Making hostels sustainable — one step at a time

It’s no secret that environmental sustainability is increasingly important, which is why Hostelling International – Canada launched a number of initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water usage at our hostels in recent years. Wanna know how we did it?   

Water conservation

With all the toilets, showers and sinks in our hostels, conserving water is one of the most obvious ways we can cut back on the resources we use.

The first way we did this was installing 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.

We also installed dual-flush toilets and low-flow toilets, which use two litres less water with every flush. HI-Banff Alpine Centre recorded a 13% drop in water consumption compared to the same period the year before, all thanks to low-flow toilets.

HI-Victoria’s low-flow showerheads and toilets reduced that hostel’s water usage by 800,000 litres per year, while HI-Calgary City Centre’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 our wilderness hostels in Banff and Jasper National Parks where hostellers have been mastering simple living for decades. 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! We estimate that at our wilderness hostels we use less than 25 litres of water per night (including the water used to mop the floor). That’s 300 litres less than what you’d be using if you stayed in town at our hostel with running water and flush toilets. The fact is — if you don’t have it, you don’t use it. You can just enjoy a unique low-impact experience in the great outdoors and leave that extra water in the wild where it belongs.

Hostelling International - Canada Sustainability

Power conservation

Not only do we make it a priority to turn off lights when they’re not in use, but we also use energy-saving light bulbs and solar power wherever possible.

In the year after replacing older energy-zapping light bulbs and fixtures with newer more environmentally friendly models, HI-Calgary City Centre used over 22,500 kWh less than the previous year. In Alberta, that means we saved the environment from almost 20 tonnes of CO2e in one year.

HI-Victoria believes that just by turning off lights that aren’t being used, they avoid using 220 kWh of electricity each year, which is enough to power the average home in British Columbia for 10 days!

At HI-Banff Alpine Centre, replacing old fluorescent tube lighting with LED models led to an 11% electricity reduction, which translates to about 17 tonnes of CO2e saved from the atmosphere in just seven months.

Three of our wilderness hostels, HI-Rampart Creek, HI-Athabasca Falls and HI-Mount Edith Cavell, have installed solar panels in an effort to conserve power. At HI-Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel alone, solar power generates enough electricity to run the hostel’s lights and internet and charge the occasional phone. Instead of powering a generator with gas, solar power saves the mountain air from two tonnes of CO2e emissions every year, meaning all the trees around the hostel can breathe a little bit easier, which makes us breathe easier.

Hostelling International - Canada Sustainability

Conserving energy for heating and hot water

If you hadn’t noticed over the past six months or so, heating is something pretty important to Canada. Unfortunately, it’s also a major source of excess power consumption. So we’ve installed heat exchange systems and solar water heating systems to cut down our energy consumption while still remaining cozy in the winter.

Heat exchange systems use heat from the community water plant to provide heat and hot water. HI-Whistler delivers nearly 90% of its heating needs through a heat exchange system.  Being tied into this system helps HI-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.

Solar power harnesses the sun’s energy to create hot water and there might not be any better place to do that than the Okanagan. HI-Penticton’s solar water heating system is on the roof, and it handles about 50% of the hot water for the showers, using around 40% less fuel! As a result, every year 900 gigajoules of natural gas is not consumed, saving the environment from over 40 tonnes of CO2e.

HI-Penticton ain’t all high tech, though. They also use simple sun blinds to help conserve energy in the summer. The exterior blinds are drawn when the sun is hottest to keep the heat outside where it belongs! By being diligent with this practice, along with keeping the exterior doors and the windows closed, HI-Penticton doesn’t need to use the air conditioner quite so much.  Over the summer that means they avoid drawing close to 11,000 kWh from the electrical grid.

To find out more about sustainability projects at HI-Canada, visit

Author: Guest Blogger

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