Mr. Howell

Eco-Friendly Practices

Ten Points for Embracing Sustainability at Your Historic Property

By Rob Howell, General Manager, Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort

Sustainability has become an important part of the lodging industry. In addition to our responsibility to the guest, the staff, and the ownership, we have a responsibility to the environment. Many articles have been written about the programs that can be incorporated into properties operations to promote sustainability. However, managing a historic property's environmental footprint may increase the challenge.

When a new property is built, construction materials are analyzed and chosen carefully. Buildings are designed to be more energy efficient. Operating procedures are developed from the ground up for purchasing, serving, cleaning, and delivering a more sustainable, environmentally friendly property. For a historic property, embracing sustainability is a journey that encompasses all aspects of a property and requires planning, investment, and determination. Historic properties can attain LEED certification with investment. Modifications can be done to be energy efficient and more environmentally responsible. However, to be effective, operators of historic properties need to make sustainability a priority to ensure its influence on an operation. Where do you start?

What is your impact on our surroundings? How large is your carbon footprint? How can you lessen your effect on the environment to ensure survival? For historic properties, this desire to live on, to survive into the future, is tremendous. Owners and managers have led their historic properties through recessions, depressions, facility challenges, and branding realignments. For historic properties, embracing sustainability has become an ownership and management challenge. Introducing environmentally friendly programs to not only assist our focus on sustainability, but also fit into our branding, can be very costly but also prove to be rewarding and profitable.

As a historic property, do you have any respect for your history? Managers must believe that operating a historic resort is a privilege. Respecting its history and intertwining that into the operation is a delight. There is a difference between historic and old. Old is a weakness, history is a strength. This difference starts with how an operator embraces the history of the property and how they make it part of the property's story. There is a great opportunity for a historic resort to use the past when addressing its sustainability plan. Presently, I manage a historic resort located in the Pocono Mountains.

My historic property is a 100-year-old resort located on the edge of the Wild and Scenic Delaware River, bordered by 70,000 acres of the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. Because of our location, we focus on inviting our guests to stay at our resort and enjoy the natural environment. This reliance on the outdoors and our pure surroundings is the perfect reason to embrace a robust sustainability plan. As we began to build our sustainability plan, I explored the following 10 areas:

1. Look at the history of your property

If your property has been around for over 75 years, chances are you have a history of raising your own produce, livestock, poultry, etc…This is part of your story. Wrapping your new initiatives into your history is a terrific opportunity to strengthen the importance of history at your property and emphasize these to your staff and guests.

2. Start with the Simple Things

Though it seems like everyone else is doing the same thing, introduce the most basic concepts. Begin a recycling program, introduce a towel reuse program, and look at the cleaning products you use and their effect on the environment. Energy conservation, water preservation, and waste reduction are the first initiatives. There are lists that are available from AHLA that can assist you in establishing these programs. These tried and true programs will allow you to become more familiar with environmentally friendly practices. They may also provide an economic benefit in saving on energy usage and purchasing requirement.

3. Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Form a green team that helps to keep the operation focused on moving your sustainable efforts forward. Believe that no idea is too big or too small to be considered. This does not mean that each of these ideas need to be implemented. It means that no matter what the idea, it will be thought about and taken seriously. When I formed my Green Team, I endeavored to diversify the members to include varying levels of staff from each department. In doing this, I found that our efforts were more easily disseminated through the staff.

4. Educate Your Staff

If your staff does not know what is going on, what your sustainability efforts are, or how to implement these new environmentally friendly policies, then they will not be successful. If you do not make it part of your culture, the effect these new procedures have may be minimal. Empower them to take ownership of the property's environmental efforts. Engage your staff to have a direct role in each program.

5. Educate Your Guests

Make sure your guests know about your environmental programs and develop an engagement plan. You would be surprised how many people are interested in taking a garden or beehive tour or pleased that recycling is available throughout the property. The level of engagement for each guest may vary, but there is no better way to communicate your practices than through hands-on experience.

6. Make a Plan

One of my favorite sayings when tackling a large project is, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." If there are 50 ideas, carve out the five that make the most sense and make sure those are working and then take the next five. I made mention earlier about a series of projects that are cost effective and very universal in their application. After initiating the universal projects, evaluate your plan in detail. Take a deep look at your property and decide where the greatest impact can be made. As a historic property, you will likely have unique needs and opportunities to better serve the environment. Get creative. Guests absolutely love to learn about environmental projects that are outside of the box.

7. Find Partners

An important part of sustainability is the embracing of local businesses to supply products, services, and support. The best thing anyone can do to minimize their community's environmental footprint is to ask and answer questions. Are there like-minded companies that could help cross-market your efforts? Is there any way to integrate their green practices into your hospitality program? No property is an island and luckily most have a local community that is interested in preserving its surroundings just as much as you!

8. Close the Loop

More cliché's. "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?" If you are not telling anyone about these initiatives they will never spread. What is equally important to the good work your property will embark upon is empowering others to do the same. It is possible that your guests do not know how easy it is to recycle? Or perhaps some have been hiding a green thumb that they never knew they had. Closing of the loop is what will become the barometer of your program's success.

9. Help others Do the Same

Become a leader in the industry and share your environmental plan. Our industry has some of the most creative minds and harnessing that energy to advance environmental efforts in hospitality will help all of us.

10. Celebrate

Take joy in the good work that you do to preserve your surroundings. Historic properties are often the gem of a community. Know that you are doing a service to future generations by ensuring that gem stays brilliant through the decades and centuries.

Since my property introduced our sustainability program we have not only implemented water and energy conservation programs, waste reduction programs, analyzed and changed our cleaning products, introduced a spa that only uses organic and all-natural products, purchased bathroom amenities that contain no artificial ingredients, but we have begun to produce our own goods. We plant and tend a 25,000 square foot farm that grows produce to serve in our dining rooms, we have herb gardens for both of our restaurants and we plant flowers to cut for display around the resort. We have a number of hives and harvest the honey for use in the kitchens and in some of our house made products. We looked around our grounds and introduced a program to tap our sugar maple trees to make syrup for use in our operation. Throughout the year we have tours of our farm, presentations on our hives and tree tapping, and display our honey and maple syrup for guests to purchase and take home.

Most of our initiatives make up-front financial sense. But what is more important is that harkening back to your property's historic roots will better engage your guests and create an opportunity to give them ownership of their experience and hopefully help retain their loyalty.

Rob Howell is the General Manager of The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort. He has held leadership positions in the hospitality industry for nearly 30 years. Rob’s specialties include increasing the sustainability of business, creating a culture of exceptional guest service, breaking the mold of typical business organizational structures, and auditing operations to focus on “what makes us successful; people and processes”. A graduate with a Master’s Degree in Hotel Administration from Penn State University’s Hospitality program, Mr. Howell has held responsibilities ranging from Vice President of Marketing and General Manager to Graduate Assistant and Sales Manager. Mr. Howell began his career at Allied Hospitality, later SB Yen, and finally arrived at The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort where he manages the 99 room property and 27-hole championship golf course among other amenities. Mr. Howell can be contacted at 570-424-4050 x1409 or Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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