Mr. Ricaurte

Eco-Friendly Practices

Nine Green Must-Dos to Place Your Hotel Ahead of the Curve

By Eric Ricaurte, Principal, Greenview

Greenbuild was a pioneer in adapting the "supply chain evaluation" to hotels, because we all know the more you just ask the question, the more hotels start saying customers are asking for green. And embedding in the contract language also pioneered the "comply-or-explain" approach to sustainability, which at a corporate level is now a major global trend across stock exchanges and government regulators today for disclosing environmental, social, and governance performance. The premise is that although technically you're not required to communicate your efforts and programs, you'll have to tell the world why you're not, and everyone can see whether your peers are besting you. I saw this work in practice during those Toronto hotel walk throughs.

The contracted green practices were fairly basic, such as having a linen/towel reuse program, having energy efficient lighting and water-saving fixtures, recycling, donating leftover food, donating used bathroom amenities, and that newspapers shouldn't be delivered to every guest room by default.

That last one was particularly interesting. First, because this was 2011 when it was still common to read printed news, and second, because the amount of paper waste generated from discarded newspapers in hotels was astonishing (and costly). The 10 contracted hotels were from diverse brands, and all generally from upscale to luxury segments. In collecting the initial data 9 out of the 10 hotels indicated compliance with this one. One did not. When we discussed this with the property as to why they could not comply, they said it was their policy (i.e. SOP) to do so, and they had a contract with the vendor to provide the newspapers.

However, the sales manager perked up when I told her that they were the only hotel out of the 10 in the room block that was still delivering newspapers by default. A month later when doing final data compilation, the hotel sent me an email saying that after that feedback from the conference, they had changed their policy and were no longer delivering newspapers to every guest room automatically (because of course there are options such as placing them at the front desk, on floors by the elevators, or informing guests that they can request one to be sent up).

From this experience, it dawned on me that as an industry we could add more sustainability to our benchmarking, as we benchmark the comp set for other hotel amenity and service attributes, not to mention the love we have for ADR, occupancy, and all that flows from it. Thus, our quest for hotel sustainability benchmarking began. In the years since, we've worked with the big support of hotel chains to push this concept forward, now benchmarking sustainable practices and performance across thousands of hotels worldwide through various initiatives. One of which, the Green Lodging Trends Report published in partnership with Green Lodging News every year, provides the empirical results for this article's title. Through this free benchmarking exercise, hotels can see how they compare among trends in over 100 best practices. As an example, it's my pleasure to alert the small percentage (less than 10-25%) of hotels benchmarked that still haven't implemented these nine below.

#1 Linen and Towel Re-Use

This program became ubiquitous, yet some hotels still don't have this in place. Though the luxury segment may be reluctant, there are still plenty of ways to position and structure the program. And did anyone ever perform a study on whether guests really care if their linens are changed every day? This program saves time, money, and materials. Though it's caught a lot of greenwashing backlash, that's mostly for the poor wording in guest communications. But hotels are starting to improve and expand on this program in many ways. First, tone down the superlatives a notch. No need to guilt them into saving the planet, just let them know you'll change if you want them to. Second, hotels can show how they do their part with tree-planting or other types of matches for guest participation. Finally, housekeeping service itself is becoming more flexible, also with ways to incentivize the guest for opting out. I've seen some good, and some poorly-conceived arguments against this one.

Seriously, who chooses a specific hotel because they think the room cleaning is awesome? And for those worried about declining morale from labor cuts, then I suggest benchmarking any other industry for a refresh that hotels are much less affected by tech automation, and come to the realization that the good old days of the 1950s are over. Anyway, the point is that hotels can and are reducing their impact with plenty of ways to approach this, just requires a little critical thought. And of course some dedication to training staff on re-use, so we can reduce the number of times per month we have to hear the small-talk anecdote "you know, I hang up the towels and they always change them anyway!"

#2 Tracking Energy and Water

Routinely monitoring your energy and water usage is the first step to managing performance. For water, we've heard cases where a spike in consumption alerted the hotel to check for leaks, where a swimming pool valve was costing them thousands of dollars unnoticed. For energy, you can understand better the drivers over time, such as effectiveness of certain programs, and evaluate progress after retrofits or even minor operational tweaks.

#3. Vegetarian Menu Options

People care about their health, period. And this trend is commonly known for the health benefits or philosophical reasons, but also great for the environment. Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio.

#4 Low-VOC or VOC-free Materials

See above regarding people's health. Most hotels now know that paints and carpet shouldn't have VOCs, and know to look for that spec when renovating.

#5 Native or Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

Water shortages are becoming a major problem in many places, and leading to regulation. Put in plants that don't require extra irrigation to save water, and native plants help strengthen the ecosystem.

#6 LED Lighting

Hotels now are lit up by LEDs for almost half the property. Cost has come down, tech is there for dimming and color temperature, and guests know to do this in their own homes. Moreover, you may have opportunities for utility rebates depending on where the property is located.

#7 Digital Thermostats

Though globally this is prevalent around about two-thirds of properties, in the US it's over 80%. This is important because that inexact position of the knob can waste thousands of dollars in energy per year (especially in Celsius), and guests want to know the temperature. A guest may appreciate a rotary phone as a throwback, but not their comfort. I stay in about 20 hotels per year, and recently saw one hotel with the old-school thermostat. Coincidentally it also had incandescent bulbs in the lamps. I actually felt sorry for the hotel.

#8 Low-flow Water Fixtures

Hotels have efficient faucets, toilets, and urinals. Slightly less, but most hotels still have low-flow showerheads. New interesting tech will help increase guest comfort with lower flows, and this one will increase as renovation cycles complete.

#9 No Automatic Guest Room Newspaper Delivery

Coming full circle from that 2011 beginning, hotels have now cut down on newspaper waste significantly (and of course most hotels recycle the newspapers that do get used). We track this trend and see some variation across the world, but in the US nearly 90% have stopped automatic delivery.

The Green Future in Store

Coincidentally #9 is at the same prevalence from my experience in Toronto years back, which the customer helped push forward. Just like "the internet" and nutrition labeling, the concept of being sustainable or eco-friendly has grown in complexity and encompasses a multitude of various topics and specifications, and within a matrix of various aspects of cost increases/decreases and importance to guests. But most important to realize is that this is a constantly moving target. As a planet we haven't solved the challenge of sustainable development, and 30 years of working toward it means that best practices won't become static until we achieve that balance.

Back in 2004, according to an AHLA survey only 52% of US hotels had a linen/towel reuse program. Ten years before that it was nascent and arguably goofy. Guest room newspaper delivery has gone by the wayside, mostly due to people just not reading as much print anymore, but we now view it through an eco-friendly lens. The nine example in this article are longstanding attributes for which we now just need to bring up the laggards. But similar to that 52% linen/towel reuse in 2004, dozens of practices currently hover around the middle or are emerging (and may be highly prevalent in some parts of the world while still coming through in others, such as recycling and composting).

Green teams; electric vehicle charging stations, high-efficiency laundry systems, HVAC recommissioning, reflective windows, soap donation (which by the way was practically unheard of 10 years ago), and many more similarly could become ubiquitous. Likewise, the convergence of global agreements, increased disruptive weather, mind-blowing technology, and consumer awareness all point to a future of more and more best practices emerging. Renewable energy including solar PV film and even solar PV windows; 100% natural building materials that even absorb CO2; roof utilization for vegetation, gardening, or even bee-keeping; vegan meals that actually taste great; crowdfunding of hotel efficiency projects; and much more are on the horizon.

The question for all hotels is not "should we go green?" but where you'll fit along this journey. We'll always have those leading hotels championing any type of eco-friendliness, the pack of hotels wanting to keep up, and that small number of hotels lagging behind in common attributes to bring up the rear. The hotel industry already has the advantageous mindset of benchmarking that can be adapted to the eco-friendly world, helping speed up the journey so that of course we can give a better welcome to the traveler.

Serving several leading global hospitality companies, Eric Ricaurte engages the industry to advance sustainability through measurement and reporting, bringing his 10 years of experience in operations and consulting in diverse nature and cultural tourism projects. Mr. Ricaurte authored the Cornell study “Developing a Sustainability Measurement Framework for Hotels: Toward an Industry-wide Reporting Structure”. His chapter, “A Guide to Measuring Sustainability” is included in the AHLA Educational Institute textbook Hotel Sustainable Development: Best Practices and Principles. He serves as technical consultant for Phase 1 of the Carbon Measurement Working Group, Partnership and with he World Travel & Tourism Council to standardize carbon metrics across the industry. Mr. Ricaurte can be contacted at 202-470-1094 or eric@greenviewsustainability.com Extended Bio...

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