It's finally happening - your hotel is going green. Maybe the decision came from the top, or perhaps it started with an enthusiastic employee at the bottom of the line and worked its way up. No matter who made the big decision, a more pressing reality should be sinking in: Your hotel is going green, and you have to make it happen. Don't panic - it's doable, and the process can be extremely rewarding. The following advice and tips from hospitality and environmental professionals will help you as you roll out your green program.
Why Go Green?
The world is going green, my friends, so the real question is: Why fight it? If you need to convince your bosses, your staff, or your guests that it's necessary and important to employ environmentally sustainable practices in your hospitality facilities, keep in mind the following reasons to fully embrace this sweeping trend:
Green leads to more green. Perhaps the most convincing aspect of going green, especially when making a business case, is the remarkable cost savings that result. Look for existing green projects as examples to share, and be sure to keep track of your own savings as you go along. Did you know that compact-fluorescent lamps (CFLs) last 10-times longer than incandescent lamps and use 75-percent less energy, which equals roughly $25 in savings over the lifetime of the lamp? Are you aware that hotels can potentially save up to $6.50 a day per occupied room by using towel-rack hangers or sheet-changing cards that promote a sheet/towel reuse program? Statistics like these (from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Association for Linen Management, respectively) are vital in building your case for going green.
Kevin Gallagher, president of Green Leaf Environmental and the Audubon Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program (through Reading, PA-based TerraChoice Environmental Marketing), agrees that bottom lines are persuasive. "Unless you can prove that there are bottom-line savings or that going green meets some market demand, it's tough to convince senior managers to spend the money," he says, but adds that it's a proven fact that hotels can save money by going green. "Take a towel program, for example," he explains. "If the guest opts to reuse the towel, the hotel saves on water, cleaning chemicals, and labor. On the other hand, a hotel could go for a large overhaul like lighting or insulation or new windows, which would be a large outlay of money initially, but you would recoup the monies over time from being more energy efficient."
The savings timeline is important to consider when budgeting for green programs. "You have to look at the long run," says Kit Cassingham, environmental hospitality consultant and founder of the Best Green Hotels website. Cassingham, who has nearly 35 years of experience in the hospitality industry, says that, while some green measures may show instant decreases in your utility bills, you should expect a more gradual payback from larger endeavors. "Even 1 or 2 years down the road sometimes isn't long enough - it might be a 5-year payback," she admits, but the savings will come, and they will be substantial.
You are helping the environment. This seems like a no-brainer, but don't let the dollar signs be your only motivator. Going green ultimately sustains our natural resources and protects the planet. As long as you're thinking long term in money matters, consider the long-term implications of not going green. Climate, health, and natural resource concerns should be just as important as cost savings, and your positive impact on the environment will have far-reaching consequences.
Green is competitive. According to Gallagher, "There's an ever-increasing segment of the population looking for properties that are incorporating green and sustainable business practices. It's not a trend that's going to go away." Indeed, more and more buildings (including hospitality facilities) are going green - and marketing that fact. Colleen Huther, green representative for the Annapolis, MD-based Thayer Lodging Group and general manager at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront hotel, says, "The industry is embracing green, and we want to be ahead of our competitors." Where does your hotel stand compared with other green hotels?
You will earn recognition. When you make dramatic, positive changes at your hotel, people will notice. Rolling out a successful green program can earn you much-deserved public recognition, and you could also qualify for some certifications. Check out the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) website for more information on LEED® certification, or see if you can get your hotel Green Seal certified. Don't forget to spread the word on your websites as well - on your site, let your guests know what you are doing to better the environment and their stay.
Who Needs to Be Involved?
"Everyone from the ground up has to be involved," says Brendan Cunningham, a green champion in the accounting department at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront. "Maintenance workers and janitors to the CEOs - everyone has to buy in to the green program." Stewart Moore, CEO at international environmental services company EC3 Global, Boston, agrees with Cunningham and adds that, "while the impetus will come from the managers, for the actual day-to-day implementation, the staff is going to be the driving force."
Many hospitality facilities that roll out green programs form a green team to manage the process. "Don't do it on your own," advises Gallagher. "Make a green team with staff from various parts of the hotel - they know the property and have the best ideas." Patty Griffin, president and founder of the Houston-based Green Hotels Association, encourages the green team to make sure every person on staff has a specific role in the program. "Talk to your staff. Get all the housekeepers, the chief engineer - everybody - in a meeting and say, ‘Okay, what are you going to do in the next year about this particular thing?' " she says. Griffin also notes that incentive programs encourage better staff participation. Offering a small raise, a half-day off, or just verbal recognition when a staff member has done his or her part can raise internal interest in and support for the project.
Where Do You Start?
Once you have your green team in place, start by looking at all your bills (for utilities, cleaning supplies, food, etc.) to determine your current environmental footprint. Some of the major areas on which to focus are energy management, water conservation, indoor air quality (IAQ) improvement, and waste reduction and recycling. Check out the chart below for specific tips on how to go green in these areas according to each section of your hotel (including lobbies/public areas, guestrooms, dining/laundry areas, hotel operations, and office areas). While these tips aren't all-inclusive, they are a good place to start when forming your master plan.
As you form a plan appropriate to your resources and facility, don't be limited by what people have done before. "Creativity is huge," says Cassingham, who advocates thinking outside the box. "Stop the problem before it becomes a problem," she says, mentioning the example of excess pre-packaging of soaps, hair products, and other amenities that just creates more waste. Get your green team to brainstorm creative solutions to your trickiest problems.
"Set yourself a plan, and set a timeline for that plan," suggests Griffin, who adds that posting utility bills will show employees where you're starting and where you hope to go. Shabnam Bastansiar, another green champion at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront, says, "Going green is an ongoing process." She comments that going one step at a time is probably the most realistic method for executing your plans, and that it should get easier as you go along. "The more you do, the more ideas that will follow."
Gallagher says that staff education is the best place to start after your plan is in place. Have monthly meetings to discuss goals and educate new employees on the green program. He also notes that the extent to which a hotel goes green at the get-go depends on the size and the age of the property. "A hotel in downtown Montreal spent over $900,000 on a lighting retrofit, and the buyback was less than 2 years," he explains, "but some properties don't have that kind of capital money to spend, so it's better, in some cases, to start with employee and guest education on towel programs." Determine what your budget can handle and do as much as you can, no matter how insignificant the effort seems.
Will Guests Go Green?
As long as you're educating your staff members, educate your guests. Let them know you are going green so they can jump on board. According to a recent survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association, more than half of all U.S. adults say they would be more likely to select a hotel, airline, or rental car that uses more environmentally friendly products and processes. The benefits of staying in a green hotel are numerous, so let your patrons know about them. A few of these include: respiratory benefits from improved IAQ, low exposure to VOCs, choices of healthier foods, skincare benefits from non-toxic soaps, less eye strain due to better lighting from efficient CFLs, and designs that incorporate more natural light.
Cassingham suggests giving "little signals" to your guests (like recycling bins in each room, towel/sheet reuse cards, etc.) that will encourage their participation in sustainable practices. Proper signage to indicate recycling bins or green aspects of your facility will also help guests cooperate with (and appreciate) what you're doing.
Are You Green Yet?
You can only track your progress toward becoming a green hotel if you employ thorough and consistent benchmarking and evaluation. "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," remarks Moore. Cunningham agrees, suggesting that benchmarking should occur every 3 to 6 months, at which point "you should re-evaluate costs, energy savings, etc. to see what's working."
When you have a plan that's working, certification shouldn't dictate your success. While becoming LEED certified is certainly a worthy goal, if it's not in the plans, you can still be proud of (and market) your success. "You don't have to be anybody-certified," says Griffin. "But, you can say, ‘Look, this is what we did with our utility bill in 2007, and this is what we did with our water bill in 2008.' "
While you will probably face challenges, rolling out a green program can be extremely rewarding. When you can look back on your work and see the progress quantified in dollars saved and emissions reduced, you'll know you have arrived, and you'll also understand that you have to keep moving forward.
Jenna M. Aker ([email protected]) is new products editor at Buildings magazine.
- Install energy-efficient lighting in lobbies, bathrooms, and hallways
- Use LED exit signs.
- Use low-flow toilets, faucet aerators, and touchless faucets in public bathrooms.
- Don’t over-water your lobby plants.
- Strategically place entrance mats to keep dirt out of the building.
- Install hardwood or resilient flooring to reduce particles and allergens commonly trapped in carpet.
- Specify green paints and wallcoverings.
- Make sure recycling bins are available for public use.
- Use hand dryers in public restrooms.
- E-mail check-out information to clients to avoid unnecessary printing.
- When rooms are unoccupied, make sure drapes are closed, lights are off, and AC is set to a higher temperature.
- Install only energy-efficient electrical appliances.
- Provide guests with in-room thermostats.
- Install occupancy sensors.
- Encourage the cleaning staff to leave the TV off while preparing the rooms.
- Use towel/sheet reuse cards to cut down on laundry.
- Install low-flow toilets and showerheads, faucet aerators, and touchless faucets in guest bathrooms.
- Post signs encouraging guests to take brief showers.
- Use cotton, bamboo, or other natural bed linens, towels, and curtains.
- Specify green paints and wallcoverings.
- Avoid using air fresheners.
- Have recycling bins in each room.
- Don’t put newspapers at each door – have them available in the lobby or dining area.
- Use soap/shampoo dispensers in bathrooms instead of individual bottles.
- Have hotel stationery available on request only.
- Don’t line garbage cans with plastic bags.
- Install energy-efficient lighting in dining rooms and laundry areas.
- Use candlelight during evening dining-room hours.
- Monitor cooling and heating systems – if the dryers in the laundry area generate heat, you could save energy during colder seasons.
- Serve meals on one large plate instead of several smaller ones to reduce dishwashing.
- Only operate laundry- and dishwashing appliances with full loads.
- Purchase water- and energy-efficient appliances.
- Use only environmentally friendly or green-certified cleaning and laundry products. Avoid green products with perfumes.
- Avoid using perfumed dryer sheets.
- Transport laundry in cloth bags.
- Buy soap and detergent in bulk sizes to eliminate excess packaging.
- Use cloth napkins and reusable flatware, and donate retired items to charities.
- Consider food redistribution programs and shelters for leftover food. For other food waste, join/start a local composting program.
- Reuse cooking oil as biodegradable fuel for hotel shuttles or generators.
- Use window film to prevent heat from building up while still allowing natural light to pass through. If you need to upgrade, purchase double-glazed or other energy-efficient windows.
- Establish guidelines and maintenance schedules for heating and cooling systems, and appliances in your facility.
- Reduce or eliminate the bulbs/lamps in vending machines.
- Landscape with plants that require little water or maintenance.
- Make sure plumbing systems are routinely checked for leaks.
- For new con-struction, use concrete made with fly ash, a coal-burning byproduct that uses less water than cement.
- Use a ventilation system with a HEPA filter; have the system periodically cleaned by a licensed professional.
- Make sure there is no smoking on hotel property.
- “Pre-cycle” by ordering supplies and products without excess prepackaging.
- Educate your staff on your green program and establish an incentive program to encourage involvement.
- Install energy-efficient T8 or T5 lamps with electronic ballasts.
- Use motion sensors for lights.
- Buy integrated office equipment, like a copier that also faxes, prints, and scans.
- Unplug equipment that is not being used.
- Use low-flow toilets, faucet aerators, and touchless faucets in office bathrooms.
- Avoid excess use of printers. You can save paper and avoid the potentially harmful, ultrafine particles emitted from laser printers.
- Choose office furniture made from renewable resources, avoiding particle board, spray-on foam, and harsh sealants or adhesives.
- Have recycling bins available for paper, cans, bottles, etc.
- Recycle or refill printer/copier cartridges.
- Purchase office supplies that have recycled content.