Talking Point: Can your hotel save the earth?

Creating the Biochar at 137 Pillars House

Creating the Biochar at 137 Pillars House

In this feisty Talking Point blog, D. Michael Shafer, Harvard PhD plus Founder and Director of the Warm Heart Foundation asks why aren’t hotels doing more to stop climate change.

Never considered the possibility that your hotel could help save the earth? As the hospitality industry becomes a larger part of the global economy, it is essential that every hotel and every hotel chain take up the climate change challenge. Scientists tell us that climate change - bringing extreme weather, spreading diseases like dengue and Zika, drought, rising sea levels - is due to us adding to already excessive levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Every aspect of climate change affects us directly, so a critical question for us all is: What can we do?

The answer is, a lot – and it starts at the level of each and every individual hotel. You – you – can take green to a new level – and you should for your own sake and everyone else’s.

What does “green” mean? Ninety-nine percent of the time, “green” means ‘we don’t make the situation worse.’

  • We reduce demand for oil by using solar.
  • We reuse scarce tropical hardwoods.
  • We recycle

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. That’s been the green mantra for years. But it’s out of date and it’s time we improved on it.

For decades, climate change seemed a distant possibility. ‘There’s time,’ we told ourselves. ‘If we just slow down a bit...’ Reduce, reuse, recycle is a perfect example. We will slow the consumption of environmentally-unfriendly products. The global diplomatic climate effort is another perfect example. The ‘groundbreaking’ 2015 Paris Declaration is about slowing the rate at which we add GHGs to the atmosphere.

See the fatal flaw in this logic?

Slowing the rate at which we heat the atmosphere is like tapping on the brakes as you hurtle down the highway toward a missing bridge over a canyon. You may arrive fractionally later, but you are still going over the edge.

This is where you come in. Your hotel can remove CO2 from the atmosphere every day. You can save the earth. And, no, it will not cost you anything. In fact, many earth-saving initiatives reduce operational costs or even pay a nice green dividend.

The Setting

Your grounds are a key component of your hotel’s appeal. The gardens and trees provide the peace and rest your guests need most; they create the critical first impression your guests receive upon arrival. They are also costly to water, fertilise, mow, prune and replace.

What if your existing grounds crew could transform your grounds’ wastes into a product that would cut water use, halve fertiliser requirements, improve the quality of your compost, eliminate disposal costs and cool the atmosphere?

One solution: Biochar

Biochar is super-charcoal made by heating dead plant matter in the absence of oxygen. The technology for making it is simple and inexpensive. It requires no special training and your grounds crew can handle it as part of their daily routine.

Biochar – inert carbon – has three properties that make it valuable.

  • Biochar is extraordinarily absorbent. Spread on gardens and lawns, biochar will extend time between waterings by days, cutting water requirements and costs.
  • Biochar is also highly adsorbent; it binds other chemicals – such as fertilisers – to its surface. Helping you use half as much fertiliser – and lose none.
  • The same attraction captures other macro and micro-nutrients in your soil, quickly turning biochar particles into little mineral fertiliser balls. But plants cannot eat calcium or sulphur or even nitrogen in their elemental forms. Luckily, biochar also nourishes active colonies of soil microbes and helpful fungi such as mycorrhiza that can eat these elements – and then put out compound forms of them that plants can use.

What’s all this worth to you?

The immediate benefits of integrating biochar into grounds operations are obvious – and secondary. In this highly competitive market, the real benefit of using biochar lies in self-promotion. Anyone can – and many do – pretend to be “green”, making weak commitments about organic vegetables and solar night lights.

You, however do green. Your gardens are not merely green, you garden green – and everything about your green gardening is better for the environment: You remove CO2 from the atmosphere daily, you reduce demand for energy intensive synthetic fertilisers, you cut demand for scarce water.

Want the numbers to back it up? Suppose your hotel produces 50 tons of organic waste annually (grass clippings, bamboo, tree branches, prunings, dead trees), a modest amount for any but an urban location. This converts to 12.5 tons of biochar and removes 37.5 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. How much is that? It is the amount of CO2 produced by driving 530,343 kilometers. (The equivalent of driving around the world over 13 times.)

Guests love hotels which can truly demonstrate their green credentials. There is a scientific one to three connection between the amount of biochar used in your garden and the CO2 removed from the atmosphere. So offer your guests “Climate Cooler Certificates” representing how much CO2 they removed from the atmosphere during their stay.

Last year Green Hotelier wrote about 137 Pillars House, the boutique hotel in Chiang Mai, which has gone biochar and discovered a range of benefits.

As an industry, can we go further? Of course, we can. Imagine if making biochar from grounds waste became an industry best practice. Imagine if just one major hotel chain adopted such a best practice.

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