Keeping the Customer Satisfied
Judith A. Stock
Increasingly, hotels and resorts are discovering that going green not only improves the bottom line but that it also attracts more guests
WHEN ACTOR Alicia Silverstone traveled to San Francisco not long ago, she asked her friend Woody Harrelson to recommend a hotel. He suggested the Hotel Triton, located just steps away from the grand arches of Chinatown and a block off Union Square. Harrelson didn’t base his recommendation simply on location, however. He also was impressed by the conservation program the staff implemented to reduce the facility’s environmental impact. Silverstone concurred.
“I thought it was important to stay at a ‘green’ hotel to help protect the environment and be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” she says. “I loved the information the hotel provided about how much water and energy they save. Recycling, using solar panels—it’s all important.”
The Triton is among the many hotels, resorts and inns across the country where management is discovering the real benefits of reducing solid waste and energy and water consumption. “It’s all about lowering operating costs and improving the bottom line, and still satisfying customers,” says Patricia Griffin, president of the “Green” Hotels Association, a Houston-based trade group that promotes environmental lodging. In some facilities, she notes, as many as 90 percent of the guests are now participating in eco-friendly programs, such as not having their sheets and towels changed daily. “Clearly, these programs can boost business,” she adds.
A case in point is Habitat Suites in Austin, Texas, where earlier this year the owners installed 108 solar panels on six roof surfaces. The $130,000 installation cost the hotel only $50,000 because city-sponsored subsidies covered the balance. Now, the panels supply 20 percent of the property’s electricity needs, reducing annual energy expenditures by about $5,000. But that’s just part of the story. “The hotel received so much positive publicity after it installed solar equipment that its revenues are up $110,000 from the previous year,” says Griffin.
The Triton is experiencing similar success. Earlier this year, the facility, which is part of the Kimpton Hotel chain, was honored as the model hotel for the State of California’s new green hotels program, which encourages people to stay at lodgings that save water and other resources and divert waste from landfills.
“The Triton’s program is nonintrusive and as a guest, you wouldn’t see signs of us being eco-friendly,” says Michael Pace, director of operations for Kimpton. Among other things, through increased recycling efforts, the Triton staff has reduced garbage-collection expenditures in the past decade from $2,200 a month to $600. “We use organic products whenever possible and we clean rooms without chemicals, and that sends a powerful message to consumers,” says Pace, who is expanding the program to all Kimpton properties.
Fairmont Hotels and Resorts is another chain that is seeing the benefits of going green. At the Fairmont Royal York, a 1,400-room hotel in Toronto, the company recently replaced thousands of incandescent bulbs with fluorescents and completed a heating and air conditioning retrofit that will result in considerable savings in operating costs.
Michelle White, Fairmont’s manager of environmental affairs, says the chain’s eco-program includes involvement with communities. “Each of our properties is paired with a local shelter,” she says. Used linens and furniture are donated, minimizing items sent to landfills.
Each property also has a signature project that relates to a local issue. At the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island of Hawaii, for instance, the hotel staff is working with scientists from the University of Hawaii at Hilo to monitor the health of the reef a few steps away from the property.
To help protect that reef, the hotel’s landscape manager has eliminated use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, he relies on organic methods and replacing high-maintenance exotic plants with native varieties. “I think the trend right now among larger hotels is to incorporate educational value into programs to give guests information they can take home,” says White.
Incorporating education makes sense, adds Griffin, because “most people go to a particular hotel because of its location, and a lot of hoteliers only have to look out their windows to see the natural beauty that they’re responsible for protecting.” That certainly is the case for the Grand Teton Lodge Company, which operates guest facilities in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.
“We look at everything we do to reduce our impact in the park,” says the company’s environmental health and safety manager, Julie Klein. “Up to 4 percent of our power is wind generated, and between 2002 and 2003, we saved 14 percent in energy bills.” The company maintains a daily, in-room recycling program. Each room also features energy-efficient light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and signs suggesting reusing towels.
“Hotels deserve credit when they’re implementing good conservation practices,” says Griffin. “I always suggest writing a note to general managers, letting them know how pleased you are. I also suggest letting them know that you’re disappointed when they’re not operating an eco-friendly facility. After all, they’re in the hospitality business, and what you say can have an impact on how a hotel conducts business.”
California writer Judith A. Stock prefers to stay only at green hotels. For more tips, see
The High Cost of Clean Towels
While it’s a small sacrifice on your part, there are big benefits to reusing towels and bed linens for two or three days during a hotel stay. Based on a survey by the National Association of Institutional Linen Management, the “Green” Hotels Association estimates that hotels can save more than $6.50 a day per occupied room by such voluntary actions by guests. That includes savings not only in labor time, but also in water, energy and use of detergents that may be detrimental to the environment.
Green Travel Begins at Home
Whether or not your vacation includes a stay at a “green” hotel, there are steps you can take to keep your house safe and environmentally sound while you’re away. Here are some tips from the “Green” Hotels Association on vacation-proofing your house:
- Turn your water heater to its lowest setting.
- Turn off your air-conditioner or heater or adjust the thermostat to protect plants and pets.
- Unplug household appliances such as TVs and cable converter boxes. Even when turned off they use as much as 40 watts per hour.
- Lower the temperature of waterbed heaters by at least ten degrees.
- Turn your house’s water off at an outside connection—this will prevent flooding if a pipe breaks while you're gone. When you return, turn on the water slowly and check for problems.
- Stop newspaper delivery—a pile of unread newspapers is both a waste of paper and a sure sign that nobody’s home