by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 01, 2006



Disney’s Coronado Springs (Fla.) Resort has set its lighting, air-conditioning and room-temperature controls on green settings.

When it comes to the hotel industry, “environmental responsibility” is not the first catchphrase that springs to mind. It is, after all, a world rife with disposable amenities for a transient population, a landscape dotted with restaurants, heated pools, spas and other energy-gobbling facilities. In fact, the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association estimates that in the United States alone, hotels spend $3.7 billion a year on energy, with much of it going to waste, and the typical property uses 218 gallons of water per day, per occupied room.

On the encouraging side, many hoteliers both here and abroad have evolved from business as usual to make green initiatives a core part of their corporate culture. The following five chains are tackling the challenges of water consumption, waste production, energy use and more. They have formulated best-practice policies and rolled out extensive employee training programs to meet their goals of responsible environmental stewardship. They might not be the largest players in the industry, but they are among the few who are blazing a path and making a significant difference.

Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Portfolio: 21 properties in Florida

Disney resorts in the Sunshine State rolled out environmental initiatives in the early 1990s. Since then, 13 of the properties have been awarded Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Green Lodging Certification. “Our goal is to have all 21 resorts certified,” says Karen Green, manager of environmental initiatives for Walt Disney World Resort. “Our definition of doing what’s right for the environment drives everything.”

Green, who has been with Disney for 31 years and has sat on the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Engineering and Environment Committee for the past 10 years, first got involved in environmental awareness in the early 1990s, while driving through a Disney campground under construction. Concerned that too many trees were going to be sacrificed, she approached the general manager with her concerns.

“I said, ‘Look if you moved your markers just a few feet, you could save a whole lot of trees, and the people camping would have shade and be a lot happier,” says Green. “I didn’t think he really paid attention, but one week later I got a call from him inviting me to come up and explain to the developers what I had told him.” She did. The developers ended up redesigning the park and saving the trees. “That’s when I realized how much of a difference one person can make.”

Since then, the Disney environmental team, Green and a staff of three, are charged with designing an environmental program for each resort and implementing employee training programs to meet related needs. High on the list is water conservation. According to Green, the company maintains three laundry facilities to service its resorts; between them, they recycle 10 million gallons of water a day. Other reclaimed water is used for irrigation and to hose down roadway areas.

To receive their Green Lodging Certifications, the resorts had to be completely retrofitted with efficient florescent lighting, a task that was both ambitious and costly. “When we started, our goal was to save enough electricity to power the Animal Kingdom in its first year of operation,” says Green. “We did. We saved 49 million kilowatt hours in our first year of compliance.”

Standout hotel: The 1,921-room Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort recently pioneered a controlled lighting and air-conditioning system for its convention spaces, which other hotels in the chain have since adopted. The hotel’s engineering crew installed a custom-made system whereby the lights and room temperature are powered at different levels during the day. After 1 a.m., when the system powers down to a set safety level, it cannot even be manually turned up by the late-night cleaning crew.