Travel trends, new technologies and brand requirements are pushing hoteliers to rethink their environmental impact.
By Glenn Hasek
Hoteliers responding to traveler concerns about wellness and sustainability are discovering that providing healthier accommodations with less environmental – or carbon – impact can lead to more profits and a higher level of guest satisfaction. The return on investment for some initiatives – a towel/linen reuse program, for example – can be as short as one week while that for an ozone laundry system can be as much as a few months. The impact on guest satisfaction can be immediate, however, especially with websites like TripAdvisor offering travelers the opportunity to quickly comment on a property’s green programs.
Hoteliers need to pay attention to today’s green travelers. According to a Booking.com survey report released on Earth Day this year, nearly half (47 percent) of American respondents said they consider themselves to be sustainable travelers. More than half (58 percent) of Americans consider the act of staying in eco‑friendly accommodations to be sustainable travel with just over two‑thirds (68 percent) confirming they would be more likely to choose accommodations if they knew they were eco‑friendly. Sixty‑eight percent of Americans surveyed confirmed they intend to stay in sustainable accommodations within the year and nearly half (47 percent) say they have considered, or will be considering, a destination they would not have otherwise been interested in because of sustainable practices.
Similarly, according to a survey recently conducted by Sustainable Travel International and Mandala Research – the 2016 Role of Sustainability in Travel & Tourism report – 60 percent of U.S. travelers (105.3 million) have taken a sustainable trip in the last three years. These travelers spend more (on average $600 per trip), stay longer (seven days compared to four days), and bring higher benefits to local communities including job creation, giving‑back and volunteering.
Chains Get Serious About Measuring Impact
For years now, most of the major brands have taken sustainability seriously by rolling out programs that require reporting of energy, water and waste data. Hilton has LightStay, Marriott uses a Green Hotels Global tool, Wyndham Worldwide utilizes its Wyndham Green Toolbox, and InterContinental Hotels Group has Green Engage.
The brands have also set ambitious targets for collectively reducing environmental impact. Wyndham Worldwide, for example, is targeting a 25‑percent reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions per square foot by 2025 (baseline year 2010). The goal encompasses facilities over which it has operational control. (Scope 1 includes all direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting entity. Scope 2 includes indirect greenhouse gas emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam.)
Four years ago, 23 leading global hospitality companies joined together to launch a methodology to calculate and communicate the carbon footprint of hotel stays and meetings in a consistent and transparent way. That methodology, Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative 1.0 (HCMI 1.0), has since been adopted by 24,000 hotels globally. The International Tourism Partnership, which helped put HCMI together, is currently developing an equivalent tool for water consumption – more proof that the industry as a whole has a hunger for impact measurement.
As has often been said, you cannot monitor what you cannot measure. MACH Energy, a provider of energy and water management software services and solutions, recently revealed the results of one of the largest national surveys to date of hotel and lodging professionals on energy and water management efforts. The poll reached out to over 5,000 industry professionals. Ironically, while 61 percent of respondents reported their hotels ran a sustainability program, an astounding 42 percent of those with programs did not know if savings were being achieved.
Utility Bill Analysis
One seemingly obvious way to know whether an initiative is producing results is by taking a before-and-after look at one’s monthly utility bills. Scott Parisi, president, EcoGreen Solutions, whose company offers utility monitoring solutions, says utility bills can also reveal operational problems – a water leak, for example, or an issue with how the property is billed.
“With water, a lot of times, the sewer bill is based on incoming water,” Parisi says. “We ask the utility company to put in a second meter.” Spikes in water bills can also be caused by problems with auto‑fills for pools or broken heads or cracked lines in irrigation systems. Leaking toilets can also cause utility bill spikes. Experts agree that, at any one time, about 15 to 20 percent of toilets are leaking. One leaky toilet can lose about 75,000 gallons of water annually.
When beginning to work with a hotel property to help reduce energy consumption, Parisi says he targets the greatest areas of opportunity – HVAC and lighting. “We always start with the lighting that is on 24/7,” he says. Lobby, corridor, stairwell and exterior lighting are examples of areas with significant opportunity for savings. “We look at site lighting schedules – whether there are photo sensors,” Parisi adds. Oftentimes owners will forget to adjust lighting schedules as seasons change.
Extended Stay America Invests in Lighting Upgrades
Several years ago, Extended Stay America set out to improve the lighting in external areas of its 629 properties. The technology used to illuminate the buildings, parking lots and common areas was outdated. The desired light levels were unachievable, and maintenance costs were unsustainable. Existing pole and wall packs at Extended Stay America’s properties were replaced with LED luminaires. The end result of the upgrade has been improved outdoor lighting levels, ultimately contributing to the safety and security of guests, visitors and staff. Lighting performance and quality have been improved. The LED technology has had an immediate return on investment. When all 629 facilities are completed by 2018, Extended Stay America expects a savings of $1,750,000 per year. The expected environmental impact is a CO2 reduction of 10,216 metric tons. This is equivalent to removing 2,151 passenger vehicles a year from U.S. roadways.
LED lighting has quickly become the go‑to option for hoteliers interested in saving money, energy and maintaining guest satisfaction. In February 2016, General Electric announced that it would stop making and selling compact fluorescent bulbs in the United States and instead focus on LEDs.
Sifting through the thousands of companies selling LEDs can be a challenge. “There is so much product not going through testing,” Parisi says. He recommends purchasing from the most well‑known brands and looking for a UL rating, Energy Star or Design Lighting Consortium (DLC) approval. “DLC approval means the product is quality built, safe and offers the color temperature the vendor is claiming,” he says.
In addition to lighting, hot water heaters – boilers – also offer opportunity for savings. Boiler set points are one of the first things to check in a boiler room. “We typically see boilers set at 160 to 170 degrees, but if they are segregated they can be dropped to 130 to 140 degrees,” Parisi says, adding that his company has been successful helping hotels transition to an on‑demand water heater for F&B and laundry that is separate from the main hot water system. Flow sensors can be added to stop flow when there is no demand, and ozone laundry systems can reduce the volume of hot water required for laundry operations.
Ongoing Maintenance is Critical
Packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs), common in hotels, can become energy hogs if not cleaned properly. PTACs should be thoroughly cleaned no less than once a year. Properties located along coast lines and in desert environments should be serviced twice each year. Location does impact the frequency at which PTACs should be cleaned – even at the very local level. PTACs located especially on the first and second floor should be given more attention because of lawn mowing debris and dirt, leaves and even small critters. Filters should be cleaned in all PTACs once a month.
The difference in PTAC performance after a cleaning is immediate and significant. Cintas studies have shown an up to 8.5 degree temperature improvement, up to 28 percent increase in airflow and up to 17 percent energy savings.
A 2015 Building Commissioning Assn. study found that most engineers, commissioning professionals and facility managers believe that duct leakage is prevalent in commercial buildings and a significant cause of energy loss. Leaky ducts reduce pressure within duct systems, requiring fans to work harder. They also reduce HVAC efficiency.
Ventilation system cracks and gaps lead to other problems, too. Buildings can become unbalanced, leaving some areas under‑ventilated and others over‑ventilated. Indoor air quality can suffer in under‑ventilated areas, because odors and moisture are not properly removed and indoor pollutants can accumulate.
Aerosol Mist for Fixing Leaks
For decades, it was difficult to fix leaky ductwork, because much of it was inaccessible. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created a method for identifying and fixing leaky ducts: An aerosol mist is pumped into the ventilation shaft and finds the leaks and seals them. Tests have shown that this process reduces air leakage by about 95 percent. The Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort, Ky., used the method to address their issue with cold spots, mold and bathroom ventilation issues. They avoided the need to replace their HVAC system. The project resulted in a $24,000/year savings, with a payback period of under two years.
In about half of the hotels Parisi’s company has worked with, sensor‑based energy management systems have been installed. Suppliers of these systems often promise energy savings of up to 30 to 40 percent, but he suspects it is closer to 10 percent. The cost of such systems can vary greatly.
Parisi emphasized that little steps can collectively make a big difference. Housekeepers should be trained to close drapes when cleaning a room and to check thermostats to make sure the set point is at an energy-saving level. Taking advantage of all available rebates and tax incentives and credits is also important. “There are some great programs out there,” Parisi says. The website, www.dsireusa.org, includes a database of state incentives for renewables and efficiency.
A LEED Gold Success Story
Hema Patel, owner of the Holiday Inn & Suites Columbia‑Airport, had energy efficiency in mind when developing her hotel in Columbia, S.C. The 122‑room property, which opened on Earth Day 2010, has since earned LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Patel’s intent initially was not to build a green hotel, but she was inspired by a daughter who was studying architecture as well as by Dennis Quaintance, a speaker at a Hunter Conference she attended. Quaintance developed the LEED Platinum Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C.
The Holiday Inn & Suites Columbia‑Airport has many systems in place to ensure energy savings. A 20‑collector solar thermal system sits on the roof of the hotel. It pre‑heats water for an on‑demand (tankless) water heating system and generates 45,000 kWh of energy per year. The hotel is in its sixth year using the solar system. Patel says the system has paid for itself in savings.
Initially, the hotel was equipped with either CFLs or LEDs. Last year lighting was switched over entirely to LEDs. “Our utility company had incentives for converting, so we took advantage of that,” Patel says.
Other Initiatives Contribute to Energy Savings
Energy recovery technology is used to temper outside air with the air exhausted from the hotel. The Energy-Star rated property also has a guestroom energy management system. During construction, extra insulation was placed between the exterior brick and interior walls. Eco‑glass windows block UV light and limit heat transfer. Sensors turn off lights in business and administrative office areas. Elevators feature highly efficient EcoDisc motors. Guests are given the option of not having their towels and linens laundered each day.
Patel says all of her team’s energy conservation efforts have resulted in the hotel using 54 percent less energy compared to the benchmark at InterContinental Hotels Group.
Looking back at the construction of her LEED Gold hotel, Patel says if she were to do it all over again, she would not put in so many on-demand water heaters. “We have so many units we don’t even use,” she says. “I would have put in a keycard system for controlling lighting and other items in the guestroom. I would have totally concentrated on energy conservation and not materials for LEED.”
Patel pondered, “Will guests pay more to stay in a LEED certified building? No. The average person does not know much about LEED.” ■
Glenn Hasek is publisher and editor of Green Lodging News, a website and weekly e‑newsletter. He frequently writes about sustainable topics of importance to hotel owners and operators. He can be reached at [email protected].
Why we need to pay attention
According to a Booking.com survey report released on Earth Day this year:
Nearly half of respondents said they consider themselves to be sustainable travelers
More than half consider the act of staying in eco‑friendly accommodations to be sustainable travel
Just over two‑thirds confirmed they’d be more likely to choose accommodations if they knew they were eco‑friendly
Nearly half say they have considered, or will be considering, a destination they would not have otherwise been interested in because of sustainable practices
Just over two‑thirds of those surveyed confirmed they intend to stay in sustainable accommodations within the year