Last reviewed 20 July 2020

The hospitality and tourism sectors have been particularly harmed by the economic repercussions of Covid-19. With no clear end to the crisis in sight, means of conserving funds or securing government aid will be vital to these businesses. However, it is possible that these organisations could benefit from a green economic recovery that prioritises protecting the environment and sustainability. Tim and Caroline Hand report.

A recent survey has stated that only 11% of hospitality businesses have been able to operate normally during the lockdown, 70% of theatres could run out of money by the year’s end and it is likely that international tourist arrivals will fall by 59% for the year.

As a result, the concept of a green recovery has prominent supporters. An open letter offering aid to the UK Government signed by 206 chief executives stated that recovery from the crisis must be used to accelerate efforts to transform the UK into a net-zero carbon nation, and that an ambitious low carbon growth and environmental improvement agenda could play a major role in addressing economic and social concerns, such as the risk of high unemployment. There is also government support for the idea, with the Prime Minister having voiced a desire for the UK to deliver a sustainable recovery that brings the international community together to reach the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

Energy efficiency

Preventing energy wastage could help the hospitality sector survive the crisis while simultaneously minimising its impact on the environment. According to a Carbon Trust report, the sector’s annual energy costs are in excess of £1.3 billion, which results in emissions of 8mtCO2e (million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) every year. The same report also reveals that a 10% or higher reduction in energy use can typically be achieved through the implementation of simple efficiency measures. Therefore, the hospitality sector could directly increase profitability and revenue without increased sales through simple improvements and technology upgrades, which could be implemented while customers are unable to access facilities due to the pandemic. For instance, the introduction of better lighting controls and transition to LEDs (which have become significantly less expensive in recent years) can reduce lighting energy costs by up to 50%. Such improvements could, therefore, bring long-term financial gain, in addition to preventing needless pollution and wastage of resources.

Renewable energy

Hospitality businesses could also gain from switching to renewable energy. Alongside the environmental benefits, they could benefit economically through energy price stability and security of supply, lower energy bills, and the possibility of selling electricity back to the grid at a premium. The advantages of this practice are highlighted by the experience of Premier Inn owner Whitbread, which is now powered by 100% renewable sources across its hospitality premises. This was achieved through a deal with SSE that covers all of the firm’s purchased electricity (99% of its total electricity use, the remainder being generated by on-site solar PV systems). Furthermore, the group also installed a battery storage unit at its Edinburgh Park Premier Inn location last year, which is expected to save £20,000 a year on energy costs alone, and effectively allows the site to generate revenue by offering the National Grid energy demand-response services, and avoid peak-time energy costs.

The fact that leisure business Merlin Entertainments now uses 100% renewable electricity at its 32 venues across the nation, including Alton Towers and the London Eye, highlights that these energy-saving and eco-friendly improvements can be implemented by a variety of businesses in the hospitality sector.

Locally sourced food

Hospitality and leisure businesses can also rethink produce delivery, thus reducing emissions. Restaurants have invested in the local sourcing of ingredients, such as through on-site gardens, which cuts emissions by removing road miles from food and drink products and supports the local community.

The introduction of food gardens at 1000 of Accor Hotels’ 4500 properties has boosted traceability, overall environmental footprint and transparency within the supply chain, and conserved valuable resources through a 30% reduction in food waste. Furthermore, some of the gardens, such as that of the Novotel London Tower Bridge, feature beehives which are used to stock hotel kitchens with honey. The use of sustainable food practices is by no means confined to large-scale chains; all six of THE PIG hotels have kitchen gardens, and focus on sourcing food that they are unable to grow or rear themselves from the local area, which limits both carbon footprint and, presumably, transportation costs. The business also grows mushrooms on spent coffee grounds, thereby reducing waste.

Sustainable deliveries

Takeaway businesses can also contribute to the green recovery, by using more eco-friendly delivery methods. Concern surrounding the poor air quality and emissions caused by traditional vehicles was increasing even before the lockdown, so firms are already moving toward low or no-emissions transportation. Both independent food outlets and large-scale delivery firms, such as Uber Eats, are using alternative means of transport such as electric-assisted cargo bikes and electric vans. Deliveroo recently partnered with Elmovo (an electric moped rental firm) to launch a zero-emission scooter hire scheme, which enables riders across central London to rent a fully electric scooter for an hourly rate of £1.83, on the condition that they commit to a minimum rental time of six hours. Elmovo claims that the scooters’ 75-mile range and top speed of 30mph makes them ideal for short-distance deliveries in inner-city locations.

Greener staycations?

The impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry is likely to be long term but may result in a net benefit to the environment. Varying national responses to the pandemic and restrictions on international flights could make travel abroad more expensive and less appealing. Oxford Economics has forecast that outbound tourism from the UK will not reach its 2019 peak until 2023. Since air travel has a highly negative impact in terms of pollution, a preference for “staycations” could have long-term positive consequences for the planet. Tourism businesses can further a green recovery by providing more environmentally-friendly forms of transport to holidaymakers. Offering kayaks in the place of speed boats could enable savings and attract customers who are keen to support eco-friendly businesses. Similarly, providing bikes to rent at campsites and hotels, to reduce car use, could also increase profits, particularly given the rising interest in cycling; UK bike sales are predicted to hit £1 billion by 2023.

It should be noted that some hospitality businesses have been forced to abandon sustainable practices by Covid-19. One hotel chain stated that their consumption of single-use plastics was increasing again due to safety concerns, and similar fears caused Starbucks to temporarily cease refilling reusable cups (although some have questioned the coffee chain’s stance).


It remains to be seen whether, in a harsher economic climate, consumers will continue to prioritise green concerns, though there is certainly a lot of media interest and discussion around a green recovery. In light of this, hospitality businesses have a lot to gain by prioritising sustainability as we return to booking summer holidays and enjoying (at least outdoor) food, drink and entertainment.

Several of the case studies in this article were taken from the Mission Possible 2020 report available at