At the first annual Lodging Green and Sustainability Conference, thought leaders, sustainability experts, and hoteliers gathered at the LEED Gold-certified Omni Dallas Hotel in Dallas, Texas, to discuss how the hotel industry can come together to minimize impact on the environment and realize the cost saving benefits of green programs and practices.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist and attorney specializing in environmental law, presented a passionate case for sustainable business practices during the event’s keynote address. “In 100 percent of the situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy,” he said. “We’re not protecting the environment for the sake of the fishes and the birds. We’re protecting it for our own sake, because we recognize that nature is the infrastructure of our communities.”
According to data from the U.S. Travel Association, 43 million U.S. travelers are “ecologically concerned.” In just the past six months, more than 150,000 people have searched for green hotels on TripAdvisor. As the consumer base for sustainable goods and products continues to grow, hotel guests are looking for properties that implement environmentally friendly practices.
From a marketing standpoint, hotel owners and operators see big returns from attaining green certifications, said Faith Taylor, senior vice president of sustainability and innovation at Wyndham Worldwide. Hotels that meet green standards for programs such as TripAdvisor Green Leaders, Green Key, and Travelocity’s Green Hotels experience an increase in average daily rate (ADR) and an increase in bookings. “At the end of the day, it’s a differentiator,” she said.
Rishi Shah, asset manager for the Wyndham Philadelphia-Mount Laurel, explained that his hotel made investments in sustainability—including installing a 756-kilowatt solar installation over the hotel’s parking lot—to save money but also to keep up with guest demand. “Consumers are making more and more decisions nowadays based on what’s right for society and the world,” he said. “Initially our journey started for economic reasons, but as we were going through the process, we quickly realized that there were many other reasons to become more sustainable.”
The economic benefit of “going green” was a topic addressed in detail during the three-day event. Panelists and speakers documented how making small, operational changes—such implementing single-stream recycling or starting a towel reuse program—could equate to big annual cost savings. Large-scale investments such as solar energy, geothermal power, and new energy management technologies were lauded as the future of hotel sustainability, and experts provided attendees with beneficial insights into the capabilities of each complex system.
“When you actually implement initiatives around sustainability you can reduce your operating expenses,” said Taylor. “When you reduce energy and water, you actually see that benefit.”
Besides discussing bottom-line benefits, hoteliers shared a variety of ways their sustainability programs are impacting their communities by partnering with life-saving organizations such as Clean the World and the Global Soap project. For large companies such as Wyndham and Hersha Hospitality Trust, sustainability is viewed as a triple bottom-line business, where financial benefits go hand in hand with environmental impact and corporate responsibility.
“Financial gains and sustainability are not mutually exclusive,” said Bennett Thomas, vice president of financing and sustainability for Hersha Hospitality Trust. “It’s about using energy savings to fund things that are good for the community and align well with the values of our company. At the end of the day, all of these things make us better corporate citizens and allow us to serve our guests better.”