Eco-Friendly Practices: Understanding How Consumers View Green Hotels

By James M. Carmody Vice President & General Manager, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center | September 25, 2011

The buzz words have been around for years – green, environmentally friendly, eco-friendly - all used to describe companies that are doing their best to save resources in a world of limited natural ones. The hospitality industry was relatively quick to jump on the environmentally-friendly bandwagon. Today it is almost unheard of for any property to fail to offer the basic initiatives such as towel and bed linen re-use programs, recycling programs, or low-flow shower heads and toilets.

The Seaport Hotel opened in 1998, when sustainable design was not a significant consideration. The hotel was designed with Sarnafil Energy Smart Roofing system, which reduces atmospheric heat and conserves energy. Thermo-glass windows were installed in guest rooms and public spaces, further conserving energy by diffusing
upwards of 70% of the sun's radiant energy. It was one of the first hotels in the country to offer an entirely smoke-free environment.

At the time, the green movement had not caught the attention of the industry, and properties were not being planned and constructed with LEED certifications in mind. Guests were interested in a hotel only if it met their needs: Does the hotel have the amenities and services needed? Is the price right? Is it conveniently located? Guests were not overly interested in whether the hotel had a recycling program.

Fast forward to today, and whether guests are with you for an overnight, with a large group for a major business function or family event, or are in town for an extended stay for business, there has been a noticeable shift in the mindset about visiting a hotel that is environmentally friendly. Oftentimes, guests want to replicate their lifestyle at home when they travel. This includes having access to all the 'bells and whistles' of their home high tech equipment while also looking for the capacity to practice the same environmentally friendly initiatives while traveling.

As part of their decision making, guests, meeting planners and travel agents now inquire about a property's green efforts. They ask us upfront about recycling programs and energy saving initiatives, how we work with our clients to reduce food & beverage excess and waste, and how we will reduce the amount of paper that is often heavily used during meetings. We welcome these questions and are always pleased to partner with clients to make their meetings 'green'. Seaport also receives feedback from guests, almost on a daily basis, regarding the property's environmentally friendly initiatives. Comments range from compliments about the in-room recycling program to encouraging remarks about the liquid soap containers and wall dispensers in the bathroom. Guests appreciate the conservation and savings that these dispensers provide in comparison to individual travel size containers.

When considering new initiatives, it is important to review guest feedback. Talk with your frequent customers and find out what is important to them. What do they want to see? Armed with that information, you are able to research options and implement initiatives that make sense for both the property and your guests. Doing so will encourage future business that likely would have been lost if the concerns gleaned from this dialogue were not addressed. Our very successful 'Seaport Saves' program was the result of wanting to please an existing client. The program is now a key consideration in everything the hotel does and is one of Boston's most successful hotel environmental programs

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.