Kelowna-based hotelier blazes a green trail the hotel industry should aspire to
Like so many hoteliers around the globe, Greg Salloum answers to a board of directors — and they’re a hard-to-please bunch. So, when he was deciding whether or not to invest large sums of money into a massive solar-powered retrofit at his Best Western hotel in Kelowna, B.C., he had to sell them on it, hard. Luckily his “board” doubles as his family, and they know that when it comes to green lodging practices, their hotelier/dad is a true innovator.
Hotelier: How “green” was the Canadian hotel landscape when you started to reconfigure your property in 2003?
Greg Salloum: Before we installed our hot-water solar panels, we searched the country to see if anyone else had broken the ground for us, and nobody had. So I phoned Swiss Solar Tech. I knew it was a leap of faith and a big investment, but to sell my family on this idea, I had to explain to them why I thought we should do it. They are all very aware, responsible individuals, but what convinced them was when I said, “we could buy a bond and have a steady return for a certain number of years, or we could install these solar panels and have a longer-term return, but a larger impact on our pocket book.”
So you weren’t seeing many big infrastructure changes back then?
No. In fact, when I started in 1990, the first thing I did was put blue boxes in the rooms. It’s certainly not a big deal now, but back then, nobody had done it. To me, it was common sense. We were recycling at home, and we wanted our hotel to be a home away from home.
Where did you turn to for inspiration?
It comes from my mother. She grew up in the Prairies in the dirty ’30s. They learned to survive with very little. So growing up, my mother wouldn’t waste anything. I inherited that from her.
Why was it important for you to make these eco-friendly changes?
I have a couple of science degrees; one from McGill and one from UBC, and I wanted to live my life in a manner that I felt good about, and have a business life that was congruent with my personal life and beliefs. Hotels are typically wasteful; we all know that. I wanted to see how I could minimize the waste and become a good corporate citizen.
What do hotels need to do to truly be considered green?
The American Lodging Association has a list of 10 items they say you need to do to be green. I look at it like it’s an endless journey, and the destination is always a moving target. Something new is always going to come along, and then you’ll need to do that to be considered a green hotel. Doing what everyone else is doing is just standard.
Would you categorize any of your initiatives as innovations?
Without a doubt, our hot-water solar panels were innovative. They save us about $15,000 a year. The blue box program was also innovative when I first did it, and we now have some rooms with cork flooring, which is a recyclable product that doesn’t give off gases. We use ultra-low-flush toilet models, and not dual flush, because it may cause challenges for some hotels. All our showerheads are 1.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads. The standard now is 2.5. And, because we sit on an aquifer, we’re currently adding in a geothermal plant. It’s estimated it will save us $39,000 a year, just on the heating side.
Has it been an easy transition?
When you’re first out of the gate, there’s always going to be some learning involved. For instance, the Swiss company that designed the solar array did it for a normal European hot-water load. Canadians apparently use three times that amount. They built a storage tank a third of the size it should have been. So, the payback period was lengthened — originally, it was supposed to be six years, and it will end up being more like 15. But we’re thinking long-term. The hotel has been in the family since the early 1970s, and it will be in the family for another 100, hopefully.
Do you consider yourself an eco-leader in the industry?
I didn’t, but judging by the number of phone calls I get, I guess I am.