When guests enter the lobby of the Hotel X in Toronto, the green message is loud and clear. Behind the front desk is a show-stopping 25-by-25-foot living wall with 1,500 individual plants. Matt Black, director of Brand Management calls it a “striking mission statement.” But the message doesn’t stop there. The public areas, hallways, guestrooms and art gallery are also filled with photographs of natural settings.

It’s not just about the pretty pictures however; Hotel X boasts a long list of green initiatives, from incorporating sustainable materials in the building design and a green-roof system with a rain-water-reclamation system, to LED lighting and an oil-recycling program for the kitchen.

Sustainable operations are a hot commodity these days, Black says. “It used to be rare for RFPs to have any sustainability questions. Now it’s a common occurrence and a standard part of the decision-making process for meeting planners and guests. What do we do with leftover food? What are our recycling and water-usage practices? Do we use bottled water?”

“Guests are increasingly looking for sustainable lodging options and getting savvier on how to find them,” says Gary Graham, manager, Programs and Operations for Ottawa-based Green Key Global. “With all the new technology available, we’re seeing all sorts of new and innovative approaches and experiences.”

A 2017 Hilton Hotels survey supports this sentiment. It found more than 80 per cent of the 73,000 guests surveyed said social and environmental efforts matter to them. “We followed that with another survey asking if social and environmental efforts would influence their booking decisions,” says Daniella Foster, Hilton’s senior director of Corporate Responsibility. “Over 60-per-cent said yes. Also, 44 per cent of guests under the age of 25 said they researched hotels’ social and environment efforts online before they booked.”

Hilton made a bold step in 2012 when it formalized its Travel with Purpose corporate-responsibility strategy. Foster says it represents an evolution in sustainability for the company, which began in 2008 when it put in systems to track energy, water and waste across all properties.

Since then, Hilton has reduced waste by 32 per cent, carbon emissions by 31 per cent and water and energy use by 22 per cent. Last year the company set a goal to cut its environmental impact in half and double its social-impact investment globally by 2030 to further the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Among its many efforts, Hilton has set a commitment to sending zero soap to landfills, banning plastic straws from all hotels by July 2019 and removing plastic water bottles from meetings and events.

For Groupe Germain Hotels, greening is “a mix of all things at the end of the day,” says Hugo Germain, director of Development. One program of note is its commitment to geothermal heating for new builds, wherever possible.

“Energy-efficient lighting with motion sensors, heat-recovery systems, dual-flush [toilets] — these are all things we’ve been doing since 2007.” But now it’s time to push the envelope, he adds. “It’s not just about energy consumption; it’s also about how we work with the local ecosystem and encouraging our teams to take initiatives and go further.”

More recent efforts include banning plastic water bottles and straws and using phosphate-free cleaning products and refillable containers for amenities. In some locations, catering food is also donated to local food-bank organizations.

Germain says some properties are further ahead than others in their sustainability efforts. “It’s not always perfect, but management and staff are always pushing to do more. It’s especially important for the younger generation.”

Even the greenest of sustainable properties can still find room for improvement. The Lake Louise Inn, for example, took an idea from the domestic market to implement a new waste-water heat-recovery system by SHARC. The heat-pump-system extracts thermal energy from the inn’s laundry machines and uses it to heat incoming cold water for future loads. The system is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 80 tonnes a year and energy usage for laundry by 85 per cent, among other benefits.

“We’re so excited about what this innovation has done and what it can do for larger hotel operations with in-house laundry facilities,” says Gordon Johnson, vice-president of Operations for Atlific Hotels in Vancouver.

This is just one of many examples of how Atlific is exploring ideas generated by individual properties within its portfolio and, if successful, applying them to others, he adds. “Many of the hotels in our system already tick a lot of the boxes for sustainability with great success. Because we manage different brands, we get a good bird’s-eye view [and] can keep pushing the envelope.”

Boxotel in Montreal might be a relatively new brand on the Montreal hotel scene, but the 20-room boutique hotel has made a big impact on guests who appreciate its green messaging. Marie-Jeanne Rivard, owner and builder of the property, says that, from the outset, the Boxotel team worked to use local materials and create a design that could be repurposed.

There are many interesting infrastructure innovations, such as large, sun-oriented windows and energy-efficient heated concrete floors. Solar thermal panels also heat the domestic hot water, spa and snow-melting systems on the terrace with minimal environmental impact.

Supplies, including the vegan toiletries, are locally sourced with minimal packaging. Rooms also run off a smart-home system that manages the curtains, lighting and room temperature to minimize energy usage. Even the bathrobes and duvet covers are made from recycled textiles sourced from a local designer.

Considered by some to be a beacon in its sustainability efforts, Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria has the distinction of being B.C.’s first and only carbon-neutral hotel.

The 5-Green-Key-designated property has introduced a range of interesting and innovative programs, including an electric-car charging station and a hydrothermal net-zero air-conditioning system that uses ocean water.

The hotel also continues to work with third-party consultants, such as Duncan, B.C.-based Cowichan Energy Alternatives, to find ways to divert waste and energy, explains Brooke Harris, director of Sales, Inn at Laurel Point. “They hold our feet to the fire to keep working on new ideas.”

And in this pursuit, management is always open to new ideas from its team. For example, worn sheets are donated to a local cause to be converted into bandages for third-world countries.

“That idea came from our director of Rooms,” explains Harris. “We’ve always had involved and motivated staff — from housekeeping to the kitchen.”

Perhaps the biggest plus of all the team’s efforts is the positive impact it has on staff and management. “It’s fascinating to see how many current or potential employees value an organization that commits to sustainability in this way. In fact, many bring it up during the interview process,” Harris shares. “When we formalized our mandate, we knew it was the right thing to do. What we didn’t realize was how much it would resonate with people looking for employment.”

Written by Denise Deveau


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