The Student Hotel: Inspiring its students and guests to be more sustainable

Photo by The Student Hotel at their Florence location

Photo by The Student Hotel at their Florence location

In this interview our team members from Sea Going Green sat down with Amber Westerborg, the Impact Manager of The Student Hotel (TSH) situated a few minute cycle from the heart of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. We asked TSH about their current sustainability projects and operations, how they are engaging staff and guests as well as some tips for other hotels looking to incorporate sustainability into their core business. 

Is TSH currently working on any sustainability projects?

We are currently working on the implementation of a flight policy, which focuses on both reducing and offsetting our business flights from September onward. Our goal is that by 2021 we will have a net zero carbon footprint from all of our business flights. We plan on reducing our flights by taking other modes of transport to cities like London, Berlin and Paris, which are easily doable by train.

To offset our flights, TSH will partner with WeForest to plant trees in Brazil, while also looking into partnerships closeby in Rotterdam and Dresden to get students involved in organizations that also have tree-planting initiatives.

Another project we are working on in-house is waste separation. Our students stay with us for 10 months out of the year and thus, we have a lot of opportunities to inspire and activate them. We have designed a strategy to introduce waste separation in the student kitchens, including a communication and activation campaign. Think posters, signage and gamification to enthuse the students to both clean their kitchens and separate waste accordingly. 

How do you engage your colleagues and students in terms of sustainability?

The staff has been really receptive! At our headquarters, we’ve gotten rid of plastic wrap on office snacks and are now using glass jars to store everything. This was actually initiated by our Office Manager. When another colleague heard of our plans for the flight policy, she reached out to me to discuss some ideas she has to engage our colleagues on this topic. These outreaches show there's a shift in mindset happening.

I am actively working on making CSR a combined effort between all our departments. An example being the TSH Changemaker Challenge. We had our students form a team and work on a business case of a social entrepreneur who works in TSH Collab (our co-working space) and then linked them up with a number of employees for a day to get some additional knowledge and skills on board. Our goal is to have the biggest societal impact by creating a complete connected community at TSH. 

What do you do particularly to empower the students and what is the goal?  

TSH's ultimate goal is to enable our students to find their purpose and go out and change the world for good. In terms of CSR, we aim to initiate a behavioral change through innovations in our buildings, workshops and events. We host Climate College Tour with Social Enterprise NL and Sungevity for example, whereby experts come and talk about certain topics related to climate change. We also encourage our students to reach out to us. A lot of them are eager to organise cleanups on days like World Earth Day or World Plastic Day. We love their enthusiasm!

Do you track your impact and if so, then how?

Amongst our students, we are able to gather some data on how they perceive what we're doing regarding our CSR policy as well as what they would like us to improve. Our goal for the next couple of years is to accumulate more data from different sources to track our progress.

How do you deal with the different kinds of waste such as water, electricity, food and plastic?    

We work with Innovation Lighthouse, our research partner, to test various products and services targeting sustainability within real estate/hospitality through so-called 'Living Labs'. We also host the studies in our own TSH locations. Last year we set up a living lab focusing on saving energy when others pay the bill.

Water: We partnered with Amphiro, an in-shower device that aims to reduce the amount of water used when showering. It was installed in 100 of our rooms to test them and we did a study on how it impacted guests’ water usage before and after the device was installed over the course of 1 month. We found that guests did in fact use 20% less warm water than before. Even after the device was taken out, guests still used 10% less. Since this finding, we have installed the device permanently in our Florence location and the idea is that our others hotels will soon follow suit. We also sell it onsite to encourage guests to take one home with them when they checkout. 

Electricity: We monitor energy usage closely using different meters in the building so that we can see if there are spikes in different areas. 

As TSH, we either acquire existing buildings that we can refurbish, or we build our own building. When we develop a new building, we have a lot more possibilities to invest in a future-proof building of course. Here at TSH-Amsterdam City for example, we didn't have the space on the roof to add enough solar panels to cover our own usage. Although, we were able to offer our roof to Sungevity so that they could supply households within the neighborhood with solar energy. For our future developments, we're also looking into rainwater and greywater installations, circular flooring and other products that will help us reduce our footprint.


Food: We really want to close the loop. First, we look at how we procure food as well as how much is purchased and are in the process of partnering with a startup that uses AI technology to measure food waste to give us a better understanding of what is thrown away. And, we’re always looking for companies to work with that help us alleviate food waste like “Too Good To Go”. We’ve also been brainstorming about hosting a dinner made entirely out of rescued food combined with a workshop on food waste. 

Plastic: Unfortunately, there's no official legislation on plastic separation yet in the Netherlands. While individual municipalities encourage households to separate plastic, this is still quite costly and time-consuming to be arranged for company waste. For the time being, we're looking into partnerships with companies that can help us up-cycle our plastic waste. For the TSH Changemakers Challenge for example, we had our awards designed by Polimeer, an Amsterdam-based startup that transforms discarded plastic bags into design pieces.

In the future, we'd love to create something circular like furniture from our waste plastic that could be used by our guests.

What do you recommend to smaller hotels that don’t have a huge budget, but want to become more sustainable?

Most hotels actually don’t even own the building, so they are quite limited in what they can do to the actual construction. Looking at their operations, there are a lot of quick fixes. It’s not difficult to replace plastic straws, single use plastics and things like plastic wrap or to introduce waste separation. All of these small changes can cumulatively have a big impact and once you get the ball rolling, you can see how people respond to it and then make more changes. For hotels that don’t have sustainability as a part of their core business, but are looking to integrate it, this can be a good start. In the meantime, reach out to your local municipality or local government for advice, as there are a lot of opportunities for support that not a lot of hotels are aware of.

We love what The Student Hotel is doing for sustainability and hope to see more hotels do the same and push the boundaries of what can be achieved for the hospitality industry and the environment. If you’re a hotel and would like to learn more about what you can do to incorporate sustainability into your business, check out our website and contact us!