If press releases are any indicator, no other U.S. business segment seems to have embraced the growing culture of environmental stewardship with quite as much gusto as the lodging industry. It used to be hotels sang long and loud about achieving the coveted five-diamond or five-star rating. Now, they fairly buzz with self praise each time they launch a "green" product or service.
But unlike Mobile Travel Guide's star rating system, which has been in place since 1958, and AAA's Diamond Rating Program, launched in 1937, there is no industry standardization, based on hotel-specific criteria, defining what makes a property "green." Instead, the relatively new and rapidly growing field of green hotel certification is crowded with government, private and nonprofit organizations, each defining its own set of regulations and assessment standards.
For example, 12 states have in place their own green lodging certification programs, including California, Delaware, Florida, Vermont and Virginia. The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council, a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings, created its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in 2000. The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy are jointly responsible for the Energy Star rating, which tracks energy-efficient products and practices. And Washington, D.C.-based Green Seal, an independent, nonprofit organization that was founded in 1989, has been awarding its Green Seal Certification to hotels since 1999.
To decipher what all the green jargon adds up to, and how the environmentally conscious meeting planner can make an informed site-selection decision, M&C spoke with representatives from several green watchdog organizations about the sustainable hotel movement, how far it has come and where it still needs to go.
Understanding the basics
A hotel's "green-ness" must be divided into three categories: the physical construction of the building, back-of-the house operations (operating systems, products and vendors), and the environmental programs and services it provides to guests and meeting groups.
Creating a level green playing field for the U.S. lodging industry's approximately 54,000 properties is impossible for a number of reasons. Older hotels cannot possibly compete on an infrastructure level with new-build projects made with newly developed, eco-friendly raw materials. Also, independent boutique properties do not have access to the deep pockets of chain-branded hotels when it comes to capital for financing green renovations, upgrades or even marketing those accomplishments.
Adding to the confusion is that some hotels, such as those under the umbrella of San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, which have made environmental sustainability a cornerstone of their practices, do not seek any third-party certification. Kimpton, for example, relies on its own EarthCare program, which outlines specific operating standards, to measure and monitor the greening of its portfolio.
|Going for LEED gold: The 185-room Fairmont Pittsburgh will open in 2009.|
Another hotel company committed to greening its properties is Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which has a significant U.S. presence with 17 luxury hotels. "A big portion of our portfolio was built 75 or more years ago, so the focus for us has been in energy efficiency, waste management, water conservation and community outreach," says company spokesperson Lori Holland. "But we are going to manage a new-build in Pittsburgh, opening next year, which is going for LEED gold certification."
By Mark Munoz, chief operating officer at BostonCoach (bostoncoach.com), a worldwide ground transportation firm headquartered in Boston. Here's how his company made a commitment to sustainability.
Against a backdrop of increasing warnings on global warming and energy prices at historic highs, environmental concerns are migrating from front-page headlines to boardroom agendas.
The challenge for us, like other firms, is how to respond to these market pressures while fulfilling the needs of our clients and at the same time preserving and nurturing another vital resource, our employees.
At BostonCoach, we've implemented a three-part plan to meet this challenge. While it's designed to deliver ground transportation with operational innovations that boost environmental sustainability and contain costs, it's a framework with applicability to other businesses.
Here's a blueprint for turning green, from the inside out.
Offer new choices
Key to introducing new products is balancing real demand vs. buzz and staying just ahead of client requests, but not too far ahead.
Using the variable supply that our global affiliate network provides, we offer clients in select markets green transportation options, including the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Lexus RX Hybrid and waive a fuel surcharge. Clients also can opt for ride-sharing and choose higher-capacity business-class vehicles to reduce per-passenger fuel costs.
And, to satisfy requests for "green" meetings, BostonCoach designs shuttle schedules with less frequent stops, and our destination management company, Best of Boston, identifies green conference sites such as Boston's EpiCenter.
Recognizing that commuting by automobile has a major environmental impact, we run shuttles for our employees between transit terminals and our headquarters, and we subsidize our associates' monthly transit passes nationwide.
Go beyond the obvious
The commitment to sustainability begins at home, at our new corporate headquarters in Boston's Seaport District. After outgrowing our office space in a nearby suburb, we chose a site close to major public transit hubs -- and earned silver LEED certification for sustainability initiatives such as the following:
We used smart materials. Our carpet is made from 40 percent recycled materials; our wallboard is synthetic gypsum, which avoided the mining of 32 tons of rock.
We've cut our use of energy and natural resources in ongoing operations. Sensors reduce electric lighting when daylight allows, saving an estimated 12,300 kilowatt hours per year and avoiding 15,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. Fixtures like low-flow faucets save about 345 gallons of water per day.
We also do most of our commercial printing with a printer that uses paper milled from sustainably managed forests.
Employees contribute to the greening of BostonCoach with strategic initiatives and everyday actions that add up to substantial reductions in environmental impact.
In this regard, we started GIVE -- Green Initiatives of Value to the Environment -- in which a task force of companywide representatives investigates, tests and recommends new sustainability practices for our operations. Activities include a pilot program to improve gas mileage by filling fleet tires with nitrogen.
The environmental challenges we all face have arisen over decades, and they will take decades to solve. We must all take part in making that happen.