Amsterdam: a pioneer in sustainability

From the little cards that help guests reuse towels to low-energy lightbulbs, sustainability is becoming increasingly prevalent in the hotel sector. And in Amsterdam, going green is more than just a fad. For many years the City of Amsterdam has pushed a sustainable agenda, creating an infrastructure and initiatives that businesses from any industry can tap into to offset their carbon footprint. But how is Amsterdam’s hotel sector taking advantage of the city’s innovative, entrepreneurial spirit? And which establishments are taking the lead in creating a future in which being sustainable is the rule rather than the exception?

“Amsterdam is one of the pioneers in sustainability in the hotel sector,” explains Wes Viana Ferreiro, marketing manager at Hotel Jakarta, one of Europe’s greenest hotels. “The City is strict on giving new permits for hotels being built. It’s constantly thinking about the future.” Hotel Jakarta is the perfect example to prove Viana Ferreiro’s point. Given its prominent location on the IJ river, it had to demonstrate its sustainable credentials to win a public tender to develop the space it now occupies. “Sustainability was one of the key demands of the city. And they really liked our green initiatives.”

The results are spectacular, and green too. The 200-room hotel is an energy-neutral building and BREEAM Excellent certified. Rainwater is collected to water its subtropical indoor garden (which also helps to heat the hotel in the winter). Solar panels absorb energy that is converted into electricity and a warmth- and cold-storage system heats and cools the hotel. Even the staff wear sustainably made uniforms.

How hotels act as community hubs

As well as its myriad sustainable credentials, Hotel Jakarta also acts as a community hub. “We have a bakery that the locals buy their bread and baked goods from,” explains Viana Ferreiro. “We have businesses and non-profits who host meetings here. We’re really connected to the community.”

Hotel Jakarta interior

The hotel also pays tribute to its waterside location by tapping into the historic maritime connection between Amsterdam and Asia. “We are located on Java Eiland where the trade ships used to set sail to Indonesia. So, once a year we collaborate with the Tropenmuseum to host a free exhibition about this period in history.”

QO Hotel: embodying Amsterdam’s innovative spirit

Embodying Amsterdam’s unique history and innovative spirit is something that the city’s foremost sustainable hotels prioritise in almost everything they do – from the bricks they’re built with to ensuring they serve the local community.

Take the QO Hotel. Green Globe certified since July 2019, it’s housed in a remarkable Living Building made up of responsive thermal panels which adapt and react to the external climate to control the temperature inside. It boasts an underground energy storage system and a greywater system to significantly limit wastewater. In addition to these technological innovations, almost a third of the concrete used in the hotel’s construction came from the city’s iconic old Shell building, imbuing it with Amsterdam heritage.

The Kitchen Garden at QO Hotel Amsterdam

The greenhouse at QO Hotel Amsterdam

“Part of the reason that we are Green Globe certified – and we are only the second hotel in Europe that has that certification – is that all of the building materials we used come from within 100 miles of our location,” explains Inge van Weert, the hotel’s general manager. “We make our footprint as light as possible. And we also try to keep our suppliers as local as possible – our coffee roaster is from Amsterdam; our tea supplier lives on our street and makes his deliveries by hand. Those local connections matter to us.” in fact, the hotel even has its own greenhouse in which it grows its own produce.

Van Weert says Amsterdam’s thriving ecosystem of sustainable businesses, initiatives and startups is making it simpler than ever to go green. “It’s getting easier to become more sustainable as there’s a lot of new products, startups and services coming on to the market. There’s far more focus on the sharing economy, too. If I look at what was possible three years ago and what’s possible now, it’s amazing, and that’s a great journey which the hospitality industry can be proud of.”

Creating communities to share sustainable innovations

Creating communities to share ideas and innovations is something the team at Amsterdam’s The Student Hotel knows about well. They are on a mission to develop a space where students, travellers, professionals, creatives and entrepreneurs can connect and learn about sustainability. “We weren’t built as a sustainable hotel,” explains impact manager Amber Westerborg. “But we do look at it from a pragmatic point of view and try everything we can to be as sustainable as possible.”

That ethos also extends to being a role model to others in the industry. “We are always looking into different types of partnerships that can help boost our ambition and create positive impact,” Westerborg explains. “That includes working with local organisations. It’s great to be a frontrunner, but we also want to see a change in the industry. We try to be a testing ground for startups, for new products and services that could help drive that change, and that’s about the greater goal of sustainable tourism and real estate rather than just The Student Hotel being the best in its kind.”

Why Amsterdam’s top hotels are working together for the greater good

Along with the QO Hotel and Hotel Jakarta, The Student Hotel is also part of Amsterdam's Circular Hotels Leaders Group, which was launched by the City to act as a place where leaders can come together to share best practices in sustainability. “We get together every two to three months to share initiatives and ideas about how we can improve,” explains Van Weert. “When I came to Amsterdam and realised we were going to be working closely with hotels that might be seen as our competitors I was surprised. But we are all very open to working together and sharing good things, we don’t see them as competition as it’s for the greater good. That is something that is quite unique in the world.”

Westerborg credits the City of Amsterdam with helping to foster an open and collaborative approach to sustainability. “The City is usually the one that connects the frontrunners group with startups or green initiatives to help us become more sustainable,” she says. “I work closely with the City and they are very open to what we are doing.”

Van Weert is certain the city’s hotel sector is heading in the right direction when it comes to addressing environmental concerns. “I think Amsterdam is ahead of a lot of cities when it comes to sustainability,” she says. “The city council is helping push that onwards and that really helps – it’s making everything more circular. I can see that the hotels are reacting to it and changing in order to keep up with guests’ requirements. They see that it’s great for nature and the planet, as well as their wallet. I see a bright future for Amsterdam’s tourism and hotel industry in the next five to 10 years.”

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