Green Key Global has been evaluating and certifying properties in Canada and beyond for more than 20 years and, during that time, has established itself as a leading environmental third-party-certification body for the global hospitality and meeting industries. Since its inception, the programs have grown to include more than 1,500 member hotels and 350 meetings venues in 15 countries.
Operated by the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), Green Key Global prides itself on offering a solution designed for the industry, by the industry. The program was inspired by a UN declaration in the early ’90s highlighting the need to do more for the environment. “The Canadian hotel industry recognized it needed to do something [but] didn’t know where to begin,” explains Gary Graham, manager, Programs and Operations at Green Key Global. “So, Green Key launched in 1997 as a resource for the Hotel Association of Canada’s members [highlighting] where to begin and how to be green.”
The program has grown and evolved, moving to an online-assessment system, expanding to markets outside of Canada and introducing the Green-Key-Meetings program — all the while leveraging key partnerships and the knowledge of HAC members to ensure its offerings remain relevant and valuable tools for the industry. “Sustainability is important to our hotels and we’re happy to assist them with an independent certification program that both promotes and fosters corporate responsibility,” says Susie Grynol, Managing Director of Green Key Global and HAC president.
“Being [associated with] the Hotel Association of Canada, we’re able to work with the board members of the association — they represent the corporate brands, the owners and the operators — as well as in different provinces,” Graham adds. “There is a lot of great work happening at all levels of the industry.”
KEEPING IT FRESH
In March, Green Key Global marked its 20th anniversary with the launch of a new brand identity and website. “Our revitalized brand signals the strengthening momentum of Green Key Global and the sustainability efforts of the industry overall,” says Grynol. “Our 20th anniversary will be about celebrating this milestone by showcasing the incredible accomplishments of our members and showing the world this industry is a leader in sustainability”
Green Key Global’s new look and feel has been captured on the new website, which includes a suite of new resources, such as a new member section, to make the program — along with its resources and toolkits — more accessible.
“We wanted to honour the history of the program, but also give it a new fresh look,” adds Graham.
Additionally, in 2017 the program released the third iteration of its Eco-Rating program. The move to Green Key Eco-Rating 3.0 (V3) continued the association’s goal of remaining the industry’ leading environmental certification body, while aligning with Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Recognition status (received in 2016). V3 incorporates new questions that take into account new sustainable practices currently in the market and innovation points to recognize efforts that go beyond current assessment criteria.
THE FULL PACKAGE
The intention of the certification programs has always been to be easily accessible and allow any member of a property’s team to get the ball rolling through the online-assessment tools. “From the member’s area, any [team member] can go in and complete this assessment,” says Graham. “So, it doesn’t entail a sustainability consultant or thousands of hours and dollars to get it done. It’s designed in a way that the team can work together to put [the assessment] together.”
Green Key’s programs allow participants to benefit on several fronts, including cost savings, increased bookings from environmentally conscious consumers and meeting planners, and responsible corporate citizenry. Once a property is enrolled, its team then has access to a suite of comprehensive toolkits designed to guide members on their sustainability journey, including recommendations for employee training, staff and customer engagement, and supply-chain management.
“We have tool kits to help develop your corporate policy, put together your green team and build a sustainability RFP when you’re seeking out potential suppliers,” says Graham. “We also have a guide on how to track and audit your resource usage…[And] we have all sorts of checklists — that various teams throughout the hotel can [work through] — on things to look out for.”
Following the online self-assessment, Green Key conducts on-site verification audits to validate member ratings and provides marketing materials to assist members in the promotion of their efforts.
The graduated rating system — which spans from one-key to five-key ratings — is designed to recognize properties ranging from motels to luxury properties.
“The beauty of the program is that one four- or five-key property could be different from the four- or five-key property across the street because it takes into account the entire envelope of the property,” explains Graham. “So, someone could be doing phenomenal work in one section — say their housekeeping efforts are at 100 per cent, but there is room for [improvement] in other sections — [while] the hotel across the street can have a phenomenal corporate policy and all sorts of back-of-house infrastructure…In essence, there are so many different ways you can be a leader in sustainability.”
Pemberton Valley Lodge
Due to its location, the team at Pemberton Valley Lodge in Pemberton, B.C. felt it was important to reflect its community’s values and make environmental stewardship a priority. It became a member of Green Key Global in 2008. “When we did our first assessment, we got three keys out of five, which was a great starting point — we were pretty proud of that fact,” shares GM David MacKenzie.
The team then began focusing on the areas where improvements could be made. “We looked at the different areas — from recycling to procurement of products and services we purchase from our venders — and went category-by-category to see where the easiest improvements could be made [with limited] impact financially. Obviously, there are savings to be had in some aspects, but you don’t want to break the bank to go green from day one.” The team began by establishing an environmental committee to determine key programs that could be put in place to improve sustainability, which included replacing lightbulbs with LEDs in stages and placing recycling and compost bins in guestrooms. Along its journey to achieve its current 5-Key rating, the hotel also embarked on larger projects, such as installing electric-vehicle-charging stations and reducing the amount of packaging waste created through the procurement process.
Although the process of improving the resort’s sustainability seemed a daunting task at first, MacKenzie notes a lot of sustainable practices involve behavioural changes that can be achieved with limited cost. And, although programs such as in-room composting and recycling came with an initial cost, the subsequent waste reduction has resulted in a much larger savings.
And guests have been welcoming these changes. “We’ve never put anything in place where we told our guests [participation] is a must; we put the means [to recycle and compost] into our suites and the guest have become automatic participants in our program just because the [bins are] there,” says MacKenzie. “I was surprised by how many of our guests actually used the compost pail. That’s evident in the fact we’ve had to upsize the bin our room attendants put the compost in and increase the frequency of its pickup — it’s obviously working.”
Buy-in from the hotel’s team was also paramount it the success of the program. “A lot of [our initiatives] had to do with our housekeeping department, they are the real champions of the program because all the things we do are only as good as the staff who actually carry them out,” MacKenzie adds.
Fogo Island Inn
For the Fogo Island Inn, located in Joe Batt’s Arm, N.L., becoming a GreenKey-Global member just made sense given its “wholeness” approach to business. “We look at every decision we make and every interaction we have and ask ourselves ‘how can we have the most positive impact possible on that person’s life?’” explains Melanie Coates, director, Marketing & Business Development at Fogo Island Inn. “We take our social and environmental responsibility very seriously. It’s an integral part of who we are, what we stand for and how we operate our business, and we are committed to the continual improvement of our stewardship practices.”
“To us, eco-consciousness is inextricably linked to the wholeness and resilience of our community. Membership with Green Key Global is a way to link to other like-minded businesses and share in their learnings, industry standards, programs and resources,” Coates says. She also notes the inn benefits from the program’s global recognition and advocacy, as well as guidance regarding securing metrics for utility consumption and waste diversion.
In short, Coates explains, regardless of any quantifiable impact on the bottom line (positive or negative), being a member of the Eco-Rating Program is “the right thing to do.”
In its efforts to reduce its environmental impact, the hotel recently eliminated the use of plastic bottles on premise through a unique bottle-lending program. Through this initiative, the inn provides its guests with non-plastic reusable bottles, which can be conveniently dropped off at the Avis rental-car desk inside the Gander Airport.
The Fairmont Waterfront hotel in Vancouver has been a member of the Green Key Eco-Rating program for more than a decade, boasting 5-Key status, as well as a 4-Key Meetings rating.
“Sustainability is a really big part of our philosophy at this hotel, so being recognized for that was important to us and Green Key Global has the reputation within the industry for setting the benchmark for measuring sustainability,” explains Kristina Vogel, manager, Marketing & Public Relations, Fairmont Waterfront. “It gives legitimacy to the efforts we are making on property and [helps us] benchmark against what other hotels are doing.”
Although participation in these programs is not effortless, Vogel says it’s certainly proven beneficial. “We’re seeing more and more meeting planners and larger organizations looking to reduce their carbon footprint, so being able to show what we’re doing on property and having that 5-Key certification allows them to meet their mandate, which makes us more attractive. Being able to show that recognized and respected certification to our guest — whether it be a group or individual — is an asset for us and helps us win business.”
She also points to feedback received through the program as another key benefit. “The audit comes with a thorough list of recommendations on how to take what you’re doing to the next level. That insight is invaluable,” she explains, adding that acting on small recommendations can make a huge impact — many of which result in cost savings. As part of a recent initiative, the hotel is working to eliminate its use of single-use plastic and opted to eliminate bottled water from its turn-down service, instead providing a water glass and coaster explaining the initiative. As Vogel explains, in peak season, this can eliminate approximately 500 plastic water bottles per day from the hotel’s footprint.