by Sarah J.F. Braley | May 24, 2013

Vancouver, British Columbia, is in the midst of a major effort to earn the title of most sustainable city in the world. The initiative, called Greenest City 2020, has outlined measurable and attainable targets, challenging citizens, businesses and government entities to follow the environmental path.

On the transportation front, the target is to reduce carbon emissions by 33 percent; to meet this, the city is focusing on using more green technology, making wiser purchasing decisions, and focusing training and operations on sustainability. As for Vancouver's infrastructure, new buildings will aim for LEED Platinum designation (the Creekside Community Centre has reached this hallowed level and the Sunset Community Centre has achieved LEED Gold); and existing buildings will be refitted to be more energy efficient, as lighting, building automation and heating systems are being upgraded. Already, city facilities have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent over 1990 levels.

Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, VancouverAmong the businesses on board is the 489-room Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, Vancouver, right, which is on track to become a zero-waste hotel by the end of 2014. General manager Ian Pullan spoke with M&C about the process.

Is this really possible, getting to zero waste?
We've been on that journey for quite some time — it's part of our DNA. It makes sense for us to go beyond the traditional recycling and changing towels. We're now working on more of a cultural change: how we purchase, what we purchase. You need 90 percent waste diversion to be considered zero waste, and we're at 82 percent. The last 8-10 percent are the hardest, naturally, but we feel that by the end of 2014 we can accomplish that.

Ian Pullan, GM of the Fairmont WaterfrontHow are your measures met by your guests?
It's amazing to me. I meet with a lot of customers, and as I talk about the hotel, that goal strikes a chord with many people. We get a lot of guests who are very passionate. I think more and more people await to align themselves with organizations that have similar values, and companies have requirements to associate with like-minded organizations. This allows us to be a good fit on both an individual level and a company level. Here you can see and touch: We have our own beehives and make our own honey, we have wraparound herb gardens on the third level, around the entire building. We do daily bee tours, and we produce about 600 pounds of honey a season.

How did the sustainability program begin for this hotel?

The green program at Fairmont began many years ago, stemming from having resorts in sensitive areas like Banff and Lake Louise. Every hotel now is on its own journey. We had been over time very progressive in this regard, asking how do we make sure that we are the leader?

What are some of the changes you've made?
We've engaged a third party that specializes in [measuring how well initiatives are working]. They noticed the trash compactor was being picked up three times a week; the container has a pressure arm now connected to a cell phone; when it hits the 85 percent full point, it calls the company to pick it up. We've gone from three times to one and a half times a week. We've also done dumpster dives to figure out what is in there and what needs to be diverted.

What did you find on those dives?

First of all, we found a lot of our good china and silverware; food waste that should have been going to our farmers; plastic materials that should have gone to a different area.

We use a lot of shampoo containers; a hotel our size averages 150,000 room nights a year; just think how much waste that generates. A local charity now takes those and reuses them.

We are also looking at waste from the view of purchasing, and how items are packaged. We're bringing in as little as possible that then needs to be diverted.

We benchmark ourselves every month through this third party, which records everything we're recycling and sending to the waste disposal, so we know how many tons of what has gone where. Very often you find you're doing more than you think you are, which was a surprise for us once we started to track it properly.

What's another instance of diversion you've orchestrated?
We've just gone through a large renovation in the first four months of the year. We looked at what we were replacing, which was everything in the rooms, and where the old items could go. For instance, we were removing the locks and installing new ones. We found another hotel that wanted the locks, so when we removed them, we repackaged them in the packaging that the new locks came in. Not only did we recycle the locks, but we recycled the packaging material that it came in. As a luxury hotel, it was easy to find a midmarket property that would want what we were taking out of the rooms; we also sent some of it to a charitable organization.

What's the hardest area to get a green handle on?

Waste, and having the places in which to divert it. It requires a lot of discipline and a lot of systems. Typically you don't have tracking methods in place, and you don't have the resources to put tracking methods in place. We are constantly challenging ourselves to come up with new and improved systems, and being very diligent about what's going into the compactor, deciding not to bring it into the building in the first place or finding a way to divert it. And you have to find a partner to take it off-site. The key in all of this is making sustainability a business case. You could do this and add a significant amount of cost; but you also can do this with a negligible cost increase. We've recycled our cost savings into other initiatives to keep ourselves whole.

For example, there is a cost associated with sending the shampoo bottles to the charitable organization. By saving on one side, as we have in the case of the compactor, we're able to fund this initiatives. Eventually, the goal is to become zero cost in some shape or form.