Monday, September 29, 2008

Social Networking Meets Green Lodging

While at The Lodging Conference in Phoenix last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Richard Varner, founder of I highly recommend that you check out his site. There are many websites that feature green hotels and almost as many that include booking engines to access them. What does, however, is go far beyond your typical green hotel site to include a social networking structure much like Facebook. Visitors to the site can create their own profiles, add friends, upload photos, form groups, create and respond to forum threads, and add comments and reviews to hotel profiles. The new site provides a means for travelers to police those hotel owners and operators who make false claims about environmental programs. Hotel owners can respond to traveler comments. The site also provides a way for hotel owners and operators to promote all of the good green things they are doing. For example, an owner can upload photos that show a hotel's green programs in progress.

With iStayGreen’s rapidly growing searchable directory of almost 3,000 Green Leaf Rated Properties, it’s easy for anyone to quickly locate and compare green lodging worldwide. To earn a Green Leaf Rating, hotels must complete a thorough self-audit and are then rated based on their eco-initiatives. Varner said the site already has more than 100,000 hotels listed. Is your property currently listed? Check out the site to find out.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Green Meeting? You Decide.

I have often featured articles on Green Lodging News regarding the greening of meetings, the minimization of waste at meetings, etc. This week I am attending The Lodging Conference in Phoenix, an event that has drawn more than 1,400 attendees. Upon check-in at the conference, each attendee was given a goodie bag full of items, with each item featuring the logo of a sponsor (kind of like Halloween for adults). I was astounded at how heavy the bag was; it must have weighed 10 to 15 pounds. I had to make a special trip to my car to drop it off so that I would not have to lug it around. I am not looking forward to trying to pack these items in my suitcase for the trip home.

I do understand the reasoning for wanting to give conference attendees sponsored items. Without event sponsors, it would be much more difficult to run a profitable event. But is it necessary to give away so many items that probably will just end up in the trash? Why not make a donation to a green organization instead? Or, purchase carbon offsets on behalf of each attendee? Or buy something locally made that an attendee will want to keep?

Was what was given away at The Lodging Conference excessive? I will let you decide. Here is a list of what filled my goodie bag: three bottles of water (thankfully, one was made from Ingeo, a bioplastic that biodegrades easily); a baseball squeeze ball; a leather coaster; a pocket guide for the conference in case you don't want to haul around the more than one-inch thick conference guide; a 42-page attendee list; a CD with the same attendee list; a luggage tag (I will need that one for the extra piece of luggage I will have to purchase to carry my "goodies" home); a flash drive packaged within two boxes; another foam squeeze item in the shape of a dollar bill; a nightlight for reading; a miniature scale (probably to weigh that extra piece of luggage); a bottle of sunscreen; sticky notes; a laser pointer; yellow magic marker; lip balm; measuring tape; three peppermint candies; and a bath robe. Did I forget the kitchen sink? Just kidding about that one. I am not kidding about the fact that many of the items were made in China.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Some Talk About Toilet Paper

I had the pleasure of chatting with Diana Beltran today. She is the Environmental Development Manager at the Grand Hyatt New York, a property with 1,311 rooms. Diana told me that the hotel used to throw away unused rolls of toilet paper. (It is the hotel's policy to provide each guest with a full, new roll.) The tossed paper amounted to 65 pounds a week—3,380 pounds a year. That is the equivalent of more than a ton and a half of unused paper. Yikes! Thanks to an environmental initiative that has picked up steam this year, unused rolls of paper are no longer thrown away; they are donated to a homeless shelter. Congrats to the Grand Hyatt New York for choosing to spare a lot of wasted squares of TP.

So tell me, what does your property do with its unused rolls? Throw them away? Donate them? At what point is a roll removed from a room? After it is used by one guest? I will look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

U.S. LEED-Certified Hotel Total Now at 12

Three years ago, Marriott's University of Maryland University College Inn and Conference Center became the first U.S. hotel to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Since that time, 11 additional U.S. properties have earned the LEED designation. They include: Avalon Hotel and Spa, Portland, Ore.; Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa, American Canyon, Calif.; Len Foote Hike Inn, Dawsonville, Ga.; Orchard Garden Hotel, San Francisco; Aspen Skiing Co.'s Snowmass Golf Clubhouse, Aspen, Colo.; The Ambrose, Santa Monica, Calif.; The John James Audubon Lodge & Camp, Charlotte, N.C.; The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga.; Hilton Vancouver Washington, Vancouver, Wash.; The Palazzo Las Vegas; and the Unity Village Hotel, Kansas City, Mo.

There are now more than 200 LEED-registered hotel projects at some stage of development. Be sure to visit Green Lodging News frequently for the latest updates on LEED projects.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fairmont Loses Director of Environmental Affairs

Green Lodging News has learned that Michelle White, director of environmental affairs for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, recently left the company to pursue another opportunity. Fairmont is currently working to find a replacement for her. I had the opportunity to meet Michelle several times and wish her the best. Fairmont will miss her leadership. She played an integral role in developing and promoting the company's Green Partnership program and was one of our industry's leading champions for the environment.

Wyndham Steps Up Environmental Commitment

One hotel company after another is hiring V.P.-level executives to oversee sustainability efforts. It is a reflection of how seriously they are taking the importance of reducing their overall impact on the environment. You can bet that is not the only reason for the hirings, however. They also make a lot of sense from a profitability standpoint. When a company is large enough, it does not take long to recover the investment in a sustainability officer. Just a few energy-saving initiatives rolled out by that person can quickly result in millions of dollars in savings.

The latest company to hire a vice president, Sustainability and Innovation is Wyndham Worldwide, the world's largest lodging franchisor with nearly 6,500 hotels under 10 brands. (See article.) Wyndham actually promoted someone from within the company: Faith Taylor. Faith most recently was vice president of Innovation and Product Development for the Wyndham Hotel Group.

The hiring of Faith is just part of Wyndham's recent environmental commitment. The company has developed a Green Council and will roll out a WyndhamGreen Website this month. On October 2, the company is planning a "Global Green Day and Green Fair."

Green Lodging News applaud's Wyndham's efforts. If every franchised Wyndham property does what it can to reduce its resource consumption, it will have one whale of a positive impact.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gatlinburg Hilton Garden Inn to Pursue LEED

According to WATE, Channel 6 in Knoxville, Tenn., construction is set to begin soon on a Hilton Garden Inn in Gatlinburg, Tenn., that will pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The hotel will be built where the River Oaks Shopping Center now sits. "We want to do this to protect the environment and protect all the natural resources of the Great Smoky Mountains," said developer Logan Coykendall. Coykendall says they will reuse materials from the existing River Oaks Center. They will also use up to 20 percent recycled materials on the new building. It is a project slated to cost $15 million. The new hotel will also be made with regional materials. "Instead of getting materials from China or somewhere, we will try to get them from as close to home as we can," Coykendall said. The project should be complete by the summer of 2009. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Random Thoughts on Green Hotel Certification

By the end of this year, it is likely that the Hotel Association of Canada's (HAC) Green Key Eco-Rating Program will have 1,000 hotels participating—quite an achievement. HAC has made it easy for hotels to join with its Web-based application process and 140-question survey. While Canada's program is not perfect, it is an example of one that can be ramped up quickly. Canada's accomplishment begs the question: Why doesn't the United States have a user-friendly rating program that encourages widespread participation? There are many answers to this question.

The American Hotel & Lodging Assn. recently studied the idea of running a program and/or endorsing one but decided its role is to present the different alternatives to the industry and let hoteliers decide for themselves which certification programs to pursue. Meanwhile, numerous entrepreneurs have come out with their own programs. In some cases they have gained some traction but in other cases they have not. These well-intentioned entrepreneurs often suffer from small staffs, little capital and a lack of marketing muscle and creativity. In fact, I rarely see them at industry events. Meanwhile, excellent programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (not originally designed for hotels), the EPA's Energy Star, and Green Seal's rating program grow at a snail's pace—each with their own positive agendas. A number of states also have their own programs—some thriving, some on life support.

The certification dilemma will not be solved quickly. There are those that justifiably argue for a national certification program that includes a mandatory on-site audit, while others are willing to accept a program similar to Canada's that offers more of a self-certifying model.

As far as the environment is concerned, the more programs there are the better, but it is confusing for the consumer. What our industry really needs is a certification summit—a conference at which the certification challenges and complexities are finally settled. But could it really happen? Would entrepreneurs be willing to check their ambitions and egos at the door? Would so many different stakeholders be willing to share the potential spoils of a certification program that has the potential to have tens of thousands of members? Don't count on it. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Let's Do the Opposite of Haiti

We need look no farther than Haiti to understand the importance of trees in a tropical environment. The impoverished country, which has been hammered over and over by this fall's tropical storms and hurricanes, has lost 98 percent of its forests--and not from the storms. Desperate for income, farmers have been chopping down their trees to sell the wood as charcoal. With few trees remaining, the topsoil is extremely vulnerable to erosion. That is why the recent storms have been so devastating. There was no earth to absorb this summer's deluge. Haiti is an example of how not to manage the environment. Why does Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" come to mind? Do you remember the story about a "mossy, bossy" man-like creature who speaks for the trees?

According to an article in USA Today, over the past 20 years, the U.S. Agency for International Development has planted 60 million trees in Haiti, but the poor chop down 10 million to 20 million trees each year. At one time, Haiti was a country ripe for ecotourism. Today, it is a country in desperate need for fast-growing trees. In Haiti, there is a lesson for all of us. Taking trees for granted can be a deadly mistake.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

DNC Spurs Denver Marriott Tech Center's Efforts

The Denver Marriott Tech Center wrapped up August in a "green" fashion. Accepting the challenge of the Democratic National Convention, Barbara Readey, area general manager, put together a Green Team, which is made up of hourly associates, middle management and senior leadership. She asked the team to not only think about short-term solutions for the DNC, but also long-term sustainable goals. The hotel ended up replacing 628 toilets (3 gallons per flush) with low-flow 1.6 gallons per flush versions and replaced 3.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads with 2.5-gallon heads in all guestrooms. These two items saved 60,000 gallons of water during the DNC. Long term, the hotel anticipates saving 6 million gallons of water annually.

The hotel also built a 3,000-square-foot "green" patio using recycled concrete from the old Stapleton Airport. Mike Monroe, co-chair of the Green Team and director of engineering, used xeriscaping around the patio with river rock and mulch. An in-room recycling program was kicked off in time for the DNC. This program allowed the hotel to recycle more than 1,000 tons during the DNC week alone. The program was deemed so successful that the hotel will continue this effort and estimates recycling more than 70,000 tons annually. The property's in-room towel & linen reuse program was also initiated for the DNC, which helped reduce the hotel's carbon footprint to 2,000 tons lower than the average of a building its size.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

We Need More Risk Takers Like Jiminy Peak

One of the things that impresses me most about the lodging industry is the number of individuals willing to take risks—oftentimes huge financial risks. In green lodging I see this time and time again—entrepreneurs willing to spend a lot of money upfront, knowing that their return on their investment may be many years away. In fact, that seems to be one of the factors that separates green hotel and resort entrepreneurs from the typical developer who often has his or her eyes set on turning over the investment in just a few years. Green developers are patient.

I was struck by this when writing an article about the Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort and the recent one-year anniversary of their $4.2 million investment in a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine. It took a lot of guts to make such a groundbreaking investment, knowing that it could take seven or eight years for the system to pay for itself. It is obvious that the resort owners believed it was very important to make a strong commitment to renewable energy.

For Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the investment has been well worth it so far. The turbine, which stands taller than the Statue of Liberty, has become a symbol of the resort's commitment to sustainability. Our industry could use a lot more Jiminy Peaks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Magnolia Hotels Eliminates Smoking Indoors

Another hotel company—Magnolia Hotels—has joined the elite group of companies that forbid smoking indoors. The company announced that each of its hotels—in Dallas, Denver, Houston and Omaha—has eliminated smoking.

“We recognize the importance of offering our guests a healthy lifestyle while they are staying at a Magnolia hotel, and that includes a smoke-free environment,” said Leigh Hitz, president of Magnolia Hotels. “It’s definitely a growing industry trend to eliminate smoking rooms, and we are pleased to have adopted a smoke-free policy.”

Over the past year, requests for smoking rooms at Magnolia hotels have declined significantly, reflective of the overall health movement, and helping to spur Magnolia Hotels’ decision to eliminate smoking. Guests can still smoke outdoors on property grounds, but smoking indoors is prohibited. Guests who violate the smoke-free policy will be charged a cleaning fee of $200 per guestroom, per night.

Kudos to Magnolia Hotels for recognizing how much sense it makes—from both a health and operations standpoint—to eliminate smoking.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fort Lauderdale CVB Gets Busy Planting Trees

Increasingly, hotel companies and other organizations are formalizing efforts to link their businesses with good causes. Green Lodging News just learned that the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, in partnership with Broward County, Fla., has started a new program for meeting planners to help offset the carbon footprint of their meetings in the area. According to the program, dubbed Plan.It.Green, the CVB and the county will plant a tree anytime a planner visits the CVB’s booth at any trade show. The CVB and county will also arrange a “volunteer planting day” for groups, or donate to the parks division when a planner submits an RFP to the bureau. What a great idea. Green Lodging News has had its own tree planting initiative since December of last year. Check it out.