STAYING ON TRACK
Setting Wyndham apart is the company’s sustainability software tracking system, the Green Toolbox program that gives properties an easy way to track their carbon footprints. Developed in partnership with Computer Associates (CA), the Green Toolbox software suite provides franchisees with resources to reduce energy, understand the monetary benefits, and further advance the company’s overall sustainability efforts.
Users can enter data to track utilities such as water, waste, electricity, and natural gas, in addition to hospitality-specific items like room occupancy. Franchisees are encouraged to enter utility data each month and maintain real-time snapshots of their property’s energy use. The results can be broken down by customizable chart views including quarterly, kilowatts per hour, and even by property across regions (and countries) for owners with multiple locations. Franchisees can check the effectiveness of energy efficiency projects and make necessary adjustments, ultimately saving money on utility bills and reducing their carbon footprint. Shah was among the first franchisees to use the software, and he has found it helpful in measuring the impact of each new sustainability program he’s rolled out.
“With the Toolbox, we track projects related to energy reduction tactics, such as installing energy efficient lights in front and back of house and parking lots,” Taylor explains. “We also can monitor new HVAC/hot water heaters, in-room energy management systems, and solar installations. It allows us to complete property surveys and perform audits that we track via our system to identify opportunities for improvement. This is a critical step in helping the properties improve their performance. We also oversee water efficiency and water saving tactics—from ozone laundry systems to low-flow toilets and shower heads—just to name a few.”
LEGISLATION AND INCENTIVES
As consumers become more aware of sustainability issues, environmental legislation has increased. Although there is no global policy in place, Wyndham tracks more than 300 pieces of legislation at city, state, and federal levels that could potentially impact their properties. Not surprisingly, the major activity can be seen at the state and city levels, with a mosaic of regulations and green building codes. Examples include energy benchmarking in cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, and Washington, D.C., where legislation requires commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet to report their energy and carbon emission—or suffer a hefty fine. According to the Pew Center, 24 U.S. states have signed up for greenhouse gas reduction targets. In the state of California, hotels must comply with energy efficiency standards to help conserve electricity and natural gas and prevent the state from having to build more power plants.
“One instance where the industry came together was to outline the first study to determine a common set of carbon metrics,” says Taylor, who has been chair of the environmental and engineering committee of AH&LA for the past four years and is an executive committee member of the World Travel & Tourism Council’s sustainability and international tourism groups. “I’ve seen many countries really understanding the significance of climate change and the impact on their country. They are really starting to legislate in that area.”
Hotels that are initiating renewable energy and energy efficient projects can research state, federal, local, and utility incentives and policies. Wyndham properties have taken advantage of incentives like CaliforniaFIRST, a state program that helps finance the installation of energy and water improvements for hotels and resorts. Owners help pay for the program from their property tax. In the Midwest, Wisconsin has a state rebate program for lighting and energy management systems that will help pay for 10 to 30 percent of the project cost. And in Florida, there is a state utility program for air conditioning, lighting, and roofs that offers a rebate of 50 percent of the cost, with a two-year payback period.
Federal incentives hotel owners may be eligible for include the renewable electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC), which reduces the federal income taxes of owners who install renewable energy projects based on electrical output of the installation. The solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) reduces federal income taxes based on the capital investment in renewable energy projects. (Hotel owners are encouraged to visit dsireusa.org for more information.)
Many franchisees are embracing Wyndham’s green program and implementing their own sustainable initiatives. “Over time, our franchisees have become much more committed to our green program,” Taylor says. “They see the benefits and opportunities available.”
The Wyndham Mount Laurel staff has shown creativity in their pursuits of sustainability. Their efforts last year included recycling more than 1,000 pounds of soaps and amenities for the industry-wide Clean the World program and composting about 8 tons of organic waste.
When Shah first decided to explore green initiatives at his hotel, he conducted an audit to determine areas that could benefit from improvements like plumbing, heating, lighting, recycling, and energy. In addition to savings generated from the solar carport, Shah reports a huge impact from installing occupancy-controlled thermostats about a year and a half ago. “The sensors help reduce wasted energy in unoccupied guestrooms,” he says. “Through an incentive from NJ Clean Energy, this project cost us nothing. After one year of use, we saw approximately a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption.
“Different sustainability initiatives involve a variety of costs,” he adds. “In order to overcome those costs burdens, you need to have an open mind and look at projects in different ways so the best economic decisions are made. When you run any business, everything is tied to finances, so finding the most resourceful option is very important, such as taking advantage of government incentives and rebates. It’s essential to look at all avenues to make the optimal decision.”
“At the end of the day, being a responsible hotel company means that you do the right thing,” Taylor sums up. “It really should be how we do responsible business—and how we live every day.”