Hotels Step Up Their Greening Efforts

July 20, 2011

Going green is proving the way to get in the black on balance sheets and, apparently, in the good graces of planners. And as the hotel industry continues to pick up speed, companies are embracing new energy-saving technologies, sustainability initiatives and environmentally friendly programs aimed at achieving both these results. Do the fancy new bells and whistles really soften a hotel's operating footprint on the planet, or is it all whitewash? One thing is for sure: Planners increasingly are evaluating the social responsibility angle, and hotels are stepping up their response -- if not commitment.

Case in point: Joie de Vivre Hotels has 11 properties that are certified by one or more of a number of respected agencies, including the U.S. Green Building Council and LEED, and the company is working toward environmental certification for the rest of its portfolio of more than 30 boutique hotels, particularly since it plans to expand beyond its home base in California in the coming years. For an update on how any of JDV's properties are performing on the environmental front, simply log on to the company's Green Scorecard sheet, which rates performances in areas such as pollution prevention, green meetings, and recycling and waste reduction.

According to Atlanta-based InterContinental Hotels Group, in the United States alone, an average hotel today spends more than $500,000 on energy a year, a figure that inexorably rises along with the price of fuel. IHG's Green Engage, which was launched in 2009, claims to make its properties 15 to 20 percent more energy efficient, delivering more than $90,000 in annual energy savings for each hotel that adopts the program. Crunch the numbers, and that means IHG's portfolio of 4,500 hotels has the potential to save a total of more than $300 million a year in reduced energy costs. Currently, more than 1,000 IHG properties have signed on to Green Engage, which earlier this year was awarded LEED certification, a first for a hotel company's internally developed program. Look for the launch of an enhanced Green Engage Version 2.0 later this year.

Individual hotels also are doing their part to up the ante on green standards. When the 293-room Holiday Inn at World's Fair Park opens in Knoxville, Tenn., next month, it will feature a key card system that regulates the lights, heating and air conditioning as guests enter and leave their rooms; projected energy savings are enough to run 45 average-sized homes per year. In May, the 1,051-room Mandarin Orchard Singapore snapped up the Singapore Green Hotel Award, presented by the Singapore Hotel Association, for energy-saving efforts that included more efficient lighting systems, a towel-reuse program and even alternative menu options for endangered species such as yellowfin tuna. And in a unique and interesting twist, as part of its PanEarth program, the 160-room Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle will pay an "offsetting fee" to eco-friendly projects based on the energy use of guests attending meetings through Aug. 31 of this year. Offsets include saving on electricity use for guest rooms and meeting space, as well as for catering events and local travel, all important to planners looking to minimize their event's environmental impact. The fees support clean wind energy going onto the U.S. electricity grid in the form of Renewable Energy Credits, which are sourced from facilities in both North Dakota and Washington state. In addition, the Pan Pacific Seattle, working with Seattle-based OneEnergy Renewables, provides documentation of a meeting's environmental footprint and associated costs.

Also in May, the 210-room Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, just outside San Diego, held its first annual Green Meeting Symposium. Panelists and speakers included Brad Gessner, general manager of the San Diego Convention Center, and Gordon McGregor, the hotel's director of engineering, who also serves as manager for the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, Calif. Among the highlighted data from the symposium was this tidbit: For a group of 100 people meeting over four days, where each attendee consumes three bottles of water per day, switching to a filtered water dispenser could save approximately $6,000 per event! In the end, the bottom line speaks to both sides of the meetings world, and today there seems to be plenty of worthwhile conversation going on.


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