Sustainability Initiatives in the International Operations of US-based Hotel Chains

By Bill Meade Director, Tetra Tech | May 06, 2010

Common Focus on Energy Management

Virtually all US chains have embraced energy management in their hotel facilities. Evidence of this can be found in the list of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Energy Star partners which include: Accor North America, Best Western International, Inc., Carlson Companies, Inc., Choice Hotels International, Extended Stay America, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels Corporation, Host Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt Corporation, Intercontinental Hotels, Marriott Corporation, Outrigger Hotels Hawaii, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., White Lodging Services Corporation, and Wyndham Worldwide. Individual Hilton and Radisson Hotel properties are also on the list. However, only Marriott has pursued the next level of achieving Energy Star labeled buildings, accounting for 309 of a total 349 individual properties.(89% ).

The focus on energy management reflects the cost control approach to sustainability and reliance on the engineering department to deliver savings at the property and group levels. Energy management systems, heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls, and efficient compact florescent lighting have become standards. Hotel chains commitment to meeting guest expectations in terms of comfort and amenities often resulted in perceived conflicts with conservation programs.

Sustainability Enters the Guest Room

The most common guest-orientated sustainability initiative is the towel and/or linen reuse card in the guest room. If implemented effectively, a linen and towel reuse program can significantly reduce energy, water and chemical use. Individual US flag properties operating in leisure destinations served as the test case. For example, after learning about the potential savings, management at the Sheraton Miramar Resort on the Red Sea coast initiated its own program. Based on the results, other properties in the Starwood Middle East, Africa and India Division followed suit. Individual properties of US hotel chains operating in the Caribbean initially participated in the "Caribbean Cares" program sponsored by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism non-profit subsidiary. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts recently introduced the EarthSmart towel reuse program acknowledging "guest interest in helping protect the natural resources of our planet". Unfortunately, based on PA's experience at the property level, failure to train room attendants/house keeping staff and institute changes in standard operating practices has had the opposite effect. That is, environmentally conscious guests are discouraged by voluntary supporting the hotel's commitment and finding clean towels the rack.

Recognizing Individual Property Contributions to Sustainable Development

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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.