“World Tourism Day returns to focus on the future. As the sector’s recovery gets underway and building on unprecedented political and public recognition for the sector, UNWTO will highlight the opportunity to rethink how we do tourism. This means putting people and planet first and bringing everyone from governments and businesses to local communities together around a shared vision for a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient sector.”

- World Tourism Day 2022 Concept Note

Given that tourism and travel make up one in ten jobs in Canada, World Tourism Day is an important day to celebrate. But the world is changing, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization is hoping this September 27 will be a little different.

UNWTO officials say this year they intend to “highlight the opportunity to rethink how we do tourism.” That includes helping to “realize tourism’s potential as a vehicle for recovery and transformation.”

One of the ways to transform tourism in this day of climate change is by re-examining the travel and hospitality industry and its effect on the environment in which we live.

It’s obvious that sustainable tourism businesses are good for the environment. It also appears to be good for business.

In Toronto and across Canada, hospitality business operators are finding innovative ways to lessen their impact on this one-of-a-kind planet of ours. They’re also finding that good environmental practices attract consumers who are just as eager to make a difference.

Jef Edwards, executive chef and co-founder of Ration Food Labs at the Beverley Hotel on Queen Street West in Toronto, said his restaurant has taken a number of initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment, including a no-food-waste policy and a vertical garden in the basement for winter for growing all their microgreens and herbs for both the kitchen and the bar.  In summer the garden moves to the rooftop.

“The food service industry has historically been very wasteful, and we aim to act as a beacon for change and inspire other restaurants to follow suit by showcasing ways restaurants can thrive and still be ethical. 

“Our discerning customers are thrilled to hear how we minimize our impact. I truly believe this focus is why people have gravitated to our dining room: not only do they get a great meal but they can feel good dining here once hearing about our zero waste and sustainable agriculture practices.”

Yes, ethical sourcing can cost more money, but Edwards said the restaurant is able to offset those costs by farming for themselves and foraging for everything they can

Hotels around the world also are paying close attention. Accor Hotels, which includes Fairmont, Novotel and many other brands found in Canada, has a chief sustainability officer, Brune Poirson, who was formerly a cabinet minister in the French government.

Speaking at an Accor conference in San Francisco in July, Poirson said Accor was the first hotel group in the world to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. They’re also committed to abolishing single-use plastics, such as mini-shampoo bottles, in their rooms by the end of this year.

Accor officials say company executives don’t get their bonuses if they don’t meet environmental targets, so there’s a great incentive.

Design also is important; hotels need to be built with sustainability in mind, she said.

“We also have to cut food waste, and we need to get our chefs to embrace more plant-based foods.”

Sustainability is seen by many as an environmental issue, but Poirson said there’s also a human element.

“Equal opportunity and social equality also are important,” she told reporters in San Francisco. “If people aren’t happy, if workers can’t make ends meet, it won’t work.”

According to Export Development Canada, a “responsible and sustainable business is a proven formula for long-term success.”

Export Development Canada describes a sustainable business as having four categories:

  • Protecting the environment and people
  • Conducting business with the highest level of integrity
  • Building a supportive and inclusive workplace
  • Contributing to the communities where we live and work

A recent poll found that 59% of Canadians say sustainability influences their purchases. This is especially true for food and drinks, which means it’s something the hospitality industry has to pay attention to.

The former Thompson Hotel in downtown Toronto was gutted and rebuilt as The 1 Hotel Toronto, a luxury property with an emphasis on recycling and waste reduction. The hotel has contracted with a company that takes old trees from the city that were destined for the scrap heap and uses them for tables and such. Some of them have a little stamp so you know what kind of tree it was, and even where it was growing before being taken down. 

The 1 Hotel lobby bar, called Flora Lounge, is a botanist’s dream, with a massive array of plants surrounding a huge mirror. There are plants just about everywhere you look throughout the hotel, including some hanging from the rafters in the restaurants.

The remote Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland uses filtered rainwater in the washrooms and for laundry, as well as utilizing the property’s 68 solar panels to heat both water and floors. Local suppliers and craftspeople are employed to make wooden furniture and colourful quilts, which are placed in every room.

The Coast Coal Harbour Hotel in Vancouver runs on a Zero Waste management system that ensures none of the property’s waste ends up in landfills. Other eco-friendly efforts include using keycards that are made from 40 percent recycled plastic, biodegradable cleaning supplies, as well as providing tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels that are made from 100 percent recycled EcoLogo-certified products. It said their measures save more than 700 trees, 300,000 gallons of water, and 177,000 kilowatts of energy each year.

Marriott International says it has set a long-term, science-based target to reach net-zero value chain greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050, in line with the criteria and recommendations of the Science Based Targets initiative.

Here in Canada, The Sheraton Centre Toronto has installed a food waste dehydrator that reduces food waste volume by 80-90%. By-product can be used as fertilizer for gardens and plants, and saves on food waste going to the landfill.

Delta Hotels by Marriott Winnipeg recently replaced all bathroom mirror vanity lights from compact fluorescent to LED (800 lights replaced). The Ritz-Carlton Toronto has switched out all 263-guest room, Club Lounge, and spa entrance lights to LEDs, along with six floors of parking garage lights.

Canadian Marriott hotels also are developing standards and guidelines around electric vehicle charging.

Exhibition Place, home to Canada’s largest convention centre, says it’s a leader in the field and that directors have “taken an integrated approach to sustainability since 2004” with the formal launch of their GREENSmart Program.

“We have embraced environmental stewardship in a three-pronged approach; energy creation, waste diversion and energy conservation,” said Exhibition Place General Manager Laura Purdy. “We incorporate a significant variety of sustainable initiatives including: Photovoltaics, Geothermal, Wind Turbine, District Energy, Rainwater Harvesting, Green Roofs, living wall, waste diversion of over 25 streams, urban forestry, bee hives, and LED lighting retrofits, across our 192-acre site.”

Purdy said Exhibition Place boasts the LEED Platinum Enercare Centre, the LEED Silver Beanfield Centre and LEED Silver Hotel X.  The District Energy System at Exhibition Place encompasses the Enercare Centre, Coca-Cola Coliseum, Beanfield Centre and Hotel X. Cold and hot water is produced by the cooling/ and heating plant located at the Enercare Centre and provided to these facilities to sustain their operational requirements.

Exhibition Place was one of the first convention centres in North America to sign on to the Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge, a global initiative to address climate change across the events and meetings industry through targets set out in the Paris Climate Accord to commit to achieving net zero by 2050. 

The various programs in place are offered at no extra cost to clients, Purdy said