Thursday, February 26, 2009

Greening the Hospitality Industry Conference

I am writing from the Greening the Hospitality Industry conference here in Pittsburgh. It is an event organized by the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) and is for those with a stake in the green meetings industry: hoteliers, meeting planners, government representatives, etc. The mood here is mostly upbeat, even as the recession takes its toll on meetings attendance around the world. According to Amy Spatrisano, president of GMIC, membership in GMIC grew 320 percent in 2008. The group now has 345 members in 20 countries and new chapters are forming in Atlanta, Chicago and Florida/Caribbean. Meetings industry representatives in numerous other locations have expressed interest in starting chapters.

What is driving the interest in green meetings? In some locations such as Florida, state government agencies are required to choose green meeting venues, and some national organizations such as the U.S. EPA are also seeking out hotels and conference centers that have programs such as recycling, green purchasing and energy and water conservation in place. All over the world, meeting planners are raising the bar for what is expected in regard to sustainability. The winners in this environment will be those properties that not only take the steps to reduce their carbon footprint, but those that also take the extra step to certify their actions. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, for example, where GMIC's conference is being held, is LEED certified and has a comprehensive waste management and energy conservation program in place.

Clarity about what is a green meeting is coming soon. According to GMIC's Spatrisano, the U.S. EPA and Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) are working with GMIC to establish clear standards. The first level of standards may be announced as early as April 2009. Be sure to visit Green Lodging News for coverage of the Greening the Hospitality Industry conference and to stay abreast of standards development.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Put Someone in Charge of Sustainability

Increasingly, hotel companies are creating corporate level positions for the purpose of leading and managing sustainability programs. This has happened at Carlson Hotels Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Worldwide and numerous other companies. At the property level, it is quite rare for a hotel to employ someone whose sole responsibility is to manage an environmental program. The Grand Hyatt New York is one example of a hotel that does have its own environmental development manager. Maybe more properties should have someone leading sustainability efforts?

According to new survey by human resource firm Buck Consultants, employee involvement in green programs dramatically increases when organizations appoint an individual to lead the efforts. For companies with at least three-quarters of their employees actively involved in green programs, 71 percent have appointed individual leaders whereas only 29 percent do not have such a leader.

Incentives programs help too, the survey found. Among companies that provide rewards to encourage green behaviors, 77 percent provide special employee recognition, 36 percent give prize incentives, and 14 percent offer a monetary reward.

"Many employers now recognize that green programs in the workplace can promote social responsibility among workers and help retain top talent," says Don Sanford, managing director of Buck's communication practice. "But there is still much more that organizations can do. We expect to see future growth in green training programs, environmentally responsible investment options, and recruiting employees with green skills."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Recession Tests Business Relationships

One of the most unfortunate results of this recession is the incredible number of broken—or at least damaged—business relationships. This has certainly happened between banks and home owners but it is also happening in our industry. Have you been having a more difficult time collecting payment from your customers? If so, how do you deal with that customer? Especially if the customer has been a loyal one for a long time? Do you work out a payment plan? What if the customer fails to meet the basics of the reworked agreement? Do you separate yourself from that customer forever? How forgiving should you be? At what point do you run out of patience? At what point is it just not worth the effort to chase what is owed you?

This recession has certainly created some interesting dynamics between businesses and their clients. Here at Green Lodging News I have been fortunate to have so many loyal customers who have met their financial obligations promptly. Still, I get the occasional company that will commit to purchasing an ad and then totally disappear. No returned phone calls. No returned e-mails. Nothing. How do you handle this type of situation? When a customer makes a commitment to buy but then goes "poof" into the darkness? I am still trying to figure out how to handle it. All of us will always get that type of customer—the type of person who is truly not serious about a business relationship. What these people don't realize is that they are killing their own businesses by destroying the bridges to those partners who can help their businesses grow.

There are so many things that come into play when establishing a business relationship with someone. It truly is just like a dating relationship. There are the loyal types, the players, etc. The challenge is separating the two. Those who are good at doing that will weather this recession the best. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Are You Planning for Earth Day?

Earth Day is just a little more than two months away (April 22). What is your property planning for that special day? For any lodging establishment, Earth Day is a great opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to the local community and to the environment. Done right, Earth Day can be an opportunity to generate positive publicity for your property. It is also an opportunity to create a unique weekend package for guests. "Arrive in a hybrid and get a free dinner for two" or something along those lines would work. Why not make a donation to a worthwhile environmental organization for every guest who checks in during Earth Day weekend?

Here are just a few examples of what hotel companies and individual hotels have done in the past (see Green Lodging News for other examples):

*At the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H., associates there planted trees, helped clean up area road sides and held a barbecue. Guests driving to the hotel in hybrid vehicles received a free lunch. The Balsams is managed by Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts.

*The Doubletree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center Portland-Lloyd Center chose its Green Star Employee on Earth Day. In fact, the hotel stretched Earth Day into Earth Week and held a banquet at which the hotel’s sustainability efforts and green team leaders were recognized.

*Hotel Indigo celebrated Earth Day 2008 by announcing its partnership with Earth Share, a nationwide network of the United States’ most respected environmental and conservation organizations.

*The Willard InterContinental Hotel celebrated Earth Day last year with a park cleanup and light bulb exchange. The Willard offered the public the opportunity to trade in standard light bulbs for more energy efficient CFL bulbs.

This is just a sample of the activities that have taken place during previous Earth Days. Be sure to let me know what your property is planning this year by writing to I will include the best ideas in an upcoming column. I will look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A 'Top Ten Trends' List Worth Reading

One of the green building movement's leading experts, Jerry Yudelson, recently put together his "Top Ten trends for 2009." Yudelson writes for The list is based on conversations he has had with green building experts in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East. Yudelson expects green building to continue its healthy growth pace even in the midst of a recession.

"Green building will continue to grow more than 60 percent in 2009, on a cumulative basis," Yudelson says. "We’ve seen cumulative growth in new LEED projects over 60 percent per year since 2006, in fact 80 percent in 2008, and there’s no sign that the green wave has crested." (In the lodging industry, there are still fewer than 20 LEED certified hotels but there are more than 500 projects registered. This is a dramatic increase from just a year ago.)

"The focus of green building will begin to switch from new buildings to greening existing buildings," Yudelson says. "The fastest growing LEED rating system in 2008 was the LEED for Existing Buildings program, and I expect this trend to continue in 2009." (Most registered LEED projects in the lodging industry have been for new construction but this is beginning to change, with properties such as The Ambrose and The Avalon already achieving LEED for Existing Buildings certification.)

To read Yudelson's trends article, click here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Just Two Hotel Companies Make Prestigious List

Corporate Knights Inc. and Innovest Strategic Value Advisors announced their fifth annual list of the 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the world at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The G100 includes companies from 15 countries encompassing all sectors. They were evaluated according to how effectively they managed environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities relative to their industry peers.

The United States added four companies from its 2008 tally for a winning total of 20 companies, knocking the U.K. to second, with 19 (down from 24 in 2008). Japan added two for 15 companies this year. Rounding out the top five were France (8) and Germany (7), while Canada, Finland, and Sweden each had five companies on the list. Two-thirds (65/100) of the 2008 companies remained on the list in 2009, and 46 of the 100 companies have been in existence for at least 100 years. You can see the list here.

Only two hotel companies made the list: Accor and Whitbread. Click here to see the methodology used.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Green Meeting Facilities Not So Important?

PKF Hospitality Research conducted a survey of meeting planners in August and September of last year. The survey was conducted on behalf of ConventionSouth magazine. PKF-HR received survey responses from a total of 129 meeting planners with an average of 17 years experience in the profession. Although the survey focused on meetings held within Southern states, the sample of respondents consisted of planners located throughout the nation.

The amount of available meeting space remains the most important criteria for meeting planners when selecting a meeting destination. The price of the meeting space, along with the price and number of available hotel rooms, remained in the top five factors. When selecting a hotel, the availability of on-site food and beverage outlets remained the number one selection criteria.

How did survey respondents rate the importance of environmental practices at a meeting destination? According to the survey, they are rising in importance but are not critical selection criteria. “Environmentally Friendly” was considered a somewhat important hotel selection criteria, while “Green Certified” was considered a low facility selection factor.

In one way I am a bit surprised by these results because I have heard over and over that an increasing number of companies are requiring that hotels have specific green programs in place in order to be considered for meetings. On the other hand, in the middle of a recession, it is understandable that priorities can change. For example, according to the survey, the cost of travel is growing as an influence on site selection. Higher gas prices and airfares were cited by nearly 48 percent of the respondents as a factor that forced them to change their meeting destination.

A sample of 129 persons is certainly not enough to jump to conclusions about which direction green meetings are headed. It is, however, a large enough sample to get one's attention.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Recession's Moderate Impact on Green Buying

Is the green movement recession-proof? Four out of five people say they are still buying green products and services today—which sometimes cost more—even in the midst of a U.S. recession, according to a new study commissioned by Green Seal and EnviroMedia Social Marketing and conducted by Opinion Research Corp.

Half of the 1,000 people surveyed say they are buying just as many green products now as before the economic downturn, while 19 percent say they are buying more green products. Fourteen percent say they are buying fewer environmentally green products. Other key findings from the survey:

Twenty-one percent of consumers say a product's reputation is the biggest factor they weigh when making purchasing decisions followed by word of mouth (19 percent) and brand loyalty (15 percent). Just 9 percent say green advertising is their primary influencer. About one in three consumers say they don't know how to tell if green product claims are true. One in 10 consumers blindly trusts green product claims. Consumers are verifying green claims by reading the packaging (24 percent) and turning to research (going online, reading studies; 17 percent).

While 87 percent of people surveyed say they recycle, the Environmental Protection Agency reports just 33 percent of our waste is diverted from landfills. The other things people do are look for minimally packaged goods (60 percent) which is statistically tied with buying green cleaning products (58 percent). Buying green personal-care products came in at 31 percent.

"This research suggests that consumers are buying green products second only to participating in recycling,” said Arthur Weissman, Ph.D., Green Seal's president and CEO. "This increased consumer demand sends a signal to manufacturers to produce products that are truly green."

Green Seal, an independent nonprofit product certification organization, and EnviroMedia Social Marketing released the research from the first-ever Greenwashing Forum in Portland, Oregon.

"There's a real opportunity for authentic green marketing, despite the tough economy," said Valerie Davis, EnviroMedia principal and CEO. "This research proves people want to do what's best for the environment, but it needs to be easy and accessible. Companies should be clear about the environmental benefits of their products and services and make sure what they claim in the TV ad is backed up consistently on product packaging and on the website."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Exploring 'Green' Alternatives to Hotel Key Cards

I have been doing some research on environmentally friendly key cards. I amazed at how many companies are selling these. (Be sure to look for an article on "green" key cards at the Green Lodging News website soon.) I am curious to know whether or not you have tried any of these key cards at your property. If so, how have they worked out? Have you had more guest complaints than usual? More compliments? Please let me know by writing to

I have come across cards described as 100 percent biodegradable—even though they are made from a type of plastic—cards made from corn-based material, cards made from recycled plastic, and even cards made from wood. I think it is great that companies are offering more eco-friendly versions of key cards. For the most part, the traditional plastic variety are eventually thrown away after guests take them home or once they are no longer useable. With hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms using these cards, it is definitely a waste management concern.

The next time you check in or out of a hotel, take a second look at your key card. Be sure to tell the person at the front desk or the hotel manager that there are better alternatives to the traditional plastic ones that in a small way contribute to our dependence on oil. Chances are, they have never even thought about it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Renewables Still Uncommon in Lodging

When compared to the total number of lodging establishments in the United States (around 50,000 properties), there are very few that rely on solar, wind, geothermal or any other kind of renewable energy to meet even a portion of their power needs. Increasingly, however, hotel developers are adding solar hot water heating systems to their rooftops to reduce reliance on natural gas or electricity. Some are adding solar panels to generate electricity, while only a handful have tried wind turbines.

In the future, expect renewables to be much more common. As reported in "The Monthly Energy Review," U.S. renewable energy production increased 8 percent in the first 10 months of 2008 when compared to the same time period in 2007. Moreover, renewable energy accounted for 10.04 percent of domestic energy production during the first ten months of 2008. By comparison, renewable energy accounted for 9.58 percent of domestic energy production in 2007. Which renewables experienced the most growth from 2007 to 2008? In trillion Btus, wind production increased 38.3 percent, solar by 2.9 percent, and hydropower by 5.6 percent.

What is stopping the lodging industry from investing in renewables more? I believe there are several reasons: cost, or the perception of cost; lack of experience or knowledge in implementing such systems; and an absence of leadership at the top of organizations driving renewable energy initiatives.

Have you explored renewable energy solutions for your property? Have any success stories to share? Send a note to