Sustainable Gardens: How to Cope with Drought

By Scott B. Brickman CEO, Brickman | October 28, 2008

In a business where appearance truly matters, hotel landscapes are expected to look good year 'round - no matter what. But in many cities across the U.S., frequent droughts and stringent water restrictions can present a real challenge when it comes to keeping landscapes healthy and beautiful. And as the environment continues to change and the effects of global warming are felt on an even larger scale, the issue will only become more important over time. The good news is that, with the help of a qualified landscape contractor, there are ways to keep your hotel landscape green, even during the driest months. Consider the following advice as you work with a trusted professional to develop a drought-tolerant landscape plan that's right for your hotel property.

Water wisely

Proper irrigation may be the single most important factor when it comes to combating the effects of drought. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all irrigation system, and in areas with limited water supplies, it is more important than ever to have a system that is tailored to your property's specific needs. And because watering is often done underground or during off-peak hours, many problems with irrigation systems go undetected for long periods of time, which can result in significant water waste. To ensure that your hotel property makes the most of this precious natural resource, it is important to schedule an irrigation audit to see if your existing system is in need of repairs or equipment upgrades. Improved irrigation will help stretch limited water supplies and reduce the risk of plant loss, and it can also generate real savings. According to irrigation.org, an efficient irrigation system can reduce water costs by up to 40%, and there are even special tax credits available for some systems.

An irrigation audit will identify any current problems, such as water that sprays onto sidewalks, faulty nozzle heads, inefficient nozzle-head size or incorrect nozzle-head placement. Certain landscape enhancements can be made to increase water-use control, such as the addition of rain-click systems, which turn off automatically during rain showers; or drip irrigation systems, which use highly efficient "drippers" to apply water directly to the plant's roots in order to maximize the moisture level of the soil. Your landscape contractor can also help you determine whether hydrozoning is a good option for your hotel property. Hydrozoning describes the grouping together of plants that have similar water needs, and because watering requirements differ greatly among plant varieties, it can be an effective way to reduce water expenditure. Because hydrozoning keeps plants properly hydrated, it can also tamp down replacement costs and improve the overall health and appearance of your hotel landscape.

Once initial recommendations and repairs have been reviewed, you should work with your landscape contractor to develop a routine for irrigation evaluation and upkeep-from installation and maintenance, to troubleshooting and on-site repairs. This schedule will most likely include a monthly "wet check", which will help identify broken heads and eliminate water use in any non-essential areas, as well as several formal inspections to be performed throughout the year.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.