GLOBAL REPORT—The concept of developing and maintaining a sustainable building is still a relatively new one, and the reality is most hotels were not built with sustainability in mind.
Implementing environmentally conscious practices in non-sustainable properties can seem daunting for an owner, but management companies around the globe are establishing ways to ease the process.
Graham Hershman, COO of Portfolio Hotels & Resorts
It starts with synchronizing the mindset of management and ownership, said Graham Hershman, COO of Portfolio Hotels & Resorts.
Managers should understand the importance of practicing sustainability from a nature standpoint as well as a financial standpoint, Hershman said.
While with Coastal Hotel Group, Hershman was involved in the development of the Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco.
“It was built … without real thought of LEED and environmental issues, and we turned that into a LEED-existing building,” he said. By evaluating the building’s needs and responding to them one step at time, the team was able to get the hotel qualified.
Getting green certified
Hershman said he believes Green Seal is a great place to start for hoteliers in the United States who want to jump aboard the sustainability train.
Green Seal, a non-profit, independent certifier, makes the process easy, according to Hershman. The organization provides a checklist with sustainable practices the hotel should be fulfilling rather than leaving management in the dark looking for ways to go green.
Most of the Portfolio properties, Hershman said, are now Green Seal certified.
Each item on the Green Seal checklist is equivalent to a certain amount of points, and the points are accumulated toward certification. “It’s things as simple as having a bike rack, changing out heating to be more efficient, lighting and things like that,” Hershman said.
While some of those renovations may require a lot of capital, they tend to have some form of return on investment, Hershman said.
Much of the changes for the properties under the Portfolio umbrella have been operational, Hershman said. Small steps such as changing the cleaning products used in the hotel and switching the light bulbs go a long way, he said.
Building owner and management relationships
Hans Pfister, president and co-owner of Costa Rica-based Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality S.A., a hotel management company that works on projects with sustainable aspects, also believes establishing a strong relationship with the owner is crucial before the process begins.
Before Cayuga signs on with a property, the most important thing for the team to determine is the property owner’s commitment to developing sustainable practices. “If the owner is not committed, we are not interested in working them,” Pfister said.
The Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Osa Península, Costa Rica is one of the CST certified properties managed by Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality.
Once that relationship is established and before the team can begin implementing the various sustainable systems, a significant amount of education must take place, Pfister said.
The Costa Rican Certification for Sustainable Tourism provides guidelines for education, and its certification is divided into four areas of sustainability: physical-biological parameters, infrastructure and services, the external client and socio-economic environment.
“A lot of hotels only focus on energy consumption. It’s very important to have a balance between the four areas,” Pfister said.
Once the education process is complete, Pfister said his team begins implementing the simpler systems in the property. They start off with things such as recycling and using eco-friendly laundry detergents. “As people get more excited, we get into things that are a little more complex,” he said.
To ensure everyone at the property is following through with the sustainable practices, Cayuga audits each department in the hotel, Pfister said. Each department is given a thermometer rating; a reading of blue means poor performance and a reading of red means the hotel is performing well.