Carbon Emissions Series: Why Hospitality?

In the past two months, I’ve hammered through interview after interview for internships this summer, and sustainable hospitality is a subject that seems to always surface. Along with the standard boiler-plate questions, I noticed that one topic in particular would often be asked about my interest in hospitality: why target sustainability in this industry? Why not sustainability elsewhere? And is the Cornell Hotel School the best place to explore it? I must admit that I didn’t answer the question too well the first few times, but I’ve taken a step back to truly think about my answer.

The hospitality industry's reach is near endless. It is indirectly involved with the GHG emissions of six of the eight major contributors above: transportation, agriculture, commercial services, land use, waste, and power.

In my view, the key to furthering sustainability is mitigating impact. And the key to mitigating impact is by measuring and reducing the factors that contribute to negative environmental effects. Because an abundance of negative effects exist in our world, the most prudent approach (I believe) is to single out the most significant one–and to channel all our resources to addressing it. That significant issue is carbon, the greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

So what about our industry? What makes hospitality the best place to effect change for GHG emissions? To answer that question, we need to take another step back and look at all the inputs and outputs for our industry. First off, these are the major sectors in the hospitality industry:

  • Lodging
  • Foodservice
  • Conventions/event planning
  • Transportation/travel
  • Cruise lines
  • Gaming
  • Clubs
  • Theme parks
  • Tourism

Needless to say, the hospitality industry is far-reaching; each of these sectors has sub-sectors, and they are emissions-intensive services. Nearly half of all Americans have worked in the hospitality industry, at some points in their lives. Keep in mind that the list above doesn’t include hospitality’s supporting and affiliated sectors, such as finance, real estate, and consulting. It’s only fitting that a globalized industry that most people deal with on a daily basis be the target of sustainability efforts. We should target that which has the greatest size, scope, and impact potential. Because our industry has all these characteristics, its attributable carbon emissions are colossal. More details on the scope of our emissions in the coming three posts!

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