'Going Green' Still a Top Issue for Hotels & Guests, But Not Without Challenges

| September 08, 2009

Despite the upfront costs associated with going green, the lodging industry shows no signs of turning its back on its commitment to sustainability. Rather, many hotels are looking longer-term, recognizing the cost- and resource-saving benefits of going green, along with the good-will that it builds among guests.

Though hotels have long offered guests the option to hold off on laundering linens during their stay, many are now offering entirely environmentally-friendly rooms that have water-saving bathroom fixtures and in-room energy management systems.

Carlson Hotels Worldwide (www.carlson.com) recently surveyed its guests and found that they're "very engaged" in environmental issues. Guests expressed a high degree of willingness to do their parts both at home and while traveling, and 58 percent said they'd be willing to book a hotel room that is environmentally-friendly. Carlson, along with many other hotel companies, is looking to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification standards as a benchmark for best practices. The U.S. Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org), which runs the LEED program, has certified 22 hotels and there are 574 projects in the works. "Buildings in every sector are recognizing that green building saves money energy and resources. This is precisely the reason that, while the economy has forced many projects to stall, green building is still growing," says Marie Coleman, communications associate for the USGBC.

Going green presents its challenges, however. Panelists at a recent Cornell University roundtable suggested that LEED-certification remains a challenge for hotels, primarily because the standards were created for office and commercial structures. "LEED is about buildings, not about hospitality," suggests Richard Penner, professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. As Simon Ford, SVP of innovation and design at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) puts it: "A green hotel does not equate to a green hotel experience." Companies that seek to operate in a sustainable fashion need to analyze each product and process, and not all choices are clear-cut, the roundtable observed. For instance, which is more sustainable: paper towels or electric hand dryers?

As a part of its sustainability initiatives, IHG (www.ichotelsgroup.com) has developed a software program called Green Engage that's expected to cut hotel energy use by 25 percent across the company's entire portfolio. The online system lets hotel managers record their energy use and compare it to proven best practices at similar properties across the portfolio. The program then provides each hotel with a report on how to boost efficiency.

Whatever specific approach hotels take in going green, the Cornell panelists offer one clear insight: as sustainability becomes a strong guest consideration, a hotel's brand may drive occupancy more than its location.

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