Making smart, green changes can reap huge rewards for hotels

Has sustainability been transformed into just another buzz-word for those of us not calling the Golden State home? For some, sure. But for the people residing in Goa, India, the concept hits a bit closer to home. There, hotels built to accommodate the growing demand for tourist lodging have dried up wells that people of the town rely on for daily resources. In this developing area of India, hotels began to draw up to 66,000 gallons of water per day from local sources.
Sure, moving toward a zero waste society can be cumbersome, but would people really be exerting effort chasing a useless end? Clearly, not everyone is exerting as much effort as they could, but you should believe that the change is coming. There is absolutely no way around it, and why should there be? The Hyatt Regency International Hotel in New Zealand is saving $14,000 per year simply by implementing a program that turns off all non-essential appliances in a guestroom during periods of vacancy. In another high traffic hotel, the temperature of the wash was lowered by 20 degrees, saving $2,000 in energy costs during the first three months alone.
So, it could be a fad, but environmentally conscious practices are realizing money savings for even the largest hotel chains. The population of consumers concerned with purchasing from green sources is growing. Marketing your hotel as a source of relaxation away from the cluttered life of city dwelling and simultaneously as a bastion of consideration and stewardship allows access to a new and burgeoning segment in the marketplace. Success is all but guaranteed for the savvy marketer.
Staying in a green hotel allows the patron to enjoy the satisfaction of not detracting from the environment, while also not really exerting his or herself. Green consumers, just like any other good American, want sustainability to be easy. According to a study by Green Futures, pre-economic crisis numbers showed that green consumers wield around $250 billion in buying power in the U.S. The average hotel operates at around 68 percent occupancy at approximately $265 earned per occupied room per night. So, almost a billion room purchases exist within this particular segment of the market. Of course, not all of this will be used on hotels, but the addition of even a few billion dollars to the hotel industry in exchange for a bit of conscious effort is quite attractive.
There is nowhere to go but up.
The green hotel push has gone online. Travelocity is working on expanding its service to include ecologically concerned ratings in its search criteria. Travelocity receives over 28 million hits per month already. The combination of a rising amount of green consumers and a more facilitating database lends the new green lodging wave the exposure that it needs to make the leap to the next level of popularity within the general population. Also, with a large amount of conventions and events now searching for sustainable venues and methods, the hotel industry vanguards of environmentally friendly practices stand to gain from the blooming demand.

Sustainability vs cost
The main concern of any business when enacting change, of course, is cost. However, beginning an effort to become more sustainable in a hotel does not have to be as capital intensive as one may suspect. The White House, during the Clinton Administration, underwent an audit in order to identify ways in which energy could be conserved using only off-the-shelf technology. As a result, around $300,000 in energy and water usage was saved over the course of three years. These changes took place during the early 1990s and were able to save over 845 tons of carbon emissions per year from one large building. Now, with so many cost effective consultancies and checklists available, hotels can employ simple methods of conservation and easily monitor their own progress without making any drastic retrofitting necessary. When periodic renovations occur, more technical methods can be implemented within the scope of already needed structural changes and cost increase will be mitigated to a high degree.
Environmentally conscious purchases, composting and capturing rainwater for irrigation can all be ways in which to go green without necessitating the addition of costly hardware. Simply printing paperwork on both sides can save enormous amounts of waste. Even still, most look only at the face value
of items that cost a bit more. Energy-efficient light bulbs, for example, are not only less energy draining but last longer. In some areas, local power companies’ offer discounted energy-efficient bulbs. Hotels
can also realize marketing benefits that will increase revenues from recognition as a green establishment and the government gives up to 30 percent credit for equipment purchases where the equipment meets green standards.
Opportunities for improvement are upon the industry, and all it takes is a single step forward to begin the process. But the company as a whole must buy into the change for it to thrive within the company culture. Establishing a cross-functional leadership team devoted to implementing new methods and developing the greening effort shows the commitment of the hotel management, and provides motivation and oversight as well. Management should not hesitate to reinforce employees by pointing out measures of greening that they are already taking. This provides a smooth introduction to improvement. Everyone should be educated on common facts about sustainability in order to cultivate awareness. The hotel’s specific direction should be enumerated, and all employees should be knowledgeable of the map to greening and what progress has been made. Encouraging active involvement is integral.

Educating guests
Most likely, the hotel already has paying customers, but it is obvious and understandable that it would also like more recognition and a larger customer-base to come of its investments. It is important to know that 30 percent of green consumers look for some sort of label, such as the Green Business Bureau’s green certification seal, to provide them peace of mind that they are purchasing from a green source. Having certification is advantageous for designating the hotel as green, at the very least, for these customers.
Membership services such as AAA will only be able to market the hotel as green if it has, in fact, been verified by a third-party consultancy. So having that branded environmentalism is just as important as actually being green. As in any niche market, specific hotels within the industry have to find ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, and being one of the early entrants into the green lodging culture can secure a position for any hotel to take advantage of the approaching rise in demand for energy efficient services.
With the bundled benefits of environmental stewardship, customer base development and increased market exposure, going green has ascended from idealistic to practical. The hotel industry, if any, has so much area available for improvement that even small policy changes make a difference—and people notice. It’s good to be different, but being the last hotel to go green will not be a favorable distinction, and so it only makes sense to grab a clipboard from the office supply closet and ride the green wave before everyone else makes it to the beach.

Marcos Cordero is the CEO and co-founder of Green Business Bureau.

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