As the lodging industry continues to refine its best practice in environmental stewardship, many hoteliers are still wondering what are the benefits of a green program. Who better to fill in the blanks and discuss the benefits and strategies than Pat Maher of The Maher Group, which evaluates an organization’s facilities, recommends eco-friendly products and procedures, conducts energy audits, reviews an organization’s carbon footprint, and develops opportunities for cost savings along with other benefits. Maher is also AH&LA’s Green Guru. Recently, Maher discussed the benefits and strategies of going green with Lodging Editor Len Vermillion.
1. Len Vermillion: While “green” may not be in the news as much as say a year or two ago, it’s obviously still important for hoteliers to recognize the benefits. What are some of the benefits? Why should hotels today consider green initiatives in the operations?
Pat Maher: The benefits to going green are numerous. Hotels can reduce their environmental impact by saving energy, reducing pollution and helping to protect the environment. Energy savings measures such as installing water saving equipment and retrofitting lamps can help hotels to save money by saving energy. Reducing waste and recycling can help to lower disposal costs. Purchasing green cleaning supplies can help to lower toxins in the air and thus protect guests and employees by improving air quality.
Research shows that many consumers are considering environmental issues when making travel plans, so going green can also enhance a hotel’s marketability.
It is most important that hotels maintain the energy, water and waste reduction initiatives that they have already implemented. Over the last two years, hotels that have implemented the AH&LA Green Guidelines have reported reducing their energy and water costs overall by 5 percent and waste costs by 11 percent.
One example of an excellent “green” corporate program is the Hilton Worldwide LightStay system. In 2009, the LightStay results showed that 1,300 Hilton Worldwide properties using the system conserved enough energy to power 5,700 homes for a year, saved enough water to fill more than 650 Olympic-size pools and reduced the carbon output equivalent of taking 34,865 cars off the road. Reductions in water and energy use also translated into dollars saved for these hotel owners, with an estimated savings in 2009 of more than $29 million in utility costs. LightStay helped Hilton Worldwide properties using the system reduce their energy use by 5 percent, carbon output by 6 percent, waste output by 10 percent and water use by 2.4 percent in 2009 over 2008.
2. LV: Do you think green building and operations have begun to become part of the standard practice in the lodging industry, or do we still have a ways to go?
PM: The lodging industry has only just started to recognize and share the best practices in green buildings and operations. In December 2010, the USGBC announced that 79 hotels had become LEED certified and that 1,038 hotels are registered to become LEED certified in the near future. The EPA’s Energy Star program currently has more than 5,200 properties that use the EPA’s online Portfolio Manager to benchmark their hotel’s energy performance. There are 999 of these properties that qualify for the Energy Star label. In 2011, the AH&LA is expecting many of their member hotels to become green certified utilizing one of the excellent various state or major private sector programs. The most active green certification program is Green Key Global, which has more certified hotels lowering their energy costs and environmental footprint.
3. LV: For hotels just beginning green practices, what would you recommend as good starting place?
PM: My recommendation would be to start with the AH&LA’s 11 Minimum Guidelines for going green. They are an invaluable tool for going green. The first guideline, which is the formation of an environmental committee, is the best place to start because it will help your property to develop an environmental green plan.
My second recommendation, and most important, is monitoring the electric, gas, water and waste usage information on a monthly and yearly basis. And, my final recommendation is to complete all the remaining nine minimum guidelines and then take the next green step to enroll in one of the green certification programs listed on the AH&LA website.
4. LV: AH&LA has developed green guidelines. How can these and other associations’ programs help hoteliers discover the bests ways to green their hotels and create better efficiency?
PM: Over the last two years, the AH&LA has partnered with the USGBC, the EPA and the National Restaurant Association to share and educate the members in the use of the over 70 AH&LA Green Guidelines.
To garner more participation, AH&LA created the Green Guidelines Challenge on Earth Day last year. The challenge encouraged hoteliers to implement the 11 Minimum Guidelines. AH&LA teamed up with allied member The Burton Energy Group to develop a free energy and water usage tracking system to help hoteliers lower their utility expenses and complement the guidelines as well as improve their EPA rating.
Out of a group of more than 200 hoteliers who accepted the AH&LA Green Guidelines Challenge, the Hilton Americas-Houston in Houston, Texas, was named the winner of this national initiative. Runners-up included the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, Colorado, the Doubletree Hotel Burlington in South Burlington, Vermont, the Embassy Suites Chevy Chase Pavilion in Washington, D.C., and the Westin Seattle in Seattle, Washington.