Hostelling International USA’s (HI-USA) long-standing commitment to low-impact travel and environmental stewardship has taken a giant step forward, with the launch of an innovative pilot program designed to inform the organization’s national sustainability strategy while implementing best practices across a number of hostels.
In partnership with global NGO Sustainable Travel International and its Sustainable Tourism Education Program™ (STEP), HI-USA has developed a new eco-certification and sustainability monitoring system for its hostels. The organization is using this system to collect data across multiple hostels, and has completed a baseline assessment of its performance across key sustainable tourism indicators. Areas reviewed included purchasing practices, guest education, waste and recycling, water consumption, energy use, business travel, and carbon emissions.
This snapshot will be used to prioritize efforts moving forward, including the creation of organizational and property-level resource reduction plans, and the development of internal standards aligned with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) and the International Youth Hostelling Federation’s (IYHF) Sustainability Charter, which HI-USA adopted in 2011.
“As we work to reinforce the value of a holistic approach to sustainable business operations and mission impact with all of our stakeholders, STEP has provided HI-USA with a valuable resource,” said Aaron Chaffee, HI-USA’s National Director of Hostels. “Our pilot project provided a framework for 15 of our hostels to work toward STEP eco-certification, and offered the insight needed to establish future network- wide organizational sustainability initiatives.”
“We’re proud to demonstrate global leadership in sustainability for the youth travel and accommodation sectors,” added Michele Machado, HI-USA’s Sustainability Coordinator. “We’re confident we can use these results to make better decisions at various levels of the organization.”
The first phase of the pilot was performed at 15 hostels throughout the United States in late 2012. Findings from the pilot included:
- 15% of all electricity consumed by the certified hostels was generated through renewal energy sources.
- 41% of total waste generated by participating hostels was diverted from the landfill. Of that amount, 29% went to recycling and 12% was composted.
- Internal policies regarding the procurement of socially and environmentally responsible products were found to be highly effective. 81% of all cleaning chemicals purchased were non-toxic, and 79% of all paper purchases contained post-consumer recycled content.
Eight of the participating hostels have achieved Bronze Eco-Certification to the globally-lauded STEP Eco-Certification Standard. The seven remaining hostels plan to apply for eco-certification within the next 12 months.
A gold standard in sustainable tourism management and education, STEP is among the first global standards to be formally recognized by the United Nations GSTC. STEP also provides organizations such as HI-USA with a financially viable sustainability management solution specifically designed for multi-unit operators and destination managers.
“HI-USA has demonstrated incredible initiative and big-picture thinking with regards to sustainability management,” said Robert Chappell, Sustainable Travel International’s Senior Director of Standards and Certification. “STEP was a natural choice for an organization looking to effectively manage and monitor sustainability across multiple business units, verify its sustainability credentials, and engage the demanding youth travel segment.”
HI-USA’s commitment to low-impact travel and environmental stewardship dates back to its origins, and continues today. The organization is focused on preserving and protecting landmark buildings, national parks and the communities they are part of, and has made public commitments to energy conservation and recycling.
By its very nature, hostelling encourages guests to leave a smaller footprint by sharing rooms and communal spaces, which helps to reduce resource consumption. Over the past decade the number of HI-USA hostels voluntarily participating in city and state green-business programs has grown, and many have won awards for their efforts.
In May 2010, The International Youth Hostelling Federation’s (IYHF) Conference unanimously approved the HI-Sustainability Charter to put hostelling at the forefront of the sustainable tourism movement. In early 2012 HI-USA decided to reevaluate its environmental standards using a triple bottom line approach as defined by the GSTC.
From here, HI-USA plans to expand internal standards to further align with the GSTC Criteria, and will evaluate opportunities for network-wide implementation of a third-party eco-certification program by 2015.
“We know that sustainability is a journey, not a destination,” added Machado. “We’re just glad we’re headed down the right path, armed with good information about where to go from here."