Environmentally friendly efforts have been at the forefront of the hotel industry in recent years, but “sustainability isn’t a new concept for Highgate,” says Vice President of Sustainability Marianne Balfe, who Highgate welcomed to the newly created position in early March 2021. Balfe cites that prior to the pandemic, Highgate worked to eliminate single-use plastic at its properties, and “as part of recovering responsibly, we’re looking forward to reassuming those efforts soon.” Balfe touched on Highgate’s strategies, as well as how sustainability fits into the hospitality business and plays a role in the industry’s recovery, in a recent conversation with LODGING.

Highgate has implemented programs to lower its carbon footprint in the past. What’s next for sustainability at Highgate?

We just acquired a significant number of properties with our recent acquisition [of Colony Capital, Inc., properties], so our next step is to plan with a consolidated reporting provider to get our environmental footprint data into one repository. After we have that data, we can benchmark our sites against each other, find outliers, and quantify our portfolio’s environmental footprint reduction opportunities. Then, we will aggressively look for projects that we can complete in terms of efficiency and conservation, and we will be setting more goals in the near future. So, we will combine the expected benefits from efficiency measures and corporate investments in energy and conservation initiatives to help us with our company’s carbon, water, and waste goals.

And, in addition to operational goals, we’ll also be focused on driving initiatives within design and construction. We have a robust pipeline of upcoming renovations over the next several years, and we will apply principles of sustainability to inform building more efficient hotels and requesting environmental accountability across our supply chain. We’re going to be exploring unique ways to approach some of the most difficult challenges that face humanity and our climate.

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How will your goals tie into Highgate’s business strategy?

First and foremost, operating our buildings more efficiently makes sense from both environmental and financial perspectives. Also—on a regulatory note—it’s worth mentioning that Highgate owns and/or operates 13 percent of the New York City hotel market. New York City has the most rigorous carbon reduction regulation per building operations in the country. And we also have a strong presence in other markets that are expected to follow suit with carbon reduction mandates, like Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Waikiki. We want to be ahead of the curve. From an ESG [environmental, social, and governance] perspective, many of our stakeholders are interested in ESG performance and risk analysis to inform their business decisions. That only helps us to further drive revenue partnerships and ultimately business growth.

How will sustainability play into the hotel industry’s recovery?

This is obviously a hot topic, but the statistics around pent-up demand for travel are extraordinary. I know I’m not alone in my desire to get out and explore this beautiful planet in a safe and comfortable way. We want our guests to embrace what they’ve missed, and we want to provide places to stay that reflect our guests’ values in terms of sustainability and social responsibility. It’s undeniable that tackling sustainability issues will be an integral part of ensuring the long-term success of businesses within the broader travel industry. The carbon footprint of transportation impacts the travel industry as a whole. One of our initiatives on the ground that helps facilitate transportation is to ensure that guests driving electric vehicles have their charging needs met at our properties. Overall, I think the pandemic has provided an opportunity for reflection and change. As we emerge from the state of suspended operations, Highgate will be focused on recovering responsibly with sustainability and efficiency at the core of how we do business. We look forward to partnering with our stakeholders on this journey.

 


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Robin McLaughlin is associate editor of LODGING.