How to Embrace Sustainability in Hospitality

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

You care about saving the Earth. As a hospitality leader, you also care about making a profit for your company. What if you could advance both goals through the same strategies?

Today, the hospitality industry is launching eco-friendly practices, ranging from the simple (donating leftover food) to the innovative (offering hotel guests the chance to participate in beach cleanups). You can stay on the leading edge of your industry and increase your profit by embracing sustainability in your hotel or restaurant. We’ll show you how.

waitress helping customer read the menu

What is Sustainability?

To better understand the definition of sustainability, we talked to Barbra Anderson and Janet Craig, founders of the corporate responsibility consulting firm Destination Better and co-hosts of the Creating Responsible Companies podcast. They explained that sustainability is more than going green – it encompasses your organization’s environmental and social impact.

  • Environmental sustainability means you are a good steward of natural resources, Anderson says. The New York Times defines it like this: “The goal of sustainability is to reduce your ecological footprint, which is a measure of how fast we consume resources and generate waste compared to how fast the planet can recover from our habits.” (You can determine your individual footprint through quizzes like this one, for residents of the U.S., or this one, for residents of the U.K.)
  • Social sustainability means your organization acts with integrity toward stakeholders. “Directly or indirectly, companies affect what happens to employees, workers in the value chain, customers and local communities, and it is important to manage impacts proactively,” according to this article from the U.N.

For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll be focusing primarily on environmental sustainability.

Why Should You Embrace Sustainability in Your Hotel or Restaurant?

We all know that embracing sustainability is the right choice: After all, more than 11,000 scientists around the world have said that we are in a climate emergency. But you shouldn’t go green just because it’s good for the planet. You should do it because it’s good for business:

  • Your customers care about sustainability. More than half of “hotel guests preferred staying at an environmentally friendly property,” according to a survey cited in this Washington Post article, which adds that nearly 40 percent “said they’re willing to spend an extra $10 a night to sleep in a sustainable resort.”
  • You need to have a mutually beneficial relationship with the community. Reinvest your resources in the local economy, and you’ll gain the support of your community members, Anderson says.
  • Your employees want to be proud of their workplace. In the hospitality industry, many employees are millennials or Generation Z-ers. “Janet (Craig) and I have a mountain of research that demonstrates that those age groups will only work in a place that aligns with their values,” says Anderson. To attract and retain talented employees – a challenge for hospitality managers – you need to show that your organization is doing good things.
  • Your brand will benefit. When employees and customers are excited about your work, they’ll spread the word; “people are going to be automatically gravitating to you because you're doing the right thing,” Craig says.

restaurant manager with chefs in the kitchen

How Can You Embrace Environmental Sustainability in Your Hotel or Restaurant?

Going green might feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Miguel Miranda, a restaurant consultant who helped create USF’s hospitality leadership program, offers the following tips:

  • Make sure you’re complying with local laws. If you’re operating a large restaurant in New York City, for example, you must separate food waste.
  • Know your brand. What do you want to stand for? Is it donating leftovers, having no plastic in-house?
  • Evaluate your current practices. How can you reduce your footprint?
  • Before implementing a big change, consider the impact on your customers and employees. To truly help the environment, you need “sustained action over a long period of time,” Miranda says. Choose solutions that you can maintain long-term, and ensure whatever you do is financially sound.
  • “Don’t try to do it all,” Miranda says. It’s OK to start small and gradually increase your sustainable practices.
  • Keep up with industry trends in your area: “Don’t be the last guy to switch from plastic straws,” as Miranda puts it.
  • Communicate your plan to your team members and allow them to weigh in. This will ensure greater buy-in and lead to a “higher level of success.”

Sustainability Tips for Restaurants

“I think one of the first things that you have to do is figure out exactly what sustainability is to your particular industry,” Craig says. To reduce your environmental footprint, you want to look at water, waste, and energy. How you conserve these resources will vary depending on your specific situation, but these tips can get you started:



  • Make sure you don’t have any water leaks.
  • Opt for low-flow toilets and plumbing fixtures.
  • A common practice in restaurants is to thaw frozen meat under a running faucet. Not only does this waste water, it’s also unhealthy. Instead, Miranda recommends you defrost the meat in the fridge for 24 hours before use. “We have a checklist that tells us what to pull from freezer to fridge,” he says.



  • Recycle, if you aren’t doing it already.
  • Get creative with kitchen trimmings. When you’re done slicing that side of meat into filet mignons, can you dice the scraps into a steak salad? This benefits the environment because you are using all of the meat you purchase, “so the investment into the resource goes farther,” Miranda says. Plus, it saves you money.
  • Look at where you are sourcing your food. Is it from responsible farms?
  • Donate excess food to a food bank. “In many cases, the food tossed into our nation’s landfills is wholesome, edible food,” says the EPA. You can feel good about helping those in need and save money at the same time: “Many local food banks will pick up food donations free of charge, saving you warehouse storage and disposal costs.” You may even qualify for a tax benefit.
  • Compost your wet waste. This will return nutrients to the soil, instead of allowing food to rot in landfills and produce more methane gas. To dispose of your compost, you can contact a local company such as Suncoast Compost, or reach out to community farming networks, says Craig.
  • Reduce single-use items. Switch your plastic foam takeout boxes to an eco-friendly alternative, offer promotions for customers who bring in reusable cups, and eliminate plastic straws.



  • Ensure your facilities are well-maintained and “running optimally,” says Miranda.
  • Contact your utility provider for a commercial energy audit. “It's a free resource, and they're going to tell you what to do to save money,” says Craig.
  • Don’t heat the kitchen until you’re ready to use it. Put stickers on burners and ovens that tell staff precisely when to turn them on based on the production schedule. This will save electricity, Miranda says.
  • Use air curtains to keep the cooled or heated air inside the building.

hotel managers reviewing business information

Sustainability Tips for Hotels

If you’re a hotel manager, follow the same tips as above, but increase them “tenfold,” says Miranda. These are just a few ways you can embrace eco-friendly practices in a hotel:



  • Just as with a restaurant, you want to ensure your facility is running well. Fix leaks and install low-flow plumbing fixtures.
  • Sign up for the WaterSense H2Otel Challenge.
  • Reduce laundry: Ask hotel guests to save water by reusing their towels.



  • Install a dispenser in the shower instead of providing small bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Those small bottles “end up in landfills in enormous quantities – half a billion miniature containers a year in California alone,” says this Chicago Tribune article.
  • Partner with a nonprofit group that will recycle your hotel’s used soap bars and distribute to those in need. “Hilton's recycling program has helped Clean the World distribute 7.6 million bars of recycled soap over the past decade, keeping 2 million pounds of soap and bottles out of landfills,” according to this CNN article.
  • Along with recycling and composting, ask yourself how you can further reduce waste, perhaps by partnering with people farther up the supply chain. Craig gives the example of a bike shop in downtown Tampa: Instead of tossing the plastic pedal caps from the bikes they sell, they ship the plastic caps back to the manufacturer each month.



  • Contact your utility provider for a commercial energy audit.
  • “If you're a very large energy user, the No. 1 thing you need to be doing is tracking your energy,” says Craig. “You've got to look at it. A really easy free tool that's out there is called Energy Star Portfolio Manager.” You can use this tool to compare your energy use with that of other buildings similar to yours.
  • Install key card switches in guest rooms, or use an energy management device to monitor the temperature. One innovative system can “sense when a room is occupied,” says this New York Times article. “When a hotel guest enters a room, the device allows the temperature to be manually controlled within a certain range – from 60 to 80 degrees, for example – and then sets it back into an energy-saving mode when the room is vacant again.”
  • Use energy-efficient lighting.


restaurant manager and head chef having a business conversation

How to Embrace Social Responsibility in Your Hotel or Restaurant

Take care of people, as well as the planet:

  • Train employees how to spot human trafficking, which is a risk for the hospitality industry, says Anderson and Craig.  
  • Pay employees a fair wage.
  • Provide opportunities for mentoring and professional development.
  • Offer wellness programs that encourage healthy eating, instead of simply giving free fries to restaurant staff, Anderson suggests.
  • Source locally, whether you’re buying produce or artwork.
  • Give back to your community. Look for the “magical intersection” between what your organization offers and what the community needs, says Anderson. She encourages organizations to “think creatively about what they can do that can really set them apart from their competitor hotels or restaurants.” For example, can your restaurant offer a free cooking class?
  • Connect with hospitality companies in your area and partner on issues that affect your community, says Anderson and Craig.   

Share Your Sustainability Initiatives

“Companies are doing great things. They just aren't telling their stories,” says Craig.

Miranda agrees: “Get credit for doing the good thing.”

Even if you’re at the beginning of your sustainability initiatives, work with your marketing team to make sure people know what you’re doing. Be authentic about your strategic goals and what you hope to accomplish over the next few years. The more eco-friendly you become, the more you’ll distinguish yourself from the competition.

Interested in advancing your hospitality management skills? You might be a good fit for USF’s online program for hospitality leadership. Contact us through our website, or give us a call at 813-974-0950.