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Thu 16 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Offsets: The path to neutrality

Fairmont Dubai's eco-champion Alka Patel takes a look at carbon offsets, considers how they can help hotels and suggests the best way for a property to set out on the route to neutrality.

Carbon footprints, carbon offsets, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon neutrality and credits: phrases that are all part of the global lexicon employed today when talking about sustainability.

Large corporations, sporting events, even rock bands subscribe to these principles, including Nike, World Cup Soccer and world stage performers such as the Rolling Stones and Coldplay. But what do such topics mean to hoteliers in the Middle East?

It is estimated that the region's hospitality industry uses 225% more energy than their European counterparts - so what can a hotel do to mitigate its carbon usage? Where do you start? And, more to the point, is carbon neutrality the right approach to take?

What are carbon offsets?

A carbon offset is a financial instrument representing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is seen as an opportunity for individuals to take responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions that are created everyday from driving cars, turning on computers and air travel. The premise behind this is relatively simple - since climate change is a global issue, an emission reduction made half way across the globe has the same positive effect as one that is made at home.

How it works is also straightforward; to counteract sending polluting emissions into the atmosphere, you can effectively subtract them by purchasing ‘carbon offsets' which are simply credits for emission reductions created by emissions-reducing projects - most commonly renewable energy projects such as wind farms, biomass energy or hydroelectric projects and energy efficiency retrofits. You can purchase these credits and apply them to your own emissions to reduce your net climate impact.

Choosing the offset route

A good place to start when looking at carbon offsets includes EcoSecurities, a leading company in the business of sourcing, developing and trading carbon credits from greenhouse gas emission reduction projects. It has recently established an office in the Dubai and can assist with a portfolio of certified global projects such as wind power projects in China to natural gas projects in India. For more information, visit www.ecosecurities.com.

Setting off

Before embarking on a carbon neutrality program, calculate your carbon footprint and conduct an audit of your property. For the former, contact your corporate office and inquire about a carbon offset calculator tailored specifically for the hospitality industry.

This may be somewhat challenging as, according to the Tourism Carbon Offset Service, a new industry specific calculator with agreed parameters has yet to be developed. If one is not available, work with a reputable environmental group to create one or to assist in measurement process - for example, earlier this year Fairmont Hotels and Resorts teamed up with the WWF to study the company's carbon footprint. Once this is determined, WWF and Fairmont will design a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions throughout its global portfolio of hotels, resorts and mixed-used projects.

Making it work for you

• Carbon neutrality works best when you start at the micro level and make sure that your own ‘house' is in order. Track every possible and potential area for wastage at your property and have an action plan in place. Conduct an internal audit asking the following questions:

• Have you undertaken a detailed assessment of energy use throughout the property?

• Do you have a scheduled preventative maintenance program for: HVAC, lighting, refrigeration, food preparation, water system

• How do you track your consumption of energy, water and waste?

• Have you installed an automatic building controls to control HVAC, lighting and other equipment?

• Where have you installed sub-meters to monitor zone specific energy or water usage?

• Do you have high efficiency HVAC units (EER of 11 to 12)?

• Are you on schedule to replace incandescent lights with energy efficient lighting?

• Have you installed tap aerators on all faucets (2.5 GPM recommended)?

Moreover, educate your guests and colleagues on their carbon footprint. Is your management team on up to date energy and water conservation practices? Have you implemented a hotel wide ‘shut off' policy to turn off idle equipment and lights? Do your guests know how they can participate in a towel- or sheet-change programme, guestroom recycling and other initiatives that you have in place?

By ensuring the answer to all these questions is ‘yes', you can put your property on the road to becoming carbon neutral.

Alka Patel is the public relations manager for The Fairmont Dubai. For more information email: alka.patel@fairmont.com

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