YHA New Zealand: a Toitū carbonzero case study
YHA New Zealand hosts over a quarter of a million guests each year. They endeavour to help their guests understand the true beauty of New Zealand, while inspiring them to explore more of what the country has to offer. YHA is committed to promoting knowledge and understanding of other cultures and New Zealand, brought about through social interaction as guests spend time together in their hostels’ comfortable lounges, gardens, barbecue areas and hang-out rooms. YHA is also a committed advocate of environmental sustainability and sustainable practices, and actively educates guests and members about the environment.
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- Toitū carbonzero certified organisation
What is your involvement with Toitū Envirocare?
YHA is a certified member of the Toitū carbonzeroCertTM programme. Our association with Toitū Envirocare and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research goes back quite a long way. We started working with Manaaki Whenua in the late 1990s, when they were helping us measure our carbon emissions and with other environmental sustainability commitments. We started working with Toitū Envirocare around 2008/09 as members of the Toitū carbonreduce® programme. Because of the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011 we were unable to sustain the project and had to opt out. In 2016 we decided to re-engage with Toitū Envirocare, but this time decided on the Toitū carbonzero programme. This meant we had to go a step further and offset our unavoidable emissions.
What drew you into a formal carbon management programme?
We had been measuring our emissions for a while before we joined the programme, but we were not sure of the accuracy and reliability of the methodology. I like the discipline of Toitū Envirocare's audit process and their credible, science-based methodology. This has enabled us to get our reduction strategy focused in the right direction. In addition, being part of a formal carbon management programme aligns with the values of our employees, customers and stakeholders. We have found that it’s a strong staff engagement tool because our team understands what it means and represents.
How has it changed what you do?
We are now much more conscious of the carbon impact of our decisions. When we look at upgrading facilities in our properties, the return on investment in terms of carbon reductions plays a major role in our buying decision.
The programme helps us to focus on the right things. Before we started working with Toitū Envirocare – before we were clear about our emissions sources – we spent a lot of time on things like the size of our rental cars and water consumption, not knowing that these things would not majorly affect or reduce our overall emissions. We now know that the bulk of our emissions (about 80%) are from electricity and gas consumption, and that’s where our focus needs to be.
It has also changed the way people view us. Being Toitū carbonzero certified aligns with the organisation we want and aspire to be.
In general, what kind of improvements have you made?
Recently we replaced the hot-water system at YHA Auckland International into hot-water heat pumps. We had these old boilers that were highly inefficient and were no longer fit for purpose. To replace them, we looked at alternatives like solar, gas and hot-water heat pumps. The carbon savings we were able to achieve with hot-water heat pumps would have cost us three times more had we opted for solar. We could quantify the carbon emissions generated by the current heating system, and how they would change depending on which new solution we put in. We would never have been able to do that previously, and it means that now we are making informed decisions.
We have installed solar energy in our Wellington, Aoraki Mount Cook and Franz Josef hostels, and a geothermal down-bore in our Rotorua hostel, which have all had positive results. For example at Aoraki Mount Cook, we have saved approximately 30% on our energy bills and we no longer run out of hot water!
In our solar-powered hostels we have adopted Splash Monitoring. It’s a really effective way of managing energy, identifying where in the property energy is being consumed. Because of this, we were able to identify major malfunctions in some hostels, which we otherwise would not have been able to detect. It also helps us understand energy sources, such as how much energy is from solar and how much of it we’re drawing off the grid. All this information is displayed on TV screens in the hostel receptions so the guests can see how much energy is being used in that property in real time.
As part of our commitment to people, planet and profit, all our hostels are required to have a business plan with initiatives for environmental sustainability, and to engage with the local community. In our last annual report we reported on a number of such projects. In the National Office we run the Green Footprint project, which is a long-standing biodiversity replanting programme that we run in partnership with the Waihora Ellesmere Trust, Selwyn District Council and Enviroschools. Children from the local Enviroschools get involved and participate in planting days while learning about the environment in an interactive way. Through this programme we’re trying to restore the bellbird habitat.
Have you saved money because of your initiatives?
Yes, we have saved money on energy, but we re-invested that to further improve our facilities and make them more efficient. Solar is clearly not cheap to put in, but we know that the payback is very healthy in the long run. So we will save money in the end, but that has never been our major driver. Most of our conversations about upgrading our properties have always been focused on carbon reductions and guest satisfaction.
What other benefits have you experienced?
Most of the benefits we experience have been about our brand, about drawing the right people to us whose values align, but it is also about it being the right thing to do. Every staff member at YHA New Zealand – there’s about 180 of us – is here because this organisation has meaning for us. The staff were delighted when we achieved our Toitū carbonzero certification because it also held meaning for them and aligned with their values. This achievement symbolised the organisation we all felt we should be. It’s about our commitment to the environment and trying to do what we can to minimise our impacts. We’re very aware that roughly 80–85% of our guests come from overseas and have high carbon impacts due to air travel. Even though this is something we cannot control or minimise, we are conscious of it. So once they are here, we do our best to help reduce their impact on the environment through efficient facilities and education.
How have you communicated your achievements to your stakeholders, and what has been the most effective method?
Our communications are mostly through social media and other online media. We try to convey the environmental sustainability aspect of our business at every possible touchpoint. We include it in our website, newsletters, presentations and other marketing material. Our annual report is another place where we communicate our credentials, and that’s quite archival because it’s laid down each year.
Which of your achievements are you most proud of and why?
We are very proud of the many upgrades we have incorporated in our properties, including the solar installations, hot-water heat pumps and Rotorua geothermal down-bore. With a little more work we actually think we can take our Rotorua property off the grid and be fully reliant on the geothermal bore. We are also really proud of the fact that we’re the first accommodation network to be Toitū carbonzero certified.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this?
Being a not-for-profit organisation money is usually a major constraint. Despite that, we’ve put in a lot of work and planning to achieve what we have so far and we are really proud of that.
How has being a member of the Toitū carbonzero programme assisted you?
We gain a lot from the networking opportunities that Toitū Envirocare offers. Interacting with Toitū Envirocare staff and other companies engaged in their programmes helps us broaden our perspective and share knowledge. We’re often all grappling with the same issues, so talking to one another really helps the business community improve.
Overall, what value does Toitū carbonzero certification have for your organisation?
It demonstrates our commitment to the planet and to people in a way that’s readily understood. The Toitū carbonzero certification is a known brand: people get it. As soon as we say we’re Toitū carbonzero certified, people know exactly what we’re doing and they associate it with the credibility of Toitū Envirocare.
Where are you heading now with your carbon management efforts?
Our efforts in the last couple of years have focused on property upgrades and installations, but this year our focus is the behavioural aspects of sustainability – things like behavioural changes with the usage of waste bins. Even though our waste to landfill isn’t a primary source of our emissions, it is still important and we would like to do something more about it. We realise that it’s not the most appealing side of sustainability, but it’s important and effective in the long run. It’s easy to put solar panels on the roof, but we would not have changed anyone’s behaviour – the guest still turns the tap on and hot water still comes out.
What advice would you give other companies thinking of mitigating their carbon footprint?
Realise that it is a long-term commitment – it takes years to build sustainability into your organisation and you cannot turn it on and off when convenient. We have been working on this for about 25 years now and we’re still going.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience with Toitū Envirocare and their programmes?
The support that we get from the Toitū Envirocare team is excellent and of a very high standard. We appreciate the time that everyone puts in to understanding our business and helping us with the programme. The audit process has become a lot simpler and less taxing over the years. We see significant improvement in Toitū Envirocare's software and systems that have ensured it’s actually quite a simple process now.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Youth Hostels Association of New Zealand Inc.
T: +64 3 379 9970
Toitū carbonzero certified organisations
Toitū carbonzero organisation certification is proof an organisation is positively contributing to our environment through measuring, reducing and offsetting their carbon footprint. To achieve Toitū carbonzero certification, an organisation measures all operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions required under the international standard for carbon footprints, ISO 14064-1, including vehicles, business travel, fuel and electricity, paper, and waste. The emissions are measured annually, and the inventory is independently verified to ensure it is accurate and complete. Once they have measured their footprint, the organisation must develop plans to continually manage and reduce their emissions. Each year, unavoidable emissions are offset through the purchase of quality carbon credits to achieve neutral emissions. The organisation must reduce emissions on a six-year cycle.