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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept/Oct 2001 : No Vacancy

Feature Story
No Vacancy

Hotel chains, both large and small, are proving that green initiatives can help them capture the billions of guest rooms booked each year.

While the long-term impact of the events of September 11, 2001, are still uncertain, travel and tourism has been for some time the world’s largest industry. According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA) of America, domestic spending by U.S. resident and international travelers averaged $1.54 billion-a-day during 2000. These travel expenditures, in turn, generated 7.8 million jobs for Americans. The World Tourism Organization has recently released preliminary data of the estimated number of international tourist arrivals worldwide for the year 2000 to be a record 698 million.

U.S. businesses alone have been spending roughly $170 billion annually on business travel. The Ford Motor Co. estimates spending $90 million each year on individual travel and $150 million on group meetings and conferences.

Whether it be for business or pleasure, it is obvious that the travel industry has an enormous impact on the world’s economy. Given its scope, its impact on the world’s environment is equally significant. Not many of us change our sheets and towels daily in our own homes; yet water and energy are wasted in colossal amounts every day as linens are routinely washed after one night’s use. Also, every day millions of little plastic bottles of shampoo and body lotion are thrown away because they were used just once. In order to stay competitive, many hotels renovate their guest rooms every few years, tossing out carpeting, bedspreads and window treatments that haven’t really worn out, just “uglied” out. In pursuit of customer satisfaction, quantity often replaces quality, and use of natural resources has grown to be vast and unsustainable.

Proof Positive

A growing number of hotel chains, both large and small, are proving that there is a better way, both for the environment and for their bottom line. Evidence has shown that recycling and implementing other waste reduction strategies, conserving water and energy and practicing green procurement procedures can significantly reduce a hotel’s operating expenses. Successful Meetings magazine, in its March 2001 issue, reported that the Regal Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, has saved nearly 1,700 pounds of detergents and 375,000 gallons of water annually ($70,000 a year) since introducing its sheet and towel reuse program.

New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria has switched to more energy-efficient lighting systems, saving 1.2 million kilowatt hours annually ($72,000 a year).

Fairmount Hotels and Resorts, the largest luxury hotel management company in North America, has been leading the industry through its Green Partnership Program. Begun in 1990 by the Canadian Pacific Hotel Group before its consolidation with Fairmount, the program’s objective was to institute the highest possible standards of environmental responsibility, and it has evolved as the model for the industry. Its highly successful publication, The Green Partner-ship Guide, is a step-by-step manual to incorporating environmental initiatives into the workplace. Ann Layton, vice president of public affairs and communications for Fair-mount, believes that the guide is truly a blueprint that any business—not just hotels—can follow. Karen Fletcher, director of the International Hotels Environ-ment Initiative in London, England, agrees, “There is now no excuse for hotels or businesses, large or small, not to have sound environmental programs in place.”

Another early adopter, Tedd Saunders, president of the Eco-Logical Solutions division of the Saunders Hotel Group of Boston, MA, has been fully committed for more than 12 years to the greening of his two luxury hotels in that city, the Lenox and Copley Square, and its newest property, the Comfort Inn at Logan Airport. Saunders saw tremendous opportunities for reducing the environmental impact of his hotels, lowering operating costs, strengthening employee morale, building customer loyalty and increasing visibility.

Saunders believes that there’s more to it than simply changing equipment or procedures—it’s also changing the way people think. In an industry built on service, employees must understand the goals and objectives of the organization. “How do you motivate people who are washing other people’s bathtubs?” Saunders asks. He believes that environmental commitment becomes a factor in employee morale and gives the staff a real sense of purpose beyond simply providing a service to a customer.

These beliefs are based on more than just antecdotal evidence. As a family-owned business, the Saunders Group is very conscious of the larger impact it has on its community through its employees and families. SHINE, the Saunders Hotels Initiative to Nurture the Environment, has received high ratings for generating staff pride as well as suggestions that save the company money. Suppliers have also responded to their environmental commitment with new products: a bicarbonate soda cleaning process for cleaning carpets without any toxic residue and a chemical-free ultra-sonic cleaning technique for crystal chandeliers.

The Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel in Philadelphia, PA, is another very green hotel and an example of one man’s perseverance. Barry Dimson, one of the project’s developers, was committed to pushing the environmental envelope beyond recycling and energy conservation and convinced the Sheraton Corp. to view the project as a pilot program. As a result of some unpleasant personal experiences, high among Dimson’s priorities was providing clean air to guests with allergies or other chemical sensitivities. Consequently, the Rittenhouse is the first hotel in the continental U.S. to provide fresh, filtered air, 24-hours-a-day to each guest room. In addition, good air quality is assured by a smoking ban everywhere in the building. The fresh air system did add to the hotel’s construction cost, but Dimson states that business was so good from the very beginning that they earned back all their money in the first year.

The Power of the Dollar

As the Rittenhouse example demonstrates, the greening of hotels is also being driven by consumer demand. A study by the Travel Agency Association of America found that 80 percent of travelers are more likely to patronize travel companies that help to preserve the environment. The Saunders Hotel Group surveyed 1,000 travelers and found that 94 percent of them prefer to stay in environmentally sound properties. In fact, more letters of guest praise are received on this subject than any other. Saunders estimates that the Lenox brought in more than $350,000 in new group business entirely attributable to their green program.

The largest travel impact is at the corporate travel level as U.S. businesses spend roughly $170 billion annually on overall business travel. On average, 40 percent of the hotel industry’s business comes from meetings and conferences. These numbers are indicative of enormous buying power, and when Ford, which books 900,000 room nights per year, or similarly-sized organizations begin to move toward green hotels, the industry pays attention.

With this in mind, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) formed the Green Hotel Initiative (GHI) in October 2000. CERES’ members include forward-looking companies and multi-national corporations that endorse the CERES principles, a 10-point code of environmental conduct. Last spring, GHI launched its Best Practices Survey, an easy-to-use list of criteria that measures a hotel’s environmental performance. It allows meeting planners and travel buyers to choose hotels that meet their business needs and additionally provides environmental considerations. Companies that have committed to using the Best Practices Survey include General Motors, Aveda, American Airlines, Northeast Utilities, The Bullitt Foundation, Interface, Inc., Recycled Paper Printing, Inc. and the architectural firm of William McDonough and Partners.

“American Airlines, on average, secures 6,500 hotel rooms every night for our flight crews around the world—or more than two million rooms per year,” said Monica Chamberlain, the airline’s manager of hotel contracts. “It’s important that we consider hotels that not only meet the specific criteria for overnight crew stays, but hotels that can also share our personal commitment to environmental stewardship. The Best Practices Survey is now a part of our procurement package.”

When CERES held its own two-day conference earlier this year, it chose the Swissôtel Atlanta. Management there agreed to add a Green Commitment clause to the conference contract, appointed a green team and worked with a representative of the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to assess the state of the hotel’s environmental performance. A Swissôtel Atlanta mission statement was created that read, “As part of the world-class luxury experience that is Swissôtel Atlanta, we are proud to pledge our commitment to being an environmentally responsible hotel, while exceeding our guest’s expectations.” The team then identified and implemented improvements in the three major areas of energy, water and solid waste.

Sarah Raposa, CERES’ GHI project manager, says of the hotel, “They exceeded expectations in providing a green conference by implementing dozens of programs ranging from improved air quality and supply purchasing to the methods of serving food and beverages.”

It comes as no surprise to learn that environmental advocates such as Tedd Saunders and Barry Dimson were instrumental in the development of the GHI and the Best Practices Survey. Working with Raposa, they came together with a diverse group of both providers and procurers of hotel services as well as other experts to provide both technical and strategic advice. The group’s motivation may well have come from some unsettling statistics as reported in Successful Meetings. The results of a survey of 306 meeting planners showed that only 19 percent make a point of using properties with environmentally responsible programs, citing “too busy” or “never considered it” as their reasons for not doing so; however, others suggested they would consider environmental initiatives if the information were more readily available. Saunders views such comments as an incredible opportunity for the Best Practices Survey to provide the knowledge that the meeting planner needs to take environmental procurement to the next level.

“The checklist,” he says, “is only a starting point. When travel planners from large organizations start visiting properties to verify what they’ve been told, we’ve obviously begun to raise awareness.”

Next Steps

Saunders is extremely proud of his company’s reputation as one of the pioneers of the green hotel movement and of having been a very strong advocate to the rest of the industry. His new Comfort Inn Suites has been selected as the green prototype for entire Choice Hotel chain. He is always looking for innovative ways to take the next step. For example, after replacing all the water-hungry toilets in his properties with efficient ones, he kept the old ones from the landfill by sending them to a gravel company to be pulverized and used for roadbed. Fairmount Hotels is in the process of bringing its highly successful Green Partnership Program, first initiated throughout its Canadian properties, to those in the U.S. and worldwide, including a presentation to the Salt Lake City, UT, organizing committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

In continuing these initiatives, these hotel companies and others are signifying their belief in the validity and vitality of the green movement, echoing the sentiments of noted environmentalist, Dr. David Suzuki, “The challenge of changing our perspective and actions becomes an opportunity to save money, conserve resources, create jobs and lessen the impact on our surroundings. It’s good for business, it’s good for morale and it’s good for the planet.”

Copies of the Green Hotel Initiative Best Practices Survey are available on the CERES’ Web site at www.ceres.org. To order Fairmount’s second edition of The Green Partnership Guide, call 416-874-2600, or e-mail lyle.thompson@fairmount.com.


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