News & Views

Hostelling International USA Houses New Sustainability Program

Hostelling International's Chicago hostel | Image credit: ExpertFlyer.com

Hostelling International USA yesterday announced the launch of a new eco-certification and sustainability monitoring system for its 50+ hostels in the United States.a new partnership with Sustainable Travel International and its Sustainable Tourism Education Program (STEP), the system will be used to gather data and make baseline site assessments of criteria including business travel, carbon emissions, energy use, guest education, purchasing practices, waste and recycling, and water consumption.

“As we work to reinforce the value of a holistic approach to sustainable business operation and mission impact with all of our stakeholders, STEP has provided HI-USA with a valuable resource,” said Aaron ChaffeeHI-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.”

STEP is an eco-certification NGO anointed by the United Nations’ Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) that offers sustainability assessments to tourism ventures from hostels to SCUBA diving centers. STEP follows the GSTC criteria in awarding their certification, a rubric that includes sustainable management, social and economic benefits to the local community, benefits to cultural heritage, and focusing on three tenets of environmental standards: conservation, pollution reduction and biodiversity.

In late 2012, the pilot project conducted at HI-USA’s 15 sites returned results including:

  • 15% of all electricity consumed by the certified hostels was generated through renewable 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.
  • 81% of all cleaning chemicals purchased were non-toxic, and 79% of all paper purchases contained post-consumer recycled content.

Eight of the hostels participating in the pilot program have already been awarded the Bronze Eco-Certification from STEP, the focus of which is in an in-depth desk assessment of the site. The other seven sites plan to apply for eco-certification in the next 12 months.

“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 has been committed to low-impact travel and environmental stewardship since its inception. Its approach builds off of the already green nature of hostels, a practice that encourage guests to stay in communal rooms and leave a smaller footprint through the lowest prices.

Moving forward, 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-part y eco-certification program by 2015, the additional task required to move up to the Silver, Gold, or Platinum level in STEP’s certification.

“We know that sustainability is a journey, not a destination,” added Michele Machado, HI-USA’s Sustainability Coordinator. “We’re just glad we’re headed down the right path, armed with good information about where to go from here.”

In other hospitality news, today — World Water Day — marks the launch of the WHOLE WORLD Water initiative, in which Virgin Hotels, Ritz-Carlton and a host of other global hospitality brands will begin bottling and selling their own water and contribute 10 percent of the proceeds to the WHOLE WORLD Water Fund, which benefits clean and safe water programs around the world.


Brady Hamed is a sustainability enthusiast and educator currently located in Rochester, NY. He spent the last four years working for a B.S. in Earth Systems from Stanford University ('12). After graduating in June, instead of following a career path,… [Read more about Brady Hamed]


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