Are hostels sustainable?

As a Sustainable tourism student, I recently investigated what Hosteling International does to be sustainable. It’s no secret that environmental sustainability is increasingly important, which is why Hosteling International – Canada launched a number of initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water usage at our hostels in recent years. Wanna know how they did it?


To conserve water, a number of hostels have implemented water conservation strategies.

The first strategy was through the installation of low-flow showerheads. Low-flow showerheads use 50% less water than regular showerheads. For every five-minute shower, they save about 18,000 litres of water annually. That’s enough to fill a backyard pool! HI Whistler alone saves more than 1.5 million litres of water a year through the use of low-flow showerheads.

Strategy 2 involved installing Dual-flush toilets and low-flow toilets, which use two litres less water with every flush. HI Banff recorded a 13% drop in water consumption compared to the same period the year before, all thanks to low-flow toilets.

HI Victorias s low-flow showerheads and toilets reduced that hostel’s water usage by 800,000 litres per year, while HI Calgary’s low-flow showerheads and dual-flush toilets save that hostel over 13 million litres of water per year. WOW.

If you want to get a good feeling for how good low-impact and low-consumption living can be, head to one of HI’s Wilderness hostels in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Many of these hostels have no running water or flush toilets, so guests have to think hard about their water use. Pretty quickly you’ll see that life can still be comfortable!

Hostelling International - Canada Sustainability


By turning off the lights when not in use, installing new light bulbs and fixtures and by utilizing solar power, Hostelling International is reducing the amount of electricity usage, resulting in reduced GHG emissions.

Strategy 1 involves turning out the lights in any room not being used. HI Victoria believe that as a result, every year they avoid drawing 220 kilowatt hours from the grid, which is enough to power the average home in this province for 10 days!  That means less pressure to expand hydro-power generation and more wildlife habitat left intact!

Strategy 2 involves replacing light bulbs and fixtures, meaning less electricity is used to light up the place. HI Calgary changed light bulbs and fixtures and within 1 year have avoided drawing over 22,500 kWh from the electrical grid.  In Alberta, that means we save the environment from almost 20 tonnes of CO2e  in 1 year.

Strategy 3 involves solar power. HI Rampart Creek, HI Athabasca Falls and HI Mount Edith Cavell have all installed Solar Panels in an effort to conserve power.

At HI Rampart Creek solar power generates enough power to run lights, the Internet and to recharge the occasional phone. As a result of solar power at Rampart Creek, 700 litres less of gasoline is used, saving the mountain air from two tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, meaning all the trees around can breathe a little bit easier, making us breathe easier.

Strategy 4, which is less common but still effective involves using front loader machines to spin excess water out, meaning linen takes less time to dry. At HI Nordegg, bedding is washed in a front loading washer. Not only that, for ten months of the year, Hi Nordegg hangs the sheets outside in the bright Alberta sunshine helping to avoid drawing 810 kilowatts from the electricity grid and means 700 kilograms of CO2e emissions is not released into the environment.

Hostelling International - Canada Sustainability


Heating is a major source of power consumption in Canada. Emissions from heating can be reduced by heat exchange systems and solar water heating systems.

Strategy 1, heat exchange systems uses heat from the community water plant to provide heat and hot water. HI Whistler delivers nearly 90% of energy needs through a heat exchange system.  Being tied into this system helps Whistler reduce natural gas consumption plus avoid emitting 120 tonnes of CO2e every year.  That’s the equivalent of the amount of carbon sequestered by over 25 acres of pine or fir forest.

Strategy 2 involves solar water heating. HI Penticton uses the suns energy to create hot water. The solar water heating system on the roof does about half the job of the heating of hot water for your showers, using around 40% less fuel!  As a result, every year 900 gigajoules of natural gas is not consumed and saves the environment from over 40 tonnes of CO2e.  That’s the about the same amount of carbon sequestered annually by 9 acres of pine or fir forest.


The way in which a hostel is built can have a significant influence on the amount of energy used.

When HI-Canada-Pacific Mountain Region audited the energy efficiency of its hostels a few years ago, HI-Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel had higher per guest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than any other hostel in the region. The major culprit is an aging roof made out of asphalt shingles that wasn’t well insulated.

After the audit, HI Kananaskis created a plan to reduce its GHG emissions and the first phase involved replacing the roof with better insulation and metal sheeting that will help keep the heat in. This phase alone was projected to reduce the hostels propane use and GHG emissions by almost 50%. By the time the project’s second and third phases, which involve replacing the hostel’s furnace and windows, are complete, the hostel’s total GHG emissions will be down by almost two thirds.

This case study demonstrates the impact the building infrastructure has on energy consumption and GHG emissions.


The last strategy is education.

Hostelling International has created many educational posters that are put around hostels to inform people about our initiatives, and encourage them to do their part to reduce environmental impacts.