In March, self-described tree-hugger Virginia Trelenberg unveiled a program at her hotel, which was designed to create better environmental efficiencies. Trelenberg thought that introducing 96-gallon plastic recycling bins to each floor of the Ramada Langley-Surrey, a three-storey 83-room hotel in Surrey, B.C., would dramatically reduce the property’s landfill-bound trash. Further, it would send a strong message to guests and employees about the company’s commitment to sustainable practices. But when the disposal company came to collect them after their first week in use, they were empty. “I put the totes where they belonged and walked away,” the GM remembers. “I just assumed everybody would understand their importance. But when I looked in them and saw nothing there, I was shocked. I thought: ‘I’ve done a poor job relaying this message.’”


Many years into a global campaign to make hotels more accountable to the debt they owe for their part in the environmental equation, education and communication have emerged as the twin cornerstones of success.

In the days following the recycling-bin blunder, Trelenberg asked her employees, “‘What don’t you understand?’” Next, she formed an environmental committee that created a “very clear and concise” green manual, she took photos of what should and shouldn’t be dropped in the bins, and she posted all of this on the bulletin boards of the hotel’s service rooms. The next Friday, when the bins were picked up, they were overwhelmingly full.

The Ramada Langley-Surrey is still in the early steps of its environmental accountability journey. But, environmental responsibility is now an expectation, says Paul Snyder, VP of Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs and global lead on sustainability at Atlanta-based InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). “Five years ago, RFPs would ask, ‘Are you green — Yes or no?’ Now they’re asking, ‘What’s the carbon footprint of a room night?’” he notes.

But, before the savings can be realized, initiatives have to be put in place to help the environment (and the bottom line) in hotel guestrooms, public spaces and outdoor spaces.

Greening Guestrooms

There’s no shortage of opportunities for green-inspired renewal in guestrooms. For Robert Lamoureux, GM of the Holiday Inn & Suites Windsor in Ontario, replacing the T-12 incandescent lights in his hotel with T-8 LEDs was an important step in the greening process. Inspired in part by an incentive offered by the local utility company, Lamoureux spent $22,000 on the new bulbs — which have 50,000-hour lifespans compared to 10,000 — and the hotel earned a $17,000 rebate for the conversion. Government rebates are available, says Lamoureux, “it’s just a matter of looking for them.”

And since utilities represent the second-biggest cost in a hotel (after labour), the ROI for retooled guestroom lighting is typically delivered swiftly, notes IHG’s Snyder. When IHG executives initiated a lighting retrofit at its 200 company-managed properties, swapping out incandescents for CFLs at a cost of about $400,000, the company saw energy savings of $1.1 to $1.2 million within the year. Meanwhile, the same project saved The InterContinental New York Barclay hotel $138,600 annually with a payback period of four months and an ROI of approximately 238 per cent.

Other easy targets for green savings in guestrooms include installing metering systems that report a room’s energy usage, low-flow showerheads that cut water use, well-designed rooms that capitalize on unobstructed natural sunlight and minimize the need for electricity and auto-sensors that detect if a room’s occupied; if it’s not, air conditioning and lighting are shut down.

Greening Common Areas

The lighting in a hotel’s common spaces is also a target area for energy reduction. Ideally, lobbies are built to take advantage of natural lighting, but what electric light is required should be supplied by LED or CFL, rather than power-hungry incandescents. Introducing energy-metering systems, such as sensors that automatically control lighting in staircases and external carparks, is another worthwhile investment. And there are opportunities in common-area bathrooms that can draw from guestroom innovations, such as installing aerator faucets and waterless urinals.

Appliances in hotel kitchens — such as oversized, energy-consuming refrigerators — also represent rich fodder for money-saving green initiatives. The average energy costs at Candlewood Suites Lake Jackson in Clute, Texas, shrank by nine per cent — from $28 to $22 per guest per night — when the hotel switched to energy-efficient appliances, including televisions and refrigerators.

“From what we’ve seen, the emphasis is a lot more on the mechanical side of things,” says Andrea Myers, director of Ottawa-based Green Key Global, an environmental certification body. That means the implementation of electronic management for HVAC systems so ambient temperature is more tightly controlled and determining if a meeting or guestroom is not occupied so airflow can be regulated. “More people are recognizing that the cost up front for these bigger expenses is significant, but so is the ROI,” says Myers.

Greening the Outdoors

When it comes to outdoor spaces, there are lots of opportunities to temper public lighting. It’s as easy as installing smart timers that adjust according to the time of the year. The Holiday Inn & Suites Windsor is in the process of switching to LED lights for its parking lots. “We can see huge savings there,” says Lamoureux. The hotel will realize financial savings of 10 to 15 per cent on average in the first year, according to IHG sources.

Gardens are another area that can be improved. They should emphasize climate-appropriate foliage so the greenery doesn’t need as much watering. “People like pretty flowers,” says Synder. “But sometimes these flowers wouldn’t be part of the natural environment, so they take a lot more work and water.”

What’s more, various grey- and black-water treatment processes allow properties to push greywater (wastewater used in sinks, et cetera) through a filtration system that can be used for landscaping. The Holiday Inn Mexico City Plaza Universidad saved 30 to 60 per cent on monthly water consumption by recovering, treating and using greywater and rainwater.

Realizing ROI

As the Ramada Langley-Surrey’s Trelenberg can attest, the effort, expense and energy required to execute an environmental overhaul is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are indisputable. In fact, IHG research shows that 80 per cent of guests express an interest in staying in a sustainable hotel. “People want to be green and good to the environment,” says Lamoureux. “It’s a feel-good thing.”

Sustainable companies also appeal to employees. “Running a responsible business is something our employees increasingly tell us is important to them,” says IHG’s Snyder. “As you go down through the generations, X, Y and millennials, they have a very intense psychographic need to work for companies they consider good citizens.”

And, let’s not forget that hotels are for-profit businesses, says Myers, recognizing that implementing these sustainable initiatives will save money down the line. It’s why the green movement has so meaningfully spread beyond the property level and to the corporate level in recent years. Where the individual hotelier who wanted to make a difference in his own operating environment used to lead the charge, now all the parent firms oversee programs that permeate through their portfolios and brands.

Of course, all these rewards can’t be achieved without an oversight to enforce the programs, adds Myers. Operators’ enthusiasm to dive into the novelty of such benevolent overhauls, she believes, often means operators skip the step of establishing policies and procedures to sustain it — aligning staffers in the mission. “That’s important because, long term, all of those initiatives you’re taking on need a plan to hold them together, keep them on track and make them successful. Without [one], they’ll lose impetus.” She adds: “Who’s going to make sure you’re getting the returns you were expecting? … A property manager doesn’t see what the employees do every day, so engaging them means they’re going to come forward with suggestions for improvement or problems they can solve. That’s a really important component.”

It’s one Trelenberg learned first-hand. “We’re making inroads,” the GM says of her property’s greening progress. “People are talking about sustainability now. I see that in the posts staff make in their logbooks, suggestions for getting better. Nobody ever talked about it before — now it’s the buzz.” 


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