UAE hotels urged to open door to sustainability

An Emirates Green Building Council report throws up some interesting revelations about the hospitality sector’s urgent need to improve eco efforts

Saeed Al Abbar

At the end of September, Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC) released the findings of a first-of-its-kind report – ‘Energy and Water Benchmarking for UAE Hotels’. The report makes for interesting reading, as it details an in-depth analysis of the UAE’s hospitality sector’s sustainability initiatives.

Collated over a three-year period between 2013 and 2015, the study draws on information gathered from 46 voluntarily participating hotels across the UAE, focusing on their property’s general, physical and operational characteristics, as well as their annual energy and water consumption data.

The key findings of the study are that UAE hotels have unequal energy and water performance, with high potential for significant savings using viable and affordable existing technologies. This correlates with a recent report that Dubai’s five-star hotels consume up to 225% more energy compared to their counterparts in Europe.

There is a strong need to replace old fixtures and ensure maintenance of water systems, with laundry services and landscaping contributing heavily to water use intensities. The study also finds that poorly performing hotels consume three times the amount of energy and 7.4 times the amount of water compared to the best performing hotels.

More recently built hotels were found to benefit from newer technologies and efficient design as well as stringent codes and regulations, underlining the need for older properties to consider retrofit as a solution to reduce their carbon footprint.

“The benchmarking report is a first-of-its-kind study in the UAE aimed at establishing quantitative data on the energy and water efficiency of buildings within a key sector of the economy. The study aligns with the UAE’s two-pronged goal of driving best practice and growth in the hospitality and tourism sector, as well as being a global leader in sustainable development,” Saeed Al Abbar, chairman of EmiratesGBC, said during the presentation of the report.

“The findings will serve as a strong indicator that will enable the hospitality sector to reduce its carbon footprint by improving water and energy performances. We are thankful to the participating hotels for their commitment and resolve to enhance their energy and water use efficiency standards.

“The comprehensive study will enable the hospitality sector to observe best practices in energy and water efficiency, which also make business sense in the long term with an increasing number of travellers being highly discerning about the sustainability standards of the hotels. Driving energy and water use efficiency standards in hotels will help differentiate them in the marketplace and also make them active partners in achieving the sustainability vision of the government,” he added.

Ongoing initiative

The initiative is part of EmiratesGBC’s ongoing efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the UAE’s hospitality sector, and is based on feedback received from hoteliers on the high cost of retrofitting existing properties, lack of benchmarking tools and lack of relevant indicators to compare properties against each other. EmiratesGBC also reached out to tourism bodies in the UAE and hosted workshops on green hospitality.

An expert team at EmiratesGBC analysed the energy use intensity (EUI) and water use intensity (WUI) of the participating properties to understand their performance. They also compiled correlation factors to identify the key indicators that may influence the consumption patterns of the hotels vis-à-vis their individual characteristics. These will serve as the benchmark for the specialised hospitality training modules to be launched by EmiratesGBC later this year.

All participating hotels have been provided with individually tailored benchmarking scorecards that will help them make enhancements to their energy and water use protocols, and will help support them in their strategic initiatives – both technical (involving retrofits or audits) and behavioural (education and training).

The report and the training programme to be unveiled build on EmiratesGBC’s credentials as the official operator of the Green Key eco-label programme in the UAE. Recognised by the World Tourism Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Green Key is a non-profit and independent programme, and is the largest global eco-label relating to accommodation.

Globally, tourism contributes to 5% of total global carbon dioxide emissions. The United Nations has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The benchmarking exercise and follow-up action by EmiratesGBC is just in time to support the global focus on promoting best green practices in the tourism and hospitality sector. EmiratesGBC will update, fine tune and repeat the benchmarking study on an annual basis.

The EmiratesGBC working team included:

  • Majd Fayyad – Technical Officer
  • Marie-Helene Westholm-Knebel – Senior Technical Officer
  • Lora Shrake – Operations Director
  • Sheena Khan – Education & Awareness Officer
  • Support was also provided by: all participating hotels; Taka Solutions; M.A.H.Y Khoory & Co LLC; Ajman Tourism Development Department; and Sharjah Commerce & Tourism Authority

Background of the Study:

  • 46 hotels from across the UAE took part in the study voluntarily
  • Of the 46 hotels, 25 are eco-certified hotels, 25 have installed energy efficiency features and nine are connected to the district cooling network
  • An expert panel including members of EmiratesGBC evaluated the parameters based on energy and water consumption data for three years, and the hotels’ general physical and operational characteristics
  • The study analysed the Energy Use Intensity and Water Use Intensity of the hotels

Key Findings:

  • Unequal energy and water performances across UAE hotels
  • Energy consumption higher in summer months due to high demand for air conditioning
  • EUI, an internationally acceptable norm for benchmarking of hotels, varied between 104 and 721kWh/sqm per year across the hotels; a median UAE hotel has average normalised EUI of 283kWh/sqm per year
  • WUI (Water Use Intensity) per guest-night ranged between 30 and 399 Imperial Gallons/guest-night per year.
  • A median UAE hotel has an average WUI of 136IG/guest-night per year
  • Poorly performing hotels consume three times as much energy (in kWh/sqm per year) and 7.4 times as much water compared to the best performing hotels
  • High potential for significant savings with viable and affordable existing technologies
  • Significant and negative correlation between the year of build and the water consumption, which necessitates a deeper focus on replacement of old fixtures and proper maintenance of water systems
  • Significant impact of laundry services and landscaping on water use intensities

Study Outcomes:

  • Better understanding of the current performance of the local hospitality sector
  • EmiratesGBC will offer support to build the technical capacity and awareness of hospitality stakeholders, by offering tailored training modules dedicated to industry professionals

UAE’s Green Hospitality Landscape as of End 2015:

  • 41 properties certified to Green Globe
  • 25 properties certified to Green Key
  • 4 properties certified to Earth Check
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