Sustainable Hotels: A Futuristic Outlook

By Lawrence Adams Principal, ForrestPerkins | March 02, 2014

The development of a number of major trends made 2013 a banner year for green hospitality. New interest in sustainable hotels prompted the debut of three annual green lodging conferences. Realization of the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit has fueled explosive growth of sustainable technology and practices. In this article, we will examine a number of rapidly developing trends that are leading hotel companies to increase their investments in environmental initiatives.

Millennials and Social Media

Millennial travelers, those between 18 and 30 years old, now represent a potential multi-billion dollar hospitality market and will continue to for the next 20 years. They are on a pace to surpass Baby Boomers to dominate business travel by the year 2030. Hotel companies, looking to capture a share of this immense new market, are looking for ways to cater to the needs and desires of this rapidly expanding segment. New hotel brands such as Aloft and Yotel provide features that appeal to the sensibilities of these young travelers including lobbies designed for social interaction and group work, kiosk check-in to bypass interaction with hotel staff, free WiFi, high-tech gadgetry and an experience of local culture and flavor. More than any other age group, Millennials are environmentally conscious and feel it is their social duty to contribute to the health of our planet. They believe strongly that it is a hotel's obligation to do the same and so they seek out properties that are eco-friendly or LEED certified. Through websites and social media, Millennials may check up to 10 or more sources before making their lodging selection. One such source, TripAdvisor.com, provides detailed feedback on a hotel's sustainability practices through its Green Leaders environmental rating program. Even though the US Green Building Council announced its long-awaited version of LEED certification tailored to hotels as a building type, with over 30 million hits a month on the TripAdvisor website, the Green Leaders Program is rapidly outpacing LEED certification in the hotel industry through its much broader reach to Millennials and the rest of the traveling public.

Corporations Go Green

While Millennials and other environmentally conscious travelers are starting to make lodging choices based on hotels' eco-friendly ratings, the current dominant driving force behind major hotel companies enacting mission statements that embrace sustainable practices are corporations such as IBM, Starbucks, Walt Disney, Dow Chemical, Coca-Cola, General Motors and Boeing. Many corporations like these now require their employees traveling on business to stay at green hotels. Many insist that conference center and convention hotels provide detailed accounts of their sustainability practices before booking meetings at these hotels. The World Environment Center (WEC) is a global non-profit organization dedicated to the principles of sustainable development. Its members, who include several of the corporations mentioned above, seek to partner with governments and non-government organizations in advancing a wide range of environmentally sustainable goals. Together with IBM, WEC formed the Innovations in Environmental Sustainability Council in order to support and encourage innovation in business process and technology for finding solutions to major sustainability challenges. Marriott International leads the council's efforts in finding innovative, beneficial solutions for the hospitality industry.

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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.