Certification as Support to Net-Zero Hotels

Sustainable hospitality in 2022 and beyond

May 12, 2022Real Estate

While sustainability was not a material topic until 2018 for most players, now the impacts of climate change on their business are already tangible and real. Capital and debt tend to be more tied to net-zero commitments and transition plans, especially since COP26

To further understand the tangible paths for sustainability in hotels in 2022, the 2nd session of the GRI Sustainable Hospitality Global Committee brought together changemakers leading the ESG agenda in the real estate industry. 

Committee Members and Special Guests put a spotlight on key certification tools that may support different stakeholders to achieve sustainable commitments. The committee brought leaders from three different organizations that provide data, tools, benchmarks, and accreditation for hotels in their pathway to certification. 

The main purpose of a certification framework is in offering companies the level of technicality required to get the message across and achieve sustainable commitments. 

*Disclaimer: While this review highlights the most relevant topics under discussion, it does not contemplate the full discussion between the Board and all Members. In addition, committee sessions also dedicate time for networking. 

GSTC Criteria – a global standard for sustainability in travel and tourism 

The session started with Randy Durband, CEO of GSTC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council). He stated that GSTC developed the first global standard for sustainability in travel and tourism. 

With a special focus on the operational aspects of hotels, the organization aims to support net-zero in hospitality with the standard GSTC Criteria. Besides, they are used for education and awareness-raising, policy-making for businesses and government agencies, measurement, and evaluation. 

They are arranged in four pillars: 

  • Sustainability Management; 

  • Social & Economic Benefits (maximize benefits to the host community and minimize negative impacts); 

  • Cultural Heritage (maximize benefits to communities and culture and minimize negative impacts);

  • Environment (maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts)  


Another point highlighted was the ISO certification base developed by the organization. Taking several pioneering ISO standards in sustainable hospitality operations, GSTC Criteria is supposed to deliver an accreditation service with a framework that can operate globally and on any scale. 


GRESB – a benchmarking tool for ESG performance 

Real Estate Director Van Thiel Charles was keen to present to the board GRESB, an organization that validates, scores, and benchmarks ESG performance data, with business intelligence and engagement. GRESB tools provide a standardized framework that connects real estate investors, managers, and developers to deliver a comprehensive picture and help them accelerate the transition to sustainable real estate assets. 

Institutional investors may use GRESB analytical tools to collect data and monitor ESG opportunities, risks and impacts, and engage with investment managers. Through the GRESB Assessments, managers and operators should get the ESG performance of their portfolios and assets benchmarked. 



When it comes to recognizing a certification scheme, GRESB follows 5 minimum requirements:  

  • Real estate and sustainability focused, and certified at asset-level; 

  • The assessment process and criteria documents/information are available and robust; 

  • The technical development of the scheme is overseen by a governance body; 

  • The certification is based on a technical documentation review and/or on-site assessment; 

  • The certification process is conducted by an independent, third-party, and qualified professional 

According to Charles, as discussions on ESG responsibility since the pandemic have gained an unprecedented relevance, the number of companies consulting GRESB to assess ESG performance, likewise, has increased 24% from 2020. GRESB is not focused only on hotels but serves all types of assets. 


Read our ESG Global Committee Report | 2021


EEA & BREEAM – Co-creating a science-backed sustainable standard 

EEA (Energy & Environmental Alliance), like GSTC, also deals specifically with hospitality but targets the design, construction, and management of hotels. Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive of EEA, presented the company as a pioneer for scientifically robust standards and metrics on hospitality operational processes. 

One key challenge brought by Ufi was the need for data, as intellectual input is not enough. It is essential to define optimum ranges covering energy, water, transport, management, waste, pollution, health and well-being, land use and ecology, and materials. 

EEA is actively getting hospitality data into BREEAM platform and certification, which is recognized, especially in Europe, as a leading sustainability method for master-planning construction projects, infrastructure, and buildings. With the partnership, explains Ufi, BREEAM and EEA are co-creating a scientifically standard for sustainable building management in the hospitality industry. It can help investors and managers to better place their capital and resources, but also governments and lawmakers to draft better regulations to promote sustainable practices. 


Certification Framework – science-backed and standardized tool for progress

The certification process can sometimes be similar, but it is far from simple. Special Guests from the three companies agreed that the industry needs to dissect what exactly is relevant to each specific real estate sector when it comes to great standards. 

Another hurdle mentioned by GRI members was the lack of a single approach to reaching and defining net-zero. A clear mandate from the respective Management to evaluate what net-zero means for each company is also urgent. On the other side, a science-backed and standardized tool for progress is key to solving bottlenecks and helping stakeholders.

As the great majority of investors are including carbon neutrality objectives in new investment strategies, looking at initiatives that are focused on collecting data and science-based targets will be decisive. 


Session Highlights


Watch the full session here. 

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