Carbon audit Q&A
We’ve set ourselves the target of reducing our carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, and reaching net zero by 2050. The first stage of the project has been to accurately measure our carbon footprint. We spoke to Peter Hunt, who is coordinating the project, to find out more about what is involved.
First things first, what is a carbon footprint?
Peter: Put simply, a carbon footprint is the quantity of carbon dioxide – a damaging greenhouse gas – produced as a result of the actions of an individual or business. You could argue that greenhouse gases produced while on holiday count as part of the traveller’s individual footprint, but since Inntravel is organising the holidays, we’re going to count that within ours.
How do you go about measuring such a thing?
Peter: We started at the beginning of 2022 with the easy part, measuring the carbon footprint of our office. For that, we’ve taken into account our energy and water consumption, how staff commute to and from the office, and how much travel is undertaken for business purposes – holiday research and development, route-finding, staff training etc – plus use of other resources such as paper.
Peter: The much bigger task was working out the carbon footprint of customers travelling on our holidays. Luckily, there are people out there who specialise in this, so we’re working with a consultant who has done the majority of analysis and number-crunching for us.
Inntravel offers about 300 holidays – more if you count city hotels – so where on earth do you start?
Peter: Funnily enough, it’s one of our data specialists, Jill, who got the ball rolling, not our holiday managers. She mined our – rather complex - database, finding out the number of nights spent at each of the 1,000-plus hotels that we work with, and information that allowed us to calculate the total number of miles our customers travel by plane, train, taxi and bus over the course of a year as part of our holidays.
Presumably the carbon generated by different means of travel is fairly easy to work out, but what about the carbon footprint of hotels?
Peter: Every hotel will be asked to complete a questionnaire covering issues such as what type of energy they use and how much the hotel consumes, what percentage of their waste is recycled rather than sent to landfill, how much water is consumed, what meals they provide, and whether they have any green initiatives in place. We can then calculate carbon footprint scores specific to each of the hotels we work with.
That’s sounds like quite a detailed questionnaire. What if they don’t know all the answers?
Peter: Experts in sustainable tourism have created a database giving the average carbon footprint for accommodation of different types, sizes and classifications. Let’s say we’re looking at a 4-star hotel in Switzerland with 35 rooms. We’d type those details into the database and it would tell us that the average footprint is X. This isn’t perfect, but it’s a good starting point until we’ve been able to calculate individual scores for our specific hotels.
I see you mentioned the country there. Does that make a difference?
Peter: Yes, even in Europe, because different countries rely more on some energy sources than others – France has several nuclear power stations, whereas Switzerland uses a lot of hydroelectricity. And there are other considerations too, of course, not least climate – hotels in warmer countries will use less heating but more air conditioning, whereas the reverse is true of hotels in cooler climates.
Besides hotels’ water and energy consumption, and waste management, is there anything else you’ll be looking at?
Peter: There wouldn’t be if we organised holidays on which guests spend their days on the beach, but of course that’s not our speciality! Jill hasn’t just calculated the number of nights at each hotel, but also the number of meals, picnics, luggage transfers and other services provided by each. And then there are things like bike hire for cycling holidays and rental cars for touring holidays. There’s a lot to consider…
Not so many people travelled in 2021, so won’t that affect the figures for Inntravel’s overall footprint?
Peter: Yes, obviously our carbon footprint was much lower than normal in 2020 and 2021. But we wanted a proper benchmark against which we can compare things going forward, so we are actually looking at 2019, the last full year of normal travel.
With all the numbers crunched, what are you doing with them?
Peter: We’ll use the numbers in three ways. The first is to publish each holiday’s carbon score on our website, so that, if they want to, customers can see how different holidays compare to one another; these individual carbon scores are available to view now. The second is to know how much offsetting is needed. The third – and perhaps most important, since ideally we’d prefer to reduce our carbon footprint rather than offset it – is to use them to work out what we need to do in order to cut our carbon emissions, and then measure how successful we are in doing so. The carbon audit is just the start of a much more ambitious project!