A Complete Overview: What is a Green Hotel?
By Arthur Weissman President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc. | October 28, 2008
We begin by examining what it means for a hotel to be "green." The word is, of course, shorthand for being environmentally responsible (or sustainable) so as to minimize environmental impacts in purchasing, operations, and plant management. That means, not coincidentally, enhancing the health and well-being of guests and staff, because many of a property's environmental impacts are on-site; improving the world at large is an added bonus. That means, also, reducing waste, toxicity, and overall costs, because operating in a sustainable way is economical, by definition.
Being a green hotel does not mean compromising on guest satisfaction or the performance of products and services. Any environmentally responsible product or service must work well or it is of no value, so guests should be as satisfied with the green features in a hotel as with more conventional ones. Being green also does not apply just to high-end properties, on the incorrect assumption that green products are necessarily more costly. Many environmentally responsible products and procedures can be purchased or applied quite economically, especially if cost is considered over their full life cycle (some such products may cost more initially but have much lower O&M costs, resulting in great savings overall). Finally, being green is not necessarily a single state or end-condition, but rather a process of continuous improvement above a minimum threshold as technologies and procedures develop.
Defining that minimum threshold is key to determining what properties are really green. There are various performance standards and rating systems that attempt to do this in North America, such as HVS Ecoservices' Ecotel, the Hotel Association of Canada's Green LeafTM Eco-Rating Program, and Green Seal's, but only the latter is fully open and transparent in how a hotel is evaluated. We will, therefore, examine some of the basics of the Green Seal Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties below.
But first, let's talk about some generic approaches to making a property green. At the outset, it is important for the executive to understand that striving for sustainability is a continuing process and commitment, not a one-time affair. That sounds more onerous than it is, for once a staff is committed to the goal, it generally becomes so motivated by the opportunity to do well that the effort grows in momentum. Coupled with actions to reduce pollution, waste, and toxicity in operations and purchasing should be a record of the cost savings that accrue, as well as additional revenues that may be ascribed to the effort.
Any manager of an institution seeking an effective and cost-efficient path to sustainability should consider the entire array of operations and purchases of the institution and identify, through volume and environmental impact, the greatest opportunities for environmental improvement. Dollar value is a simple metric that can substitute for volume. For example, a hotel may find that it is spending $100,000 a year on heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning costs, $40,000 a year on janitorial supplies, $25,000 on lighting, and only $5,000 on office supplies such as paper. This ranking gives a crude indication of the relative significance of the product or service categories.
Then - and this is the trickier part - the manager must consider the relative environmental impact or significance of each of these categories and the opportunity each affords for environmental improvement. This assessment necessarily varies with each property, since the age, condition, installed equipment, and renovation schedule will determine to a large extent these impacts and improvement opportunities. For example, in an older hotel due for renovation, the greatest improvement (and cost savings) could accrue from overhauling and replacing the HVAC equipment; in a newer hotel not due soon to be renovated, changes in lighting and janitorial products may be more appropriate.