When Jeff White was asked to make a keynote address about the challenges of greening a hotel at a Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) awards dinner, he jumped at the opportunity. As director of Engineering at The Westin Ottawa — once the only hotel in North America with five Green Keys from the HAC’s environmental rating program and the winner of three HAC awards recognizing its contributions to environmental sustainability — White had no problem identifying the number-1 challenge on his 10-item list: associate buy-in. He was anxious to talk about the difficult task of motivating a massive personnel machine into action for a movement that’s lost its buzz, he says, explaining that environmental consciousness has become ingrained in our collective psyche and people don’t necessarily want to invest any more time into it.

But management at The Westin Ottawa is determined to drive further change. It all starts with the 12-person environmental committee — with one representative from each department — which is charged with educating and motivating the hotel’s 350 associates about initiatives designed to make the business kinder to Mother Earth. And, it’s not that this crew isn’t committed to the cause, White clarifies, explaining it’s tricky to stir a large population into action. For example, he and his team recently introduced a recycling area to the staff cafeteria that encourages associates to sort the litter from their lunches into the proper streams. “But we’ll still see them not separating their waste. It’s hard to change the culture,” he laments.

Another challenge is cost. Disposing of The Westin Ottawa’s organic waste means shipping it to a facility two hours away, while the site that receives regular garbage is just 20 minutes from the hotel. “There’s a huge cost to send organics away, but it’s the right thing to do,” says White, echoing other hoteliers’ sentiments about what drives their environmental efforts. “And there are enough incentives out there nowadays that any owner who’s watching his bottom line would know that — and not just from an environmental standpoint — but because it pays off in the long run.”

White has the numbers to back that up. Under the Starwood umbrella, The Westin Ottawa has committed to reduce its electrical consumption by 30 per cent and its water consumption by 20 per cent by 2020, based on 2008 results. Both initiatives are connected to promised reimbursements from the government.

To start, the team focused on “low-hanging fruit,” including switching out incandescent for LED lighting, White says. This $250,000 investment — that began with public areas and will move to include guestrooms this year — was offset by an $80,000 rebate from Hydro One and the Ontario Power Authority. More than that, the property marked a 12-per-cent reduction in electrical consumption for its pains. The hotel expects to have the lighting project fully paid off within two years, and given that the bulbs have a five-year warranty, that means they’ll
be running their lights for free for three years.

The hotel is also in the midst of a cooling plant installation. At 31, the property’s AC unit was as old as the building, so an end-of-life upgrade made sense. But, rather than pick conventional chillers as replacements, the hotel team chose an extremely efficient and low-energy-use chilling operating plant. It converted the existing 40hp pumps, which delivered the cooling throughout the building on a constant basis, to a variable-speed-drive pump that can ramp up and down, according to the hotel’s occupancy-fuelled demand. The new equipment costs $1.6 million. But The Westin received almost $300,000 from Hydro Ottawa and the Ontario Municipal Board as compensation, and its addition to the infrastructure should deliver immediate electricity-consumption savings of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent.

Then there’s The Westin Ottawa’s newly installed ultra-modern bank of efficient high-rise elevators, the first in Canada to employ the “destination dispatch” optimization technique. Here, passengers bound for the same or similar floor destinations are grouped into the same lift, thus eliminating the power-gobbling milk runs that characterize their predecessors. The technology allows the hotel’s six elevators to operate as efficiently as if there were seven and a half; the $2-million project was completed in April.

“Taken together, the elevators, LEDs and chillers have cut The Westin Ottawa’s power consumption by more than 15 per cent — roughly half of its 2020 target. And, it’s even further along in its water consumption objectives, having reduced that measure by 28 per cent — eight per cent more and five years earlier than its stated goal — thanks to the high-efficiency taps and toilets installed as part of a 2009 renovation. Where a typical toilet uses four litres per flush, the less consumptive replacements only use 1.6 litres.

Inspired by early results, White and his team have borne down on getting their comrades on side. They transformed the steps of a back-of-house staircase into music-producing piano keys with the idea of discouraging energy-eating elevator rides (and won a HAC award for their innovation), adopted a street beside the hotel, which staffers clean up in the spring and fall, and regularly host potluck eco-friendly themed lunch-and-learn sessions. “People need to remember all of this effort isn’t just about the environment,” White says. “It really pays off in other areas in the long run.”

Volume 27, Number 4

Written By: Laura Pratt 


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