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Mr. Hill

Eco-Friendly Practices

A New Era of Eco-mmodations - The Business Case for Going Green

By Roger G. Hill, Chief Executive Officer & Chairman, The Gettys Group Inc.

After inconveniently learning a few truths and watching celebrities roll up to red carpets in fuel-efficient hybrids, it seems everyone is going green these days. But some of the best and most effective environmental efforts are being embraced by the hotel and lodging industries. Not only do hotels feel the pressure to implement eco-friendly steps that go beyond simply allowing guests the option of reusing their linens and towels, it's apparent they must take measures to accommodate more and more guests who are specifically seeking out the hotels that have gone green. Some celebrities - from Andy Dick to Woody Harrelson - have even designed their own eco-friendly suites. And some hotels, such as 70 Park Avenue in New York City, are even starting to implement their own eco-concierge, on hand to recommend eco-friendly ways of getting around the city or give directions to the local organic restaurant.

But celebrity trends aside, hotels are seeking out their Green Seal certification and have taken pledges to become a part of the Green Hotels Association because they truly want to make a difference - and turn a profit. Last June, Gettys and Hospitality Design Group identified and developed 10 "macrotrends" through the Hotel of TomorrowTM (H.O.T.) Project, which more than 40 of America's top leaders participants believe will affect the hospitality industry today, tomorrow, and in the future. Unsurprisingly, one of the 10 trends is renewable resources. Sustainable design is on the rise. And, earlier this year, an ecotourism survey conducted by TripAdvisor(R) confirmed what we all know - travelers are willing to shell out more cash to stay in an environmentally friendly hotel. In fact, 24 percent would pay 5 to 10 percent more at a green hotel and 12 percent would pay a 10 to 20 percent premium. Additionally, 38 percent of travelers have already stayed at a green hotel according to the survey.

Despite these figures, it can still be difficult to make the leap to investing in a green hotel. Most developers assume that eco-initiatives are cost-prohibitive, but according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), even the highest performance features add an average of two to seven percent onto the initial design and construction costs of a project. And many hotels can attain Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design(R) (LEED) certification without increasing their design and construction budgets at all. And few people realize developing an eco-hotel isn't a long-term investment; costs can be recovered in as little as three to five years. According to the International Hotels Environment Initiative in 2005, hotels that have yet to implement green programs can save between 10 and 40 percent on energy costs, cut waste management expenses by 25 percent, and their water bills by 20 percent.

Now that I've gone over the numbers and shown why green design makes economic sense, let me tug on your heartstrings for a moment. It's impossible to avoid a larger discussion of a building's environmental effect when determining whether to take your hotel green. Without an understanding of the overall environmental issue, you cannot properly evaluate your hotel and determine which steps you'd like to take in developing a green hotel. When most people think green, organic and energy are the words that pop into mind. But designing a green hotel is about minimizing your overall effect on the environment and sustainability, not just using organic products or compact fluorescent light bulbs. We know from the USGBC that U.S. buildings of all kinds consume 37 percent of all energy used in the U.S., 68 percent of all electricity, 12 percent of fresh water supplies and 88 percent of portable water supplies, and 40 percent of raw materials. These buildings generate more than one-third of municipal solid waste and 36 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions. It's no longer sufficient to ask travelers to re-use their towels and linens. Consumers are educated on environmental issues and they expect green hotels to offer more than superficial programs or minimal nods to green construction practices.

Hotels pioneering the green movement are still few and far between, which presents a tremendous opportunity for hoteliers making the leap now.

As of September 2006, USGBC had awarded LEED to only 11 new construction hotels. The market is far from saturated, and LEED certification offers legitimacy and a competitive edge to qualifying hotels.

Even if a hotel chooses not to apply for LEED, there are hundreds of ways to integrate green standards into hotel design. I've outlined some of the easiest, most effective areas where a hotel can incorporate environmental practices, so you can see the wide array of options available to a hotel owner.

Sustainable materials

Eco-conscious hotels are using recycled materials throughout the property, from the interior to the landscape. A bed and breakfast in Wisconsin used old car windshields to create a blue tile floor, while housekeeping is encouraged to use laundry bags made from retired sheets. Bamboo has become the little black dress of the design world; you could practically outfit an entire hotel in bamboo. Bed linens, flooring, serving dishes, bathrobes - everything but the kitchen sink (and maybe that too) can be made from bamboo. For the first time, green designers are moving beyond earth tones as they realize that not all eco-conscious consumers want to surround themselves in brown and beige, so hotels don't have to sacrifice style to satisfy the public's desire for sustainable products.

Locally sourced food

Hotels are converting their food service and catering operations to conform to green standards. Progressive hotels are buying locally grown, organic products for their restaurants as consumers gain knowledge about the energy costs of shipping food across country, and some are growing organic gardens directly on the property. The most eco-conscious hotels have entire systems in place to recycle the water used on hotel property by siphoning it into sustainable gardens, which are then used to feed hotel guests.

Energy reduction

Although many hotels have made the switch to energy-saving light sources, some are using advances in solar energy to power their entire hotels, while other hotels have opted to forego electricity entirely. If homeowners can make money selling energy generated through solar panels back to power companies, imagine the possibilities open to a hotel owner.

At the end of the day, a green hotel has an edge above its competitors. The hotel industry is increasingly competitive and consumers expect more than a comfortable bed in return for their loyalty to a hotel brand. Resist the temptation to think consumer and media interest in the green movement has peaked - as the trend evolves and becomes more accessible to the general public, the stories keep coming. Hotels leading the charge can only benefit.

Nearly 25 years ago, Roger Hill co-founded Gettys, a Top 10 hospitality interior design, procurement and development firm. Under his leadership, Gettys has grown to a global team of business-minded professionals who specialize in hotels, resorts, spas, casinos and mixed-used developments the world over. A respected industry veteran, he is frequently called upon by hospitality and business media outlets to provide insight into the redevelopment, renovation, and repositioning of hotels. A graduate of Cornell University, Roger has served as an appointed delegate for the White House Conference on Small Business, and is a member of ULI, YPO and ISHC. Mr. Hill can be contacted at 312-836-1111 or info@gettys.com Extended Bio...

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