Green Talks #16 – Sustainability is part of our corporate DNA

Almost 29,000 beds in 40 locations in 25 cities and nine countries in Europe: by 2025, a&o wants to be the first zero CO2 hostel chain in Europe.

The Berlin-based company is taking a significant step closer to its goal. 

Founder Oliver Winter 

Grażyna Grot-Duziak: You have said that sustainable tourism is written into the core of the business. You want to be the first accommodation chain in Europe to achieve zero net CO2 emissions.

Oliver Winter: Yes, absolutely. Sustainability is part of our corporate DNA, and we will not let up in asking questions and taking action again and again: Is it feasible? What’s the point? Until we come to the decision: Yes, we will implement it. Sustainability has played a role since our founding 23 years ago, and its importance has steadily increased. Today, the entire a&o team is involved, challenged and asked to develop ideas, to make suggestions: What can we do even better. Our next big milestone is: carbon neutral by 2025, and we will achieve it. After that, the journey continues and we will take further steps to shape and promote future-oriented, sustainable, responsible tourism, to make it possible.

In a volume-driven business, can hotels be managed according to sustainability principles?

The question is: Would we still be in the game at all if we left sustainability out of it? Sustainability must be a central part of our work – precisely because we are volume-driven and want to remain so. 45 % of our guests are younger than 25 – they expect it and demand it.

The sustainability report that a&o has lately published is evident proof that it works!  The 30-page report provides a detailed overview of the key strategic sustainability topics, realized and planned measures, effects achieved and new goals. Key initiatives include modernizing homes/increasing building efficiency; developing and implementing employee integrity code; and responsible procurement.

You are asking how successful we are at management – we have just achieved the best half-year balance in the company’s history: With total sales of over 100 million euros, a& o exceeded its previous year’s result by 47 percent. The already strong months of May and June, with room occupancy rates of over 80 percent, were joined by exceptionally strong start to the year. More than one million overnight stays in the first quarter already ensured full houses, especially in Berlin, Hamburg and Venice.

I understand you have a plan for this?  Is this a long-term plan? Will it apply to all your hostels at the same time?

From the very beginning, sustainability has been part of our business. From water- or electricity-saving measures to today’s solar panels on the roofs, e-fleet or green energy – we implement step by step, as quickly as possible. Many things can be implemented quickly, others are more complex. My tip: Low hanging fruits first. In 2015, we started measuring our carbon footprint. From just under 9 kg, today we have come out at 3.73. kg of CO2 per overnight stay, a&o is already undercutting the competition by up to 75%. And thats not enough for us yet.

We currently operate 39 properties in 25 cities and nine countries. In the coming year, the company will invest up to 20 million euros in energy-related renovation measures alone. 90 percent of the a&o locations are existing properties: Preservation instead of new construction is a key sustainability motto for us and thus also a growth strategy.

If we want to enable sustainable travel and thus be a forward-looking industry, we have to continue to change the way we think and act and, among other things, reduce consumption and emissions even more drastically and even with that we are not yet satisfied. By 2025, we will reduce our emissions to a minimum and offset the rest. And after that, we will go further.

A few weeks ago we published our first sustainability report, I told you about . It shows the path we are consistently taking toward zero emissions 2025. Everybody can take a look at  it here: LINK (full report).

This is the first time that a&o has offered a comprehensive analysis of its commitment. This topic  has been part of our company since it was founded in 2000. The Sustainability Report 2022, which is basically based on the reporting requirements of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), is the prelude to reports that will be published annually in the future and is intended to underline „that sustainability is increasingly becoming a core value of the business model”. We are committed to social and environmental change in the spirit of responsible tourism.

Yes there is a strategy, there is a plan, and how do you want to execute it ?

We execute already – permanently. New ideas, new measures. Our Green Team is a voluntary initiative. We invite colleagues from all houses and departments to participate. This gives everyone the opportunity to learn about a&o’s sustainability practices and contribute ideas that can help our company become more sustainable. The ESG department is responsible for monitoring and implementing sustainable projects and initiatives. Sustainability report shows how far a&o is willing to go: that we embed ESG (Environmental protection and social engagement) principles into every aspect of our business. Here are some of the many examples:

  • Prioritize local production: reduce food shipments by 10 percent per year; avoid tropical and seafood;
  • Greater energy efficiency: all homes increase by at least one energy class;
  • Solar energy: installation of PV systems wherever possible;
  • 100% green electricity in all European hostels (where available);
  • Shift the company vehicle fleet to 90% hybrid or full electric vehicles
  • Investigate increasing the number of hostels with CO2-neutral linen service to 80% and options to reduce the linen transport distances
  • Enhance collaboration and dialogue with waste removers to improve the separation and recycling of materials at their sites, in order to increase the reuse of materials and promote a circular economy
  • Policies: a&o Integrity Code as an integral part of terms and conditions and employment contracts; and “a&o Responsible Sourcing Policy” which applies to both a&o procurement staff and all our product suppliers and service providers alike.
  • Creation of sustainability training for all employees

Development and implementation of a biennial employee satisfaction survey

  • Development of a human rights policy statement
  • Setting the stage for cultural diversity and contribute to livable cities where we operate is through our “art&o” project, which is bringing together artists, musicians, and guests.

Are the guests of the hostels also involved and helping you to achieve your goals?

More and more commitment in the matter of sustainability is expected from guests, also from school classes and organizers.

With the call to action “Ten cents per guest, per overnight stay” we encourage guests to compensate for their carbon footprint.: as of now, direct bookers can voluntarily offset their stay at a&o. With the help of the e-commerce solution „Climate Klick”, guests can easily and effectively make their stay climate positive: In the booking process, the question „Do you want to offset your trip?” appears. – with the respective specification of the emissions and the corresponding amount, depending on the length of the stay. In future a&o will automatically take over the compensation for all stays of a&o club members.

Besides, there are special sustainable programms / offers for school classes in the planning such as

– climate breakfast >> a breakfast like a school lesson, where students are taught environmental/sustainability knowledge about food, its origins etc. by educational staff
– sustainable smartphone tours >> with city tips for regional offers and eco-friendly mobility

We inform wherever possible and get a lot direct feedback. We want to inform and motivate people to live sustainably in an entertaining and playful way, in a way that inspires, not teaches. How this can look is  best demonstrated by the a&o Berlin Mitte and soon also by the hotels in Dresden and Copenhagen with their ESD measures – Education for Sustainable Development: with colorful comic strips in the stairwells, with Wheels of Knowledge and stickers (almost) everywhere in the building, which were developed and implemented by a&o interior designer Lavina Daryani with the support of external artists.

You are the first hostel chain in the world to receive an ESG 2 rating from the renowned rating agency Sustainable Fitch. For a&o to achieve the second best possible rating is a major success and motivation?

Exactly, a&o is the first hostel chain worldwide to receive an ESG rating of 2 from Fitch. With this recognition, a&o achieves the second-best possible rating. What does it meab for us? Top result in sustainability is motivation and above all responsibility to become even better. For sure ,  this achievement is a significant step on our Net Zero path. As mentioned here already ss early as 2025, a&o wants to be Europe’s first emission-free hostel chain. Three kilograms of CO2 per overnight stay is the target from its own efforts, with the remaining offset.

Since the company beginnings 23 years ago, a&o has been committed to the responsible use of resources. Many ideas and suggestions from employees for reducing energy consumption have been implemented since then. We have sustainability in our DNA. However, what is also worth noticing, on top of ecological aspects, the Sustainable Fitch rating also evaluates the social and corporate governance fields of action. And we also scored high in both these aspects. Diversity is one of our corporate values: we have  800 employee swho come  from 59 nations, they are all part of the a&o team; the Berlin headquarters achieves a share of women of more than 52%; Regarding governance: agreements with employees at management level include, among others, 25% „green KPIs”.

Sustainable Fitch rating is confirmation that our steps are taken in the good direction. If we want to make traveling possible in the future, we have no other chance than to offer sustainable tourism. Anything else has no future.


Thank you so much for this interview

Grażyna Grot-Duziak


Oliver Winter, Founder and CEO a&o Hostels

Oliver Winter finished his studies at Humboldt, and the first a&o in Berlin Friedrichshain started in 2000. The concept and the brand are gaining momentum, even today. In May 2022, a&o Rotterdam City House No. 40 was added; 25 cities, nine countries make the group the world’s leading hostel provider. „Courageous” and „grateful” are typical words for the founder and CEO – and not just for growth during the pandemic: Edinburgh, Budapest, Warsaw. „With full speed, but zero emissions into the future” – by 2025, a&o wants to be emission-free, a commitment for the Berlin born in 1975, father of four children: „a&o means Everyone can travel – that should also apply to future generations