Maria Vargas of the Better Buildings Initiative breaks down how hoteliers can save on energy costs and what impact it can have on their businesses.
by ALICIA HOISINGTON
In the United States, hoteliers spend an average of $2,196 on energy costs per room each year or about 6 percent of a hotel’s total annual operating cost, according to the 2016 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings analysis. But with that high price tag also comes high opportunity to save money on energy costs.
Maria Vargas, Director of DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative, sat down with Today’s Hotelier to break down what hoteliers can do to save big and how a little awareness can positively affect business.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THAT HOTELIERS CAN IMPROVE THEIR ENERGY AND WATER EFFICIENCY AT LITTLE OR NO COST?
There are a lot of opportunities that exist for commercial buildings, but particularly hotels. One of the most important things that a hotelier can do is to benchmark their energy and water use. One of the key things is knowing where you’re starting because if you don’t have a sense of how much energy and water you are using and paying for now, it’s hard to know to set a goal for yourself to move forward. A good metaphor is if you want to lose weight. It’s good to know how much you weigh to start with and then set a goal weight and work towards that goal. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
Once you benchmark and have a sense of how much energy and water you use and how it compares to other hotels, there is a whole range of actions you can take to improve your energy use. There are all sorts of tools and resources you can use that help you identify operational changes or activity that can help you save energy. (For more information on resources, visit betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov) Actions like turning off lights when no one is using them, and making sure you’re using the most energy-efficient equipment. If you have to buy new equipment, look for the most energy-efficient models. Also, follow maintenance cycles on equipment and make sure the equipment you have is maintained and operating like it should be. A lower cost activity than buying new pieces of equipment is to install occupancy sensors for lights and spaces with intermittent occupancy, like offices, stairwells, conference rooms and fitness centers. Then, make sure you train your employees on how those sensors work.
IF HOTELIERS MAKE CHANGES TO IMPROVE THEIR ENERGY AND WATER EFFICIENCY, HOW COULD THAT AFFECT THEM FINANCIALLY?
There are two different buckets. It can help them financially by reducing the cost associated with their energy bills. And then there’s this other stream of financial implication from their increased marketability when consumers and guests know that they are paying attention to being a good steward of environmental resources. On average, buildings in this country can save about 20 percent on their energy use cost effectively with a relatively short payback. You can save a lot more energy if you are willing to invest more upfront to put in advanced technology. LED lighting is a great opportunity that a lot of hoteliers are taking advantage of. If you have an HVAC system that is over 15 or 20 years old, you should think about replacing it. It’s a big-ticket item, but a lot of people only pay attention when they buy the item to what it costs upfront. They forget the second price they have to pay, and that’s the energy bills paid over time. Hoteliers really want to be thoughtful that if they need new equipment, to look for technologies that have earned the government’s ENERGY STAR certification. From more efficient equipment and lighting, you get reduced maintenance costs and longer equipment life.
And then turn that around and talk to your guests about the things you are doing and why you are doing them. One of the nice things about energy efficiency and pursuing it as a part of the way you run your hotel is that it allows you to have your cake and eat it too, in the sense that it allows you to save money on your energy bills but typically more energy-efficient technology improves the comfort for guests and operators. The lights are less harsh. The heating and cooling is easier to reach desired temperatures and maintain it. When you provide a better quality environment and you’re doing it in a way that consumers can see, it does allow you to increase the marketability of your hotel, and that is one of the biggest things hoteliers can do to increase their revenue.
BESIDES FINANCIAL IMPACT, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE HOTELIERS STAND TO GAIN BY IMPROVING ENERGY AND WATER EFFICIENCY?
I want to emphasize it’s really about this improved guest comfort and satisfaction. With better equipment, there’s better temperature management. Guests don’t like walking into over-conditioned rooms or spaces. The lighting quality tends to be better. There are ways to get recognized and talk about what it is you’re doing – participating, for example, in what we’re doing at the DOE Better Buildings Alliance or you can earn an ENERGY STAR certification for your hotel. There are a lot of ways to communicate to your guests and your employees. For hotels in particular, it is important to get a team of employees at the hotel involved.
HOW CAN HOTELIERS GET ALL EMPLOYEES IN ALL DEPARTMENTS TO BUY INTO IMPROVING ENERGY AND WATER EFFICIENCY? HOW ABOUT GETTING BUY-IN FROM GUESTS?
It really is a team effort. If the hotel owners and managers aren’t walking the talk and making it a team effort, it will never succeed. There are so many people who touch the spaces where guests stay and are responsible for helping make sure the energy use of the property is sustainable when possible. It’s things like integrating measures into the regular responsibilities of the staff rather than having it be an optional add-on. I’ve seen hoteliers have contests and raffles for employees who help with great ideas for how to drive energy and water use reduction so that it becomes part of the hotel’s fabric and culture. When you do that, you stand to not only benefit in the short run but also in the long run.
Clear communication is important for both employees and guests. I’ve worked enough with hotels to know that hoteliers are cognizant that when people come to stay at their property they are in vacation mode, and I know that hoteliers have been hesitant to ask consumers to do something that they think guests may not want to do. But there’s been a fair amount of research done on how hoteliers can best ask whether a guest wants to help. If they are OK using the same towel, they can drape it over the rod or if they want a clean one, they can put it in the bathtub. That’s straightforward, but it’s about training your housekeeping staff to know those cues but then also to give the guest the option of participating. Research has shown that most guests will participate if given the chance. ■