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Eco-Friendly Practices: Deeper Shades of Green in Hospitality


By JoAnna Abrams, CEO, MindClick SGM: Co-authored by David Pearson, Vice President, Quiltcraft Industries

The hospitality industry is recognizing the compelling need to adopt sustainable operating practices for the sake of efficiency, cost savings and green building requirements. What remains elusive is the question as to whether green can drive greater returns.

While more and more research is coming out validating the interest of Generation Y in purchases that reflect social values which align with sustainability, what about the business traveler, the bread and butter of the industry?

Corporate Travel Executives Reward Sustainable Purchasing

Over 65 percent of Fortune 1000 corporate travel executives who oversee at least $10 million in annual travel budgets are seeking information about hotel sustainability performance, according to a study conducted by MindClick SGM, a sustainability research and consulting firm based in California.

Representing a variety of industries — ranging from technology and business services to manufacturing and financial services — the majority of these “green” corporate travel buyers are most interested in the existence of sustainable operations and sustainable purchasing practices.

Survey participants were asked to evaluate the concept of two recently renovated mid-scale name brand hotel properties, both of which minimized their environmental impact through sustainable operating practices. One hotel renovated with sustainable (FF&E) products and gave examples of how doing so benefited hotel guests’ health, well-being, and comfort.

When asked which hotel they would select for their employees, 80 percent chose the hotel with sustainable FF&E products. Additionally, 75 percent would be willing to pay a premium of as much as 5 percent if they knew their employees experienced more restful sleep and felt more productive and healthy after their stay.

So how do hotels tap into this market opportunity? Two key steps: implement sustainable purchasing and tell the story.

On the Green Frontier

By making environmentally preferable purchasing choices, hotels can select materials and furnishings that provide guests with a healthier more comfortable experience. The added benefit is that sustainable product purchasing also leads to improved operating efficiencies.

Take Motel 6’s redesign of its economy guestrooms. The company decided to rebrand the look for their guest rooms with the new “Phoenix Package,” which offers a compelling design that incorporates more efficient, sustainable furnishings. The Phoenix Package was approved in March 2008 and 90 properties have been renovated to date. Through a new design and purchasing program, the brand offers a green room at its traditional low consumer cost.

The company replaced its signature quilted bedspreads with unquilted coverlets. The new coverlets minimize washing and drying time, thereby conserving energy. New window treatments have increased energy efficiency. The all-new design also incorporates wood-effect flooring made from unused industry scraps, fluorescent light bulbs in all rooms, low flow shower heads, high efficiency toilets, and high efficiency heating and air-conditioning units.

These efforts allowed Motel 6 to build the industry’s first LEED certified economy lodging property. Travel + Leisure rewarded Motel 6 with the “Best Large Hotel” design award last year acknowledging the brand’s ability to move forward cohesively with sustainability and design.

In addition to mindful design, Accor North America implements several other conservation practices on a daily basis. For example, all Motel 6 locations use environmentally sensitive laundry products, ecological paper (recycled with soy ink), and compact fluorescent lighting, which consumes 75 percent less energy than conventional bulbs.

Greening through the Supply Chain and Purchasing

Sustainable purchasing practices vary widely, but there is a growing industry movement to become more sustainable through strategic selection of products and services.

Among the giants, Marriott is putting policies in place to lessen the environmental impact of its business operations. The company’s goals are to further reduce energy and water consumption by up to 25 percent per available room by 2017, and to expand green hotel development tenfold over the next five years. Efforts are underway to “green” its $10 billion global supply chain and to educate and inspire associates and guests to support the environment.

Mindclick SGM asked David Pearson, Vice President, Quiltcraft Industries to share an example of how greening the supply chain directly benefits hotels. “At Quiltcraft Industries, many of our customers are asking for alternative materials, such as post-consumer waste polyester yarns, Greenguard certified solar shade fabrics and packaging materials that are 100 percent recyclable.

Sustainable materials also are used for window treatments. Technology allows guests to contribute to energy efficiency through management of natural light. For example, some properties are equipping rooms with motorized switches or roller shades, making it easier to light up a room with sunshine, rather than electronic devices. And when combined with smart controls, these treatments automatically close when guests depart for the day, opening upon return.

That’s what we’re doing individually. However, if we were to gauge the collective industry progress by shades of green, I would mark us “light green” on the color pallet with a goal of becoming “deep forest green” in the near future.

Ask people in our industry to define “sustainability,” and you are likely to get a lot of different answers. Some view sustainability through the performances of recycling programs, energy efficiency, water conservation, or waste minimization, others through the lens of corporate social responsibility. What has received limited attention is the FF&E and OS&E products purchased to furnish hotels.

One reason is because of the complexity of evaluating the sustainability of products. Up until now, there hasn’t been a guideline or standard framework to support sustainable purchasing of FF&E and OS&E for hotels.

The hospitality industry – like many others — is sorting out an aligned industry-wide definition of sustainability. There are over 300 eco labels and certifications that exist today. Based on a research study conducted for Underwriters Laboratories in 2010, at most five of them have any real market recognition. Greenwashing is prevalent, because green gets attention in the wider marketplace.

We need all purchase influencers and decision makers to use consistent guidelines and performance targets, so that suppliers can work collectively toward providing cost effective solutions for hotel brands and owners.

Now we have an opportunity to raise the bar for the entire industry through collaboration facilitated by the recently launched Hospitality Sustainable Purchasing Consortium. Our company has just joined this effort and we know that many others are in the process of doing so.

Through this group, suppliers and purchase influencers and decision makers including owners, brands, architects, designers and purchasing agents are sharing best practices and data for the creation of an industry-wide sustainable purchasing index.”

In addition to Quiltcraft Industries, participants include Marriott, RTKL, SERA Architects, Innvision Hospitality, Benjamin West, Delta Faucet Company, InterfaceFLOR, Valley Forge Fabrics, PE International, Contract Decor, Majestic Mirror and Frame, Audit Logistics, and others.

Consortium Members are working together to build the performance index making it easier to source and purchase sustainable products. The win for hotels is guest satisfaction, improved operating efficiencies and more sustainable operations. The win for suppliers is clarity as to which aspects of sustainability are most important to the industry, thereby providing a path to achieving ROI beyond internal costs savings.