When Justin Keating began running Hôtel du Vieux-Québec full-time in 2008, his vision was decidedly green. The owner and general manager set out to launch various eco-friendly initiatives at the historic Old Quebec City hotel, such as adding solar panels, creating a rooftop garden with organic vegetables and herbs, introducing water-saving devices in the bathrooms and changing the lighting to LED.

However, Keating isn’t content to rest on his green laurels, and is continuously looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly. Today, he’s got a number of projects on the go, including adding a solar hot-water system for in-floor heating; doubling the windows to improve the envelope of the building; and building a four-season greenhouse on the roof.

Keating estimates the greenhouse will cost approximately $400,000, including structural changes that need to be made to the building. While these new improvements come with a hefty price tag, Keating believes the investment will pay off. As the months pass, more guests are saying they chose the hotel in part because of its green efforts. “Hopefully that will continue and if we’re attracting more guests, then it helps us pay for these improvements,” says Keating.

For Keating, being sustainable means having the smallest environmental footprint possible, but in today’s hotel industry, forward-thinking operators are taking big steps to reduce their footprints. While saving energy and water has long been a green focus for the industry, hotel companies are broadening sustainability efforts to create an even bigger impact on the environment — and the bottom line.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, for example, has been at the forefront of the green movement in the hotel industry, having launched its Green Partnership program in 1990. Now called the Fairmont Sustainability Partnership, the program covers areas such as energy and water conservation, waste management and community partnerships. Last year, Fairmont met its goal to reduce its CO2 carbon footprint by 20 per cent through World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers program.

“Fairmont is always looking for new and innovative ways to increase our sustainability efforts,” says Jane Mackie, vice-president of Fairmont Brand at FRHI Hotels & Resorts. “Currently, we are putting a greater focus on management of waste diversion, as well as reduction in the use of water, which we believe is an area that has many more opportunities to drive further operational improvements.”

Fairmont’s Bee Sustainable program is also expanding. The brand launched its global honeybee program in 2008 to support healthy bee habitats and since 2014 has grown the program through the installation of pollinator “bee hotels” at its properties and in local communities. Today, Fairmont has 21 bee hotels across Canada and the program is now expanding into the U.S. and abroad.

In Vancouver, the Fairmont Waterfront partnered with a local non-profit organization called Hives for Humanity to build the bee hotel last year. The organization teaches beekeeping to the marginalized residents of Vancouver’s poorest district, Downtown Eastside. “Sustainability for us isn’t just about green initiatives; it’s also about building and supporting local communities and local businesses,” says Kristyna Vogel, manager of Marketing and Public Relations at Fairmont Waterfront.

The property is also committed to being zero waste by the end of 2016, which means it has to divert at least 90 per cent of all hotel waste from landfills. The hotel is working with Richmond, B.C.-based Recycle Smart, which works with companies to improve their waste and recycling programs.

On the “sexy” side of sustainability, says Vogel, is Eco Fashion Week, which has been hosted by Fairmont Waterfront since 2013. The event includes the Chic Sheet challenge whereby eight designers are given a set of the hotel’s discarded sheets and challenged to come up with runway-worthy looks.

“It may seem a bit frivolous on one hand, but there’s a big conversation on slow versus fast fashion and ways of rethinking the fashion industry,” says Vogel. “What we’re trying to say with the Chic Sheet challenge is that if we can use sheets to come up with these amazing couture looks, think about what you could be doing with pieces at home before you discard them.”

W Hotels Worldwide, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, is also putting a green spin on bed sheets. Last year, the brand partnered with Coca-Cola and singer will.i.am to bring Ekocycle sheets to W Hotels around the world. The polyester sheets are made in part with recycled plastic bottles. Each king-size sheet set uses approximately 31 recycled 20 oz. plastic bottles, which equates to more than 268,000 plastic bottles across all W Hotel beds in North America.

Corporately, Starwood has an ambitious environmental goal it calls 30/20 by 20. It’s a global commitment to reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent, water consumption by 20 per cent and carbon by 30 per cent by the year 2020. “What makes the goal unique is that we are committed to reducing those amounts across our entire portfolio, so it’s every owned, managed and franchised property around the globe,” says Andrea Pinabell, Starwood’s New York-based vice-president of Sustainability, Global Citizenship.

To track progress, Starwood collects data from its hotels, which report usage of energy, water and waste. “We track over time against our goals so we fully understand what that hotel is doing to contribute to 30/20 by 20,” says Pinabell. “In addition, we have dashboards and other reporting that leadership uses to help each hotel track its compliance.”

Starwood is also doing a great deal of work in sustainability on the food and beverage side. “It continues to be a real hot topic for our guests, and [the industry] will see a lot of movement in terms of sustainable trends within food and beverage,” says Pinabell.

In 2012, Starwood launched a sustainable food-and-beverage policy which included a ban on threatened seafood species, such as whales and sea turtles, from its menus. Late last year, Starwood developed posters and pocket guides for its properties to educate kitchen staff on which species to avoid, as well as alternative options.

For its part, on the seafood front, Fairmont Waterfront is working on sourcing 65 per cent of its seafood from Haida Wild, a business enterprise of First Nations’ group, Haida Nation. The seafood is sourced on Haida Gwaii, a group of remote islands in northern B.C. and is 100-per-cent Ocean Wise certified. “The reason we can hit only 65 per cent is some of the seafood we use in the restaurant isn’t available in northern British Columbia. But, if there are things we can get locally, of course we are going to do that,” says Vogel.

While many hotels are looking at sustainability in the waterways, others are looking at the highways. Two years ago, the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto Airport installed an electric car-charging station in the parking lot. “We did research in our market and found there weren’t too many car-charging stations in the airport,” says Paul Couto, general manager at the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto Airport. “So we thought, if we did this right, it could be a bit of a competitive advantage and it fits in with our profile as being a LEED-certified hotel.”

Anyone can use the car-charging station, not just guests, but there’s a $5 fee. Couto says on average, the station is used 10 to 15 times a month. “It’s still in the infancy stage, but we feel it will continue to get more usage,” says Couto. “It was something we were willing to try and we want to be on top of the trends in the industry.”

The car-charging station is just one small part of Hilton Worldwide’s global efforts in sustainability. In 2010, the company launched LightStay, a state-of-the-art sustainability measurement platform which allows properties to track how much water, energy and waste they’re saving. Since 2009, global water use at Hilton properties has been reduced 14.1 per cent, waste has been reduced by 27.6 per cent, and carbon has been reduced by 20.9 per cent.

Vito Curalli, director, National Sales for Canada and Latin America at Hilton Worldwide, says the benefits of the LightStay program are both environmental and economical. “Certainly, anytime you factor in the reduction of energy or water, it goes right to the bottom line. It’s simply a reduction in cost overall for the hotel,” he says. “The environmental benefits are there because there’s a reduction in the use of those [resources].”

Curalli firmly believes that green matters to guests. “Whether it’s through social media, face-to-face, or through B2B customers booking meetings at our properties, our guests are asking for this,” he says. “When we came out with LightStay and applied our targets against a five-year plan, we said to our hotels around the world, ‘we need to do something.’ Clearly, the world is doing something about it. And I think we’ve done a good job because we’ve hit all three targets.”

Written By: Rebecca Harris
Volume 28, Number 4

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