Cost savings, guests drive green initiatives at hotels

NATIONAL REPORT—The hotel industry has made great strides when it comes to sustainability, but there is more that can be done.

That’s according to the report “Sustainability in Hotels: Opportunities and Trends Shaping the Future of Hospitality” from the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Greenprint Center for Building Performance.

“I hope the biggest takeaway from this report is that there are opportunities to improve efficiencies in hotels across the board from minor, low or no-cost improvements all the way up to higher capital investment,” said Monika Henn, manager, ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “It just takes someone thinking strategically and considering all of the opportunities to make those changes.”

The report assesses the state of sustainability in the hotel sector by identifying best practices, highlighting industry trends in sustainability and offering solutions to sustainability-related obstacles. It also identifies some of the market drivers for sustainability.

“The market drivers really aren’t going away,” said Henn. “[Sustainability] improves net operating income and the bottom line in a positive way, so as efficiency measures go in—things like changing lighting to LEDs—those utility savings are going directly to their bottom line and improving their NOI. As technology gets more efficient, it is only going to improve the savings that they see over time.”

Additionally, guests want to see businesses increasing their commitment to the environment. “Guests are really starting to take notice with regard to hotels and their sustainable practices,” she said. “As people start to travel more, that is only going to continue. People are going to get more interested in making a choice of not just a great hotel, but one that is having a positive impact. I have had [industry]people tell me, it is maybe not why people are deciding to stay, but they get positive comments about their sustainability programs on the comment cards. As they start to advertise the green initiatives that they are doing, guests [will]have a better understanding of what hotels are doing, so they can make smarter choices.”

Local government regulations are also a driver. “A lot of cities are coming out with climate action plans and their policies are impacting the built environment—that includes hotels,” said Henn.

There are a variety of ways hotels are incorporating sustainability into their strategy. “On the operational side, hotels are making sure that it’s integrated across all of their decision-making,” she said. “If they are doing a renovation, they are thinking about the materials. They are selecting team members on a project who have experience with sustainability.”

She continued, “They are collecting data and benchmarking to see how they are performing over time. Owners and operators are communicating to make sure their goals are aligned when it comes to sustainability.”

Hotels are also making strides on the technical side, including the installation of energy- and water-saving devices. “Some of the more advanced hotels are doing overhauls of their back-of-house HVAC system,” said Henn. “A number of them are looking into renewable or distributed energy systems. They are not only able to retrofit bathroom fixtures, but they are also thinking about their laundry water use and how they can reduce that. There is a lot of opportunity there.”

Henn said there is an opportunity to make sustainability an integral part of operations. “We just need to go ahead and do it,” she said. “I think that the opportunity for improvement in hotels is really making sure to integrate sustainability into their broader business, so that executives—when they are making capital improvement decisions—are thinking about what they can be doing to improve efficiency while they are investing in the asset. It goes all the way down to people working back of house, such as making sure housekeepers are checking for leaks, so that leadership can make those kinds of improvements. Having a more holistic view instead of one-off projects that come up is going to be important.”

While the decision made by IHG to eliminate all of its individual toiletry items and shift to bulk dispensers was made after the report’s release, Henn sees it as a positive, but is not sure if all brands will make the change. “They need to figure out how to integrate something like that into their brand standards, but I do see a lot of interest in something like that from both owners and brands—working out how to make sure the guests will have a good experience,” she said. “Guest experience trumps everything, so we are trying to figure out how we can do this in a more sustainable manner while making sure the guests are happy.” HB

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