INTERNATIONAL REPORT—As environmentally responsible construction and operations become integral to hospitality culture, the greening of hotels will proceed no matter the economic outlook, according to hospitality executives from around the world.
Hoteliers long involved in the greening of hotels said doing so makes economic sense, whether that means something as complex as building a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified property or as simple as changing light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent lamps.
“The pressure will be on and off depending on energy prices,” said David Jerome, senior vice president of corporate responsibility for InterContinental Hotels Group. “But energy will be more expensive over the long run, so whether you’re doing it to save energy, make a hotel more efficient or look at it as an investment, there are a lot of reasons to do it.
“You have to look at it as a cost of not doing as opposed to doing.”
“I think there is still a perception that it costs money to go green,” said Steve Pinetti, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Not true, he said.
|Steve Pinetti, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
For example, when Kimpton approached its national coffee vendor for an organic product, that vendor could not deliver at an appropriate price, so Kimpton found a regional supplier.
“We were able to find that organic product at a price equal to or less than the non-organic product,” Pinetti said.
The cost always lies in the research and the testing, but it’s worth it, he said.
Pinetti went through the same process with cleaning products, albeit with an unexpected wrinkle: Because organic cleaning products don’t foam, housekeeping employees didn’t think they would work.
“The products were less expensive, but time was needed for training and education,” he said.
As for switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs, CFLs cost more, “but I’m getting payback within nine months because they don’t burn out. Anything that costs me more money but has a payback within a year I consider a wash,” Pinetti said.
He and other company spokespeople say it’s crucial to maintain—and, if possible, enhance—the guest experience. Much greening results from cost savings back-of-the-house that are invisible to the guest, like the US$9,000 a month that Kimpton’s Sir Francis Drake in San Francisco and Hotel Allegro in Chicago each save by recycling their trash and cardboard. Reducing shower water strength and installing low-flow toilets can save US$2,000 a month, Pinetti said.
At a time of economic retrenchment, addressing the “low-hanging fruit” with a green orientation is a no-brainer, Pinetti said. Changing printer settings from single-sided to double-sided is an example; so is setting thermostats to automatic.
“My printed material for the entire company is on recycled paper,” he said. “That was a phone call, and it was done. It was a switch-in product. What’s lower than the low-hanging fruit? It’s about the level of consciousness.
“On the other hand, if you want to be a LEED-certified building, that’s probably another conversation. We’re still waiting for the tipping point in that process to make it less expensive, but that is happening as well.”
The bigger picture
LEED case in point: the Fairmont Pittsburgh, a 185-room hotel that will be part of a 780,000-square-foot, mixed-use “green” project in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The entire building is intended for certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Green Building Rating System. It will be the first such building in the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts portfolio.
“Our focus isn’t really on green builds,” said Mike Taylor, public relations manager for Toronto, Canada-based Fairmont, a luxury hotel group known for its historic properties. “That said, we do have an exciting project in our pipeline: the Fairmont Pittsburgh.” The hotel is expected to open late this year.
|The Fairmont Pittsburgh will be the first LEED-certified hotel in the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts portfolio.
On a smaller scale, Fairmont has joined with the global conservation group WWF (formerly “World Wildlife Fund”) to measure the carbon footprint of its hotels so it can develop a portfoliowide emission reduction plan. Fairmont expects to reduce its emissions through increased energy efficiency, conversion to renewable energy supply and promotion of conservation practices among its “colleagues,” or employees. Early next month, it will announce its carbon dioxide “targets,” Taylor said. And on March 28, it will join WWF in the third annual Earth Hour, switching off the lights in all of its hotels at 8:30 p.m. for an hour.
Related Fairmont initiatives include expansion of its “Green Cuisine” commitment to use locally grown, sustainable and organic food products to encompass sustainable seafood. That will involve eliminating certain endangered fish species from the menu, Taylor said.
Fairmont’s environmental standard-bearer, Michelle White, left the company for a newly created position, director of sustainability, at Indigo Books and Music. “There is an urgency in wanting to fill that position,” Taylor said.
Green to the core
The key elements of Accor’s environmental initiatives, known as the Earth Guest program, are water savings; energy savings with focus on renewable energies; waste sorting and recycling; and raising awareness of clients, partners and providers.
According to Helen Lalitte, vice president of global marketing for Ibis, an Accor budget brand of nearly 800 hotels throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, one-third of Ibis hotels have achieved ISO 14001 environmental certification, attesting to their efforts in reducing water consumption, becoming more energy efficient and cutting waste. The ISO (for “international standard for organization”) is based in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2004, 30 years after its founding, Ibis became the first hotel chain to be awarded the ISO certification. Ibis hopes to extend it to 75 percent of its hotels by next year.
|Helen Lalitte, vice president of global marketing for Ibis
“Consumers are increasingly complex in lifestyle and brand choices and demand that brands help make socially and environmentally sound choices,” Lalitte said.
She said that more than half of U.S. adults would favor an environmentally friendly hotel—but they would not pay extra for it: 76 percent of U.S. adults reported they would pay less than 10 percent more for such a room.
Nevertheless, Lalitte said that hospitality is an investment industry, so marketing to eco-conscious travelers will benefit the brand image. That’s in addition to the cost savings that would come through environmentally oriented operational efficiencies.
In Ibis hotels, “green” actions have generated a reduction of 4.67 percent of energy consumption per available room, Lalitte said. She said Accor’s sustainable development policy is implemented in all Accor brands. That policy includes a Hotel Environment Charter, an environment management tool to guide each hotel’s commitment to the environmental process; and the creation of a sustainable procurement work group for all the brands.
Hopping on the bandwagon
Clearly, some brands are more advanced and programmatic than others. But it seems clear that most have joined the green bandwagon. And it doesn’t seem to matter why.
According to IHG’s David Jerome, what counts is the impact of green practices.
“It’s an understanding of the total cost of something, not just the capital expense but the operational expense,” he said. “It’s about being smart about how you run your business.
“We have a dedicated program, but we also expect hotels to do their part,” Jerome said. “We’re in the frame of showing them what these benefits are and how to manage their business from a more cost-efficient perspective. Those are very big carrots, as it were. I can’t speak for every firm, but certainly at IHG, it’s becoming a cultural issue, not a bolt-on kind of thing.”
There are shades of green.
“Whatever stage you’re on, I’m just glad you’re on one,” Jerome said. “I see it as just running an intelligent hotel in the future. Whether you’re green or worried about costs, I’m just glad you’re doing something.”