A recent study from the University of Arkansas finally confirmed what many in the hospitality industry have suspected for a while: green matters. The study found that consumers consider a hotel’s focus on environmental sustainability when making a decision about where to stay. In addition, a majority would actually be willing to pay more for accommodations that take steps to lessen their environmental footprint. These findings represent an important shift in overall consumer attitudes about factors such as energy consumption, water conservation, and waste reduction. A hotel’s appeal is no longer based simply on its list of amenities. Guests are now considering a property’s efforts to be sustainable, and the hospitality industry is responding in kind, with a 50% increase in environmentally friendly policies among hotels in 2011.
What is a Green Hotel?
The American Hotel & Lodging Association lists eleven minimum steps a lodging property should take to be considered “green.” Among these are some that would be standard for any commercial building—such as replacing incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lamps, using recycled paper and other products, and installing 1.6 gallon toilets—and a few that are particular to hotels and motels. The latter category includes:
- Implementing a towel and linen reuse program
- Installing low-flow showerheads and digital thermometers in guest rooms
- Using energy-efficient appliances
There are several organizations dedicated to green certification, including the hotel/motel-specific Green Key, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and Green Seal, each with its own unique ratings system. They encourage hotels to go beyond the bare minimum and take their commitment to the environment to the next level. Green hotels are now implementing composting programs, recycling old mattresses, installing waterless urinals, and adding laundry ozone systems to washing machines.
MGM Resorts International, in partnership with Dubai’s Infinity World Development Corp, recently debuted one of the world’s newest and largest green developments in Las Vegas, Nevada. The CityCenter complex features six Gold LEED-certifications from the USGBC, including the Aria Resort and Casino, the Vdara Hotel and Spa, and the Mandarin Oriental hotel. This complex on the Las Vegas Strip features an on-site natural gas energy generator, which helps heat the water on site; a fleet of natural-gas-powered limousines; and slot machines that double as ventilation units. CityCenter was also built using sustainably harvested wood and with recycled materials from the imploded Boardwalk Hotel that once stood in its space.
The eco-conscious trend is not just for the most glamorous properties. Hotel chains such as Kimpton, Starwood, and Fairmont have recently taken extra steps to improve their environmental footprint. Even Motel 6 has gotten into the act, recently announcing that it aimed to have all of its accommodations Green Key certified.
The Benefits of Going Green
The adoption of these measures is certainly welcome news for the environment (according to the USGBC, “green buildings use on average 26% less energy, emit 33% less carbon dioxide, use 30% less indoor water, send 50%-75% less solid waste to landfills and incinerators”), but what’s good for the environment can also be good for the bottom line. Numerous studies have shown that, while the upfront cost of implementing green practices can be higher, sustainability ultimately means cost savings. High-efficiency light bulbs translate to lower electric bills. Recycling efforts lead to lower hauling costs for waste. And even small changes can make a big difference. The simple step of replacing individually bottled toiletries with amenity dispensers (a trend even among luxury hotel brands) can save a 300-room hotel around $10,000 a year, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. There are also a number of federal and state tax incentives for going green.
And with consumers looking to stay in eco-friendly hotels, adopting green policies can lead to more paying guests. According to a recent report by the Green Hotels Association, “Companies with proactive environmental strategies have a 4 percent higher return on investment, 9 percent higher sales growth and 17 percent higher operating income growth than companies with poor environmental track records.” Being eco-conscious can be a real competitive edge even in a sluggish economy.
The Green Movement in Hospitality Education
Sustainable tourism is the newest catchphrase circulating among hospitality programs across the country. The first school to offer a Masters in Sustainable Tourism was East Carolina University, which began offering classes through its interdisciplinary Center for Sustainable Tourism in 2009. Other graduate level programs have followed suit, including Arizona State University and the University of North Texas, whose Masters in International Sustainable Toursim is actually a two-year experience taking place in both the U.S. and Costa Rica. These programs focus on the environmental and socioeconomic impact of both local and international tourism. Other established hospitality programs, including Cornell’s well-regarded School of Hotel Administration, offer post-graduate certification courses in sustainability, where those already in the industry can learn more about sustainability practices and their economic impact. However, despite these programs and others, sustainability still represents a small segment of the hospitality education industry. As the benefits of environmentally conscious tourism become more apparent, it’s likely that that more programs specific to this issue will begin offering degrees.
Meanwhile, the hotel and motel industry continues to make changes in support of environmental sustainability. Whether these changes are for the benefit of the greater good or the bottom line is not always known, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. What’s good for the individual is sometimes just as good for us all.