterdam&Partners, “and that extends to hotels.”
More than 50 hotels in Amsterdam have Green Key certification, the country’s leading eco-label for hotels, Zondervan said.
Green Key was founded in Denmark in 1994 and is active in 56 countries, and The Netherlands has taken particularly to its policies and goals, sources said.
“Many of the remaining hotels are actively working to achieve the best possible sustainable business operations and environmental responsibility,” Zondervan said.
Some hotels in The Netherlands even have dedicated Green Key teams.
One example is the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel, Noordwijk aan Zee, on the North Sea coast near Amsterdam, which has held gold certification since 2012.
Laura Roetman, the property’s communication and design coordinator, said the team meets monthly to brainstorm and strategize.
“In the peak summer months at the resort, we came up with the idea of asking hotel guests to help clean up the beach. So when they are going to take a beach walk, we encourage them to take a paper bag and pick up garbage along the way,” Roetman said, who added that guests eagerly accept the challenge in return for credit at the hotel bar.
The 700th certification in the country was issued in October to Amsterdam’s Leonardo Royal Hotel.
“That’s up from 165 hotels in 2008 and a real milestone,” said Erik van Dijk, the Netherlands’ national director of Green Key.
Over that time, the bar has been raised much higher, putting pressure on hotels to all the time take much bigger strides in sustainability, he said.
“To be eligible, hoteliers must take many measures with regard to environmental care and corporate social responsibility. These measures are partly mandatory, partly optional,” Van Dijk added.
Reaching gold status, up from bronze and silver, respectively, requires hoteliers to fulfil optional measures.
Those include proper paper usage, fair-trade towels, lighting that goes out a room is left, the economical use of laundry, supplying organic food and regional products and the absence of single-use packaging.
“If you arrive in a hotel where each slice of cheese is packaged separately, this hotel most certainly does not have a Green Key,” he said.
“A hotel will only be awarded (certification) if it is doing substantially more in terms of environmental policy than required by law in the areas of gas, water and energy conservation, catering and waste separation,” Zondervan said.
Van Dijk said he has seen a growing number of hoteliers striving to reach the highest standards, which he added will become even more stringent over time.
“We change the criteria every three years,” he said. “Now we are focusing on more energy saving but also cuts in food waste. Green Key accommodations are always challenged to do more for the environment.”
The Radisson Blu Palace’s Roetman underlined a few of its ecological initiatives.
“We say no to plastic straws and bottles,” Roetman said. “Coffee is made with the new sustainable coffee machines using biodegradable and compostable capsules. … Beyond strict waste separation and energy saving, the hotel gets to the nitty-gritty of sustainability with dozens of small green gestures such as serving and selling local products like Tony’s Chocolonely, a brand committed to selling slave-free and responsible chocolate.”
Francis Windt, GM of the Mercure Amsterdam City, was formerly at Mercure Hotel Amsterdam Centre Canal District. She said she and her team there spent a lot of time researching ways to make the historic 17th century building, built in former weavers' houses, more sustainable, from design to the rooftop apiaries.
“It took a lot of homework, because (the building) is a classified monument, so we (could not) install double-glazing but special ‘monument glass.’ We also installed LED lighting and water-savers and work with sustainable cleaning and washing products,” Windt said. The property also holds the top level of certification.
Now at the Mercure Amsterdam City, Windt continues environmental initiatives, combined with a strong storytelling element.
“Plastic packaging is excluded as much as possible, the printing of paper is kept to a minimum and the drinking glasses are recycled from the bottoms of a wine bottles by (a) local company,” she said.
“All hygiene products are made from recycled plastic, the toilet paper from recycled paper and we sell Amsterdam City water in the lobby in reusable water bottles made from sugar cane. To combat food waste, guests can use (an) app and collect leftover goodies for half an hour after breakfast closes,” she said.*
Hans Meyer, co-founder of hotel brand Zoku, said a vital component of sustainability is the intelligent use of space.
“Sustainability is not for us just about architecture and materials. … One of the challenges for us was to create more space on less square meters,” Meyer said, who add the pressure for this requirement stems from what he called “spiraling urbanization.”
“Seventy percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. We see this in Amsterdam with more and more densification and rising real-estate prices, which forces us to think seriously about how to use space in a different way,” Meyer said.
One of Zoku’s initiatives is installing moss-covered rooftops that act as insulation material, which cool down buildings, absorbs air pollution and catches rainwater.
* Clarification, 22 January 2019: The story was updated to clarify information provided by Francis Windt, GM of the Mercure Amsterdam City.