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The role of carbon offsets in achieving carbon neutrality: An exploratory study of hotels and resorts

Kanwalroop Kathy Dhanda (Department of Management, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management

ISSN: 0959-6119

Article publication date: 4 November 2014




This paper aims to explore the area of carbon offsets and carbon neutrality within the context of hotels and resorts. In theory, carbon markets assist organizations in reducing their carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets. This conceptual paper aims to explore this market, analyze its operations and evaluate the participants. The expectation is that this original research will provide a foundation for analyzing this market to make sense of the widely disparate views about carbon neutrality held by companies in the hospitality sector.


The research study aimed to uncover what claims are currently made about carbon neutrality, what properties are making these claims and are these claims legitimate? A broad Internet search was conducted to collect a sample of hotels and resorts that marketed carbon neutrality as a feature of their properties. Next, a five-point Likert type scale was constructed to analyze every hotel and resort in terms of legitimate reflection of market performance challenges or dimensions. In this study, the hotels that claim to be “Carbon Neutral” were scored according to four market performance dimensions: project quality, carbon calculations, quality information of providers and price per ton of carbon offset.


The paper’s findings offer a twofold contribution. First, hotels and resorts interested in entering the offset market can use the results as strategic information to bolster efforts to achieve legitimacy and viability in this market. Second, the findings offer a benefit to consumers concerned to reduce their carbon footprint, as the results include a determination of the best hotels and resorts in terms of carbon neutrality.

Research limitations/implications

This research found that the claim “carbon neutral” is used often to attract green consumers. The spectrum of claims ranged from hotels presenting comprehensive carbon management plans or online carbon footprint applications, to hotels that had minimal information and used the “carbon neutral” for marketing purposes only. In numerous cases, the claim of carbon neutrality is not substantiated and, in this case, might be construed as greenwashing.

Practical implications

The findings indicate that claims of carbon neutrality can be exaggerated and that the consumers must themselves be educated to be aware of claims that are unfounded.


Given the large and rising number of offset providers in the unregulated carbon offset industry and the hotel industry, this contribution promises to offer value. This study is one of the first formal analyses of carbon offsets in the hospitality market. The author hopes that this study will encourage others to research the growing market of voluntary carbon offsets further.



The author would like to thank the DePaul Center for Research and Education in Hospitality and Dr Chris Roberts for funding this research. Dr Misty Johanson read through the paper and suggested journals for publication. The author is indebted to five graduate students who rated the hotels: Eric Cohen, Kelly Dollard, Milla Milojkovic, Nick Conti and Mini Mishra. Finally, the author is grateful to Dr Patrick Murphy for assisting with empirical assessments of the data and to Crina Archer for professional edits.


Kathy Dhanda, K. (2014), "The role of carbon offsets in achieving carbon neutrality: An exploratory study of hotels and resorts", International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 26 No. 8, pp. 1179-1199.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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