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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/June 2007 : CSR

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Traveling Green
The hospitality industry is focusing more on reducing its environmental footprint, and discovering that comfort does not have to be compromised to go green.

by Stephanie Hanson


Whenever possible, organizations such as the World Resources Institute (WRI) try to use technology such as the Internet and teleconferencing to reduce their carbon footprints when communicating with business partners worldwide. However, as is common with organizations possessing an international scope, traveling long distances to meet with partners is a necessary undertaking.

As a climate-conscious organization, WRI carefully accounts for and tries to reduce its emissions from transportation, but another critical part of travel can be as inefficient as the planes, trains and automobiles we use to get to our desired locations—the hotels we stay in.

Fortunately, the hospitality industry is joining other industries in going green, an exciting development for all who travel.

According to Michael Stewart, partnership coordinator for the Carbonfund.org Foundation, “The calls for green hospitality measures have simply exploded this spring.”

What makes the hospitality industry inefficient? Some things even a casual traveler might notice—lack of recycling facilities, little bottles of shampoo, the cold blast of the air conditioner. Hotels, like other buildings, use electricity for lighting, cooling, appliances and heating. However, hotel structures—individual units that each have their own appliances, heating and cooling sources—combined with hospitality standards such as piles of fresh towels and linens make them more wasteful than traditional buildings.

The hospitality industry has several motivations for implementing a climate change strategy. First, making their buildings and operations more efficient can result in cost savings. Consuming less fuel, using less electricity and using less water can reduce costs significantly.

Another reason hotels are greening their operations is for competitive positioning of their brands. Facing demand from increasingly environmentally savvy consumers, hotels are changing their practices to meet the preferences of customers. According to a study from the Travel Industry Association, 87 percent of travelers would be more likely to stay at green properties.

Making a hotel “green” may seem like a daunting task, but many hotels have shown that making their properties more environmentally friendly is possible. Making even small changes in hotel operations and products can reduce the environmental footprint of hotels. Choosing energy-efficient lighting and appliances, using water recycling systems and lower laundry temperatures, and adjusting air conditioning units so they don’t chill empty rooms can all reduce emissions—and costs—significantly.

Committed hotels are switching to more environmentally friendly cleaners and other products. Green Seal, a nonprofit organization that promotes the manufacture and sale of environmentally responsible consumer products, has partnered with the lodging industry to provide technical guidance, case studies and certification of green hotels.

Along with a handful of hotel chains, several organizations are leading the charge to make the industry greener. The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies’ (CERES) Green Hotel Initiative has created several tools to assess environmental commitments of hotels, including a best-practice survey, guest request cards and GHI Community, an online green-hotel advocacy group. All of this work is helping develop market demand for environmentally responsible hotel services.

The Green Hotels Association is also helping hotel managers utilize these best practices. Members receive guidelines that range from advice on energy-saving appliances to providing signs that ask hotel guests to consider using their linens more than once.

The hospitality industry has discovered that comfort does not have to be compromised to go green. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, a luxury hotel company, started a green partnership way back in 1990 to minimize its hotels’ environmental impacts. Initiatives include installing water-efficient and energy-efficient appliances, encouraging recycling, and implementing habitat- and species-protection programs. Vail Resorts, a mountain resort chain, offsets 100 percent of its energy use by purchasing nearly 152,000 megawatt hours of wind energy.

Hotel developers are joining the trend, too. Starwood Capital Group—creators of Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels and others—is launching a new environmentally friendly hotel brand called “1” that will adhere to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. The first of these hotels will be unveiled next year.

Another, more complex, issue hotels are starting to look at is climate change. In Hot Climate, Cool Commerce: A Service Sector Guide to Greenhouse Gas Management, available for free at www.wri.org, there are detailed steps for creating a greenhouse gases inventory for buildings and management strategies for reducing these emissions.

Actively accounting for and managing emissions provides a way for businesses to track their progress over time and identify opportunities for emission reductions. For example, switching to renewable energy sources or alternate energy sources, such as cogeneration power systems that produce both electricity and heat, can make an enormous difference.

The hospitality industry knows that going green is good business. Because of it, the travel experience is getting a little better for all of us.
Stephanie Hanson is a writer and researcher in the communications department at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. Visit www.wri.org.


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