Hotel's green efforts stop when shark's fin surfaces

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 May, 2011, 12:00am


Marriott International, which has just opened Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, the highest hotel in the world, has cut down the water usage in its mainland hotels by 17 per cent as part of its green campaign - but shark's fin soup remains on the menu.

Marriott, the largest hotel chain in the US and the mainland, plans to open an extra 30 hotels in China by 2015. It currently has 60. It also has ambitious targets of reducing energy and water consumption by 25 per cent by 2017.

'We are well on track to achieve this across all of our hotels worldwide, which represents an enormous amount of energy and water savings over some 3,500 hotels,' said Arne Sorenson, president and chief operating officer of Marriott International. Guests staying more than one night now decide whether bed linen and towels are changed daily, low-flow shower heads and toilets have been installed, and energy and water use has been reduced in the kitchens. Between 2009 and 2010, the measures reduced water usage by 17 per cent.

'It is very evident that guests like greener products,' Sorenson said. 'They have been increasingly paying more attention to green measures adopted by hotels when they choose where to stay. Any green measure would need the support of customers. If we stopped providing hot water, that would save a lot more energy but I do not think customers would accept it.'

Several green features also mark the city's new 312-room Ritz-Carlton, which occupies floors 102 to 118 of the ICC, making it the world's highest hotel. It is the latest addition to Sun Hung Kai Property's Kowloon Station development and the newest in Ritz-Carlton's global portfolio of 75 luxury hotels, 16 of which are in Asia.

Sorenson said the goal was to make Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong an environmentally responsible structure with energy-saving features.

'In the guestrooms, we use a room control unit which is operated by a motion detector. If it does not detect anybody in the room for 45 minutes, it turns off the services in stages to save energy,' Sorenson said.

But in terms of food, Marriott has ignored the environmentalists' call to do away with shark's fin soup. Sorenson said the hotel has to respect the local food culture. He claimed steak and beef were not the most environmentally friendly of foods but they had to be provided in most of its hotels because of demand.

He said there was a policy of encouraging customers to make environmentally conscious choices when they order. A year ago it launched a programme called FutureFish under which the number of shark's fin dishes was reduced and special discounts on them were withdrawn. The Marriott also boasts that 65 per cent of the seafood at the group's hotels now comes from sustainable sources.

Sorenson said neither governments nor pressure groups have influenced these efforts. 'We do it because it's good business management and it's good for the environment, which we all rely on.'

Linda Ho, chief executive of the Green Council, a non-profit organisation in Hong Kong that approves green labels for products that meet international environmental standards, said green targets are set for hospitality industries in Australia, Canada and South Korea.

'Hong Kong should do the same,' she said. 'Since we don't have any industry-wide benchmarks, hotel groups usually implement only those green measures that help them save costs.'

With the Green Council launching the Hong Kong Green Awards for hotels this year, she called for more government action.

'The Hong Kong government does not have many incentives to encourage hotel sectors to be more environmentally friendly. We would also like to see the government encourage the hotel sector in this aspect,' she added.

The Hong Kong government, however, argued that it had done its part. A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said the Hong Kong Awards for Environmental Excellence was launched in 2008 to encourage organisations to adopt green measures.

This award covers the hotel sector, among others, and 19 hotels in the city have received awards under this category since 2008.