The “greening” of Beijing is visible everywhere from the solar-powered streetlights lining the sidewalks of Olympic Park to the 1,000 kilometers of green belts winding along the roads and rivers throughout the greater Beijing municipality.
The rise of China’s “green hotels,” overseen and regulated by the China National Travel Administration (CNTA), is largely an extension of the “Green Olympics” campaign under the watchful eye of the games’ organizing body, BOCOG.
In Beijing, 112 of the city’s 700 star-rated hotels signed service contracts with BOCOG, agreeing to provide rooms for about 30,000 special and accredited Olympic guests. As part of the initial agreement, BOCOG drew up a list of environmental hotel requirements in 2004, which later became the basis for the now industry-standard green hotel requirements launched by CNTA in 2006.
Gold, silver and green
Green hotel requirements range in scope from energy-conservation and wastewater treatment to food safety and the hiring of eco-friendly managers. Green hotels should install power-saving light bulbs, make use of rainwater and not offer cheap disposable toiletries.
The 120-odd legal clauses of the document “Green Hotel LB/T007 – 2006” themselves are at times general (reduce waste), and at others specific (do not serve wild protected animals in your restaurants).
Hotels are awarded either a Gold or Silver Leaf award depending on their fulfillment of the CNTA requirements. Government inspectors will visit hotels every three years to ensure that they stay green. In 2007, 1,500 of China’s 13,000 star-rated hotels had gained gold or silver leaves.
For the 112 BOCOG-contracted hotels – to many, showcase hotels of Beijing’s green efforts – only 52 were awarded leaves after the latest evaluation period in February 2007, largely because meeting green standards was voluntary.
As a United Nations Environment Program report on Beijing’s environment preparedness notes, “It is not clear how useful it is to award hotels with Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf certification unless there is an obvious incentive for them to improve their environmental credentials.”
Marco Sander, director of marketing and sales at Kempinski Hotel, one of the BOCOG-contracted hotels awarded a Gold Leaf in 2006, says there is an incentive to go green.
“The increase of a hotel operational cost is mainly connected with the higher cost of energy,” he said. “The construction of a more energy-saving building would increase the cost in the shortterm. However, it will contribute to saving energy in the longterm.”
Hotels are big energy consumers, using up 20% of the total power consumed by Beijing’s service sector. More specifically, the capital’s more than 700 star-rated hotels account for 80% of this consumption, owing to their larger sizes and expanded amenities.
Encouraging energy efficiency is not only a key to a successful “green” Olympics, but also a linchpin for Beijing’s sustainability as a whole. Beijing imports most of its electricity from coal-fired power plants in neighboring Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Hebei provinces, and despite energy-curbing policies, the city’s overall consumption grew 20% year-on-year during 2007’s summer, placing an even greater strain on the city’s electricity grid.
In the end, Beijing’s eco-friendliness may give way to energy crackdowns.
In July 2007 Beijing Vice Mayor Ding Xiangyang told all Beijing hotel managers to keep their room temperatures above 25°C and ordered older three-, four- and five-star hotels to clean out their air-conditioning systems.
“Enforcement officials will be sent around to make sure these measures have been implemented,” he said.
He also urged all hotels with BOCOG contracts to meet green standards by the end of the year. Unlike previous efforts to encourage energy saving, these moves were mandatory.
During the Olympics, Ding said, blackouts would not be allowed.