Kostuch Media’s Green Leadership Award recognizes environmental excellence and innovative practices within Canada’s hospitality industry.

David Bird, senior vice-president, Operations, Delta Hotels and Resorts explained the Delta Greens plan and its success, in this exclusive Q & A.

When did your company decide to make green initiatives a priority?

David Bird: We appointed an environmental officer — a senior member of our brand operations team — to lead the program across the chain, as well as oversee the ongoing development of Delta Greens. We started research and development in November 2008, the internal launch was in spring of 2010 with the guest launch in May 2011.

Where are you at right now with the program?

DB: Delta Greens impacts every aspect of our business from guest service to renovation practices to operations and maintenance, as well as our relationships with suppliers, our employees and local communities. The program was designed with four levels of implementation standards. Currently, we’ve implemented levels one and two, which primarily focus on behavioural changes in conservation (setting rooms to a standard temperature, turning off lights and water when not in use and training in the area of waste management). Green teams at every hotel lead the program at the local level to monitor their performance, and communicate back to the team to maximize their efforts.

What’s the focus of the program?

DB: To be a leader in responsible environmental practices. We see Delta Greens as the most comprehensive and ambitious sustainability program in our industry and the Canadian hotel marketplace. A key priority is to change the way we operate, to adopt sustainable practices in everything we do. Through education and awareness, our goal is for guests and employees to make meaningful contributions by engaging in the program.    

Tell me about Delta’s “green champions.” Who are they?

DB: Green champions are identified as individuals at each hotel keenly interested in sustainability. Their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm make them ideal to lead their colleagues in the program.

How much money has been invested in the green initiative at Delta? And what have been the biggest challenges and benefits?

DB: To do this right, with the goal of becoming a leader, we needed to do more than launch a program but to have real impact, we needed to change the culture of how we operate. So we hired Loop Initiatives, a sustainability consultancy. They helped us assess current practices, research opportunities; they talked to our people and helped develop a program.

There was a significant investment in training our employees at every hotel to ensure we had 100-per-cent commitment across the chain. The commitment was critical to our success since a large focus of the program relies on our employees’ ability to put the green standards into action on a daily basis, on their own. One of the biggest benefits is seeing teams engaged across the brand with a re-energized and consistent approach to making sustainability a priority. We’ve seen immediate positive impact particularly in decreasing waste and water levels. 

One of the biggest challenges was involving our operations teams with the energy, water and waste consumption levels. Delta Greens requires constant monitoring progress and seeks opportunities to better maximize green operational efficiencies. With team members now engaged with the program and its standards, they want to know the impact they’ve had and know they’re making a difference.

Cost-wise, the investment in the program varies by hotel, based on individual property renovations and retrofits.   

In layman’s terms, what are Delta’s best practices in your green approach to running a string of hotels?

DB: Our best practices cover training and communication, reporting, and overall employee and guest engagement in developing the program.

When it comes to training and communication we recognized to be successful at the hotel level, training and implementation of the program could not rest on just one person’s shoulders. We appointed three people at each hotel, comprised of the GM, chief engineer and green champion to spearhead the program locally. We brought these threesomes together to provide training, including program background and research, overview of standards and practices and the launch plan.

Communication has been an ongoing priority among employees as we continue to build awareness and knowledge. GreenLink, our in-house communication portal is a best practice in sharing progress and what we’ve learned across the brand. Additionally, each hotel created GreenSpace, a dedicated BOH area for sharing information such as green community initiatives, new training standards and progress charts for energy, water and waste consumption.

As for reporting, we developed a system allowing each hotel to input monthly consumption, online. It’s user-friendly, which tracks their progress against our goals and identifies opportunities for improvement.

Feedback, be it employee or guest responses was something we solicited during the research phase. In order for them to accept and engage in the program, we knew that would be critical.
Tell me about the Hotel Association of Canada’s Green Key eco-rating program, as it relates to Delta Hotels in Canada.

DB: It’s mandatory for all Delta Hotel and Resorts properties to be part of HAC’s Green Key eco-rating program. Not only are each of our hotels certified with green keys, but we were the first hotel-chain in Canada to be 100-per-cent certified under the new Green Key Meetings program.

Both these programs provide guests and meeting planners with an unbiased evaluation of Delta’s commitment to sustainability.

What did you ask Delta employees in your research? Was it difficult to deliver your message to customers and employees alike?

DB: When we began the process of developing a national sustainability program, we knew it was key to gain insights from our employees on current practices, priorities, areas of opportunity… right down to training and communications. Online questionnaires were used, as well as interviews with green champions at each hotel. It showed employees we were interested in putting together a program, not only true to them but one that could be realistically incorporated into their daily roles.

Similar research was conducted among Delta guests to understand priorities and key areas of opportunity. The introduction of the Delta Greens program was very well received among stakeholders as they’re used to receiving updates on new brand initiatives and programs. 

What sustainability targets were implemented at Delta?

DB: We set targets across 12 areas of sustainability including; energy, carbon, water, waste, waste diversion, procurement, facilities and maintenance, and employee, guest and community engagement. A series of standards and brand operating procedures outlines the steps to be taken within each area.

Why was environmental sustainability a key opportunity for the company?

DB: We’ve had practices such as our sheet and towel change programs in place for many years. As well, many of our hotels have contributed with their own local initiatives such as installing green roofs, grey water recovery systems, organic recycling and energy management systems. The opportunity we saw was to align our efforts across the chain working towards common goals and targets.

What is the Delta sustainable purchasing policy?

DB: Delta’s sustainable purchasing policy means we purchase in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. We purchase products with the least environmental impact. We now evaluate our 60 largest national suppliers’ environmental performance with our questionnaire. In 2012, we’ll award the top three suppliers by recognizing their efforts.

Is “conservation-culture” a buzzword for Delta or something more substantial?

DB: Establishing a “conservation-culture” is critical to the success of Delta Greens since the program relies so heavily on the behavioural aspects of reducing energy, water and waste. As a result, it’s certainly not a buzzword or flavour of the day, but the way in which our employees operate in their daily roles.

What’s the most innovative concept in your green plan?

DB: The most innovative concept is the development of our tracking tool called Delta IRIS. It stands for Integrated Research Indicator for Sustainability — it tracks progress and initiatives as we move toward our goals. It’s about commitment and transparency with the public. Delta’s IRIS is prominently displayed on our website and updated three times a year in collaboration with Loop Initiatives, the sustainability consultancy that helped develop Delta Greens.

What has the pay back been? Explain the economic impact and cost savings, and tell us about the positive impact to the environment?

DB: Between the internal program launch in 2010 and the end of 2011, we’ve accomplished a lot:

  • Since 2010, we’ve saved 870-million litres of water
  • Total waste reduced would fill 1,000 dumpsters
  • Since 2010, we diverted 8,500 tons of waste; we’ve sent 1,500 fewer dumpsters to landfill sites
  • Green purchasing has exceeded our 2012 target
  • Green community activities the hotels initiate have exceeded the 2012 targets
  • Employee awareness and engagement is 96 per cent and exceeds our 2015 target. Delta has been recognized as one of Canada’s 30 greenest companies (Green 30) for three consecutive years. This is a result of employeeengagement questions relating to sustainability from AON Hewitt’s 50 Best Employer’s study  
  • Guest awareness of Delta’s commitment is 83 per cent

What are you doing to conserve water?

DB: Housekeepers minimize water consumption when cleaning and kitchen staff are mindful not to abuse water for thawing frozen foods. As we refurbish hotels, we’re replacing showerheads, faucets and toilets with water efficient models.   

What are you doing to conserve energy? Are you sourcing alternative energy sources?

DB: We are continually working to reduce energy consumption across all hotels. We’re achieving this by establishing a conservation-culture and investing in energy efficiency and building automation. We have created ‘green’ brand standards that provide employees with guidance for reducing consumption such as switching off lights and equipment, setting temperatures at appropriate levels, conducting light and equipment audits and displaying energy performance in the hotel’s GreenSpace. We have also introduced guidance for capital investments, building retrofits and new builds, and assist in providing information to all hotels regarding energy retrofit incentives.

How are you minimizing waste across the chain of hotels?

DB: We have implemented procedures and diversion “infrastructure” to reduce the total amount of waste produced and divert as much recyclable and compostable materials as possible from landfill. Our waste-reduction strategies focus on embracing the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. This includes phasing out plastic bottles from guestrooms, eliminating paper guest receipts by opting for e-mail and providing newspapers to guests in the lobby and restaurant rather than in guestrooms.

We are establishing a ‘no-waste’ culture, working with suppliers to take back packaging and constantly seeking employee feedback on ways to minimize waste. We continue to increase waste diversion by implementing waste-separation capabilities in of our hotels, working with suppliers to source recyclable products with less packaging and constantly reinforce the importance of proper waste-separation among employees and guests. Third-party providers have conducted waste audits at some hotels to identify further areas for improvements.

How have guests responded to the greening of your hotels?

DB: Quite positively! They like participating in the program in ways most meaningful to them…whether that includes turning off their lights and TV when they leave the room, or opting to reuse towels.

Where does Delta want to go in the future with greening?

DB: Our goal is to build on the green culture we’ve established in our hotels and introduce new standards and procedures, further strengthening our commitment to the environment. We will continue to develop the program based on our success factors and key learnings — a research-based approach to decision making, an ROI on key decision making and strong communication at every level within the company.

Edited by Adrian Bell

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