Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breathing Not So Easy in These Travel Spots

Let's assume you are looking for a place to hold meeting—perhaps a large convention or trade show. Does the air quality of the destination come in to play? If not, maybe it should. The American Lung Assn. (ALA) just released its findings on the state of air in America. The organization rated American cities based on three air quality criteria: ozone, short-term particle spikes and long-term particle averages. The years considered were 2005 to 2007. As part of its report, ALA ranked the United States' 10 most polluted cities in terms of ozone and the 10 most polluted cities by amount of particulates. Can you guess which cities have the most serious problems with air quality?

According to ALA, the following are the worst cities for ozone (from worst to less worse): Los Angeles; Bakersfield, Calif.; Visalia-Porterville, Calif.; Fresno-Madera, Calif.; Houston; Sacramento, Calif.; Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; Phoenix; and El Centro, Calif. The cities faring the worst based on particulates (from worst to less worse): Bakersfield, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Visalia, Calif.; Birmingham, Ala.; Hanford, Calif.; Fresno, Calif.; Cincinnati; Detroit; Los Angeles; and Cleveland. The leading cause of ozone: automobiles. Of particulates: diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and burning of wood and other combustibles.

I suspect you will never see data like this in any convention and visitors bureau brochure or meetings destination pitch. ALA's study does point out, however, that air quality has improved in some cities and some of the current worst offenders are taking strong action to reduce their pollution contributions.

The travel industry, with its energy-consuming buildings (powered mostly by electricity generated by coal-burning plants) and dependency on automobile and air transportation, is a large contributor to the problems these cities are having with air quality. It is up to us to do what we can to design and operate buildings that are more energy efficient, and to encourage the use and development of transportation that has less of a negative environmental impact.

Maybe someday soon we will all breathe cleaner air.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vail Resorts, Inc. is Top Green Power Purchaser

The EPA just released a list of the top 50 green power purchasers in the United States. The list is led by Intel Corporation, PepsiCo, Kohl’s Department Stores, Dell Inc., Whole Foods Market, The Pepsi Bottling Group, Inc., Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Air Force, Cisco Systems, Inc. and the City of Houston. Are there any lodging companies on the list? Yes, just one. Vail Resorts, Inc. is No. 25 on the list, purchasing more green power than companies such as Sprint Nextel, Lowe's, and Motorola, Inc.

The green power purchases help reduce the environmental impacts of electricity use and support the development of new renewable generation capacity nationwide. Purchase amounts reflect U.S. operations only and are sourced from U.S.-based green power resources. Organizations can meet EPA purchase requirements using any combination of three different product options: (1) renewable energy certificates, (2) on-site generation, and (3) utility green power products.

In the last year, Vail Resorts purchased 151,311,000 kilowatt-hours of wind power, offsetting 100 percent of the company's electricity consumption. Of the top 50 companies listed on the EPA's list, just 16 met 100 percent of their electricity power needs in the past year with the purchase of 100 percent green power.

Congratulations to Vail Resorts for making such a strong commitment to renewable energy. It would be great to see our industry's largest hotel companies on the list in future years. To learn more about Vail Resorts' green programs, go to Green Lodging News and do a search on "Vail Resorts." You can also click here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hotel Experiences Fast Payback from CFLs

Joe Andrick, general manager of True North Hotel Group’s Residence Inn by Marriott Kansas City Country Club Plaza and chair of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City, did more than just advocate the association’s new green strategy for hotels earlier this year; he volunteered to be the first small business to say “yes” to green after being approached by a local college student group.

Andrick’s “practice what you preach” initiative turned three hours of a February Saturday into a project for a dozen college students who replaced the hotel’s incandescent light bulbs with 600 new fluorescent ones. Two months later, Andrick has already more than recouped the $1,500 he spent on the new bulbs, and he anticipates saving $1,000 per month going forward.

Andrick says that the light bulb replacement in his 106-suite hotel will create a 70 percent reduction in energy consumption, leading to annual greenhouse gas reductions of 150 pounds of CO2 a year per bulb. The light bulb change-out was a project of The William Jewell College Students in Free Enterprise team, which chose this project for their Sam’s Club Environmental Sustainability Challenge.

“As chairman of the Association this year, I thought I would lead by example,” said Andrick, who added that True North Hotel Group’s “Give Back” community service initiative was added inspiration.

Thank you to Dee Dee Dochen for sharing this story with Green Lodging News.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Earth Day Thoughts

When I first launched Green Lodging News in July 2006—really not that long ago—most hoteliers had little idea what LEED meant and struggled to get their arms around the concept of sustainability. There are still those out there that need to be educated but in general a lot has changed for the better in the last three years. In July 2006 there were just a handful of hotel developers thinking about LEED; today there are approximately 500 hotels registered for LEED certification. Whereas three years ago few companies had executive-level positions dedicated to environmental affairs and sustainability, now there are many. Consumer demand, revelations about our planet's health, legislation, company policy and the proliferation of certification programs have all helped put a spotlight on sustainability.

Sitting here on Earth Day, I am amazed how far our industry has come since the summer of 2006. Yet, I am also alarmed at how far our industry still needs to go. The lodging industry continues to have a dramatic negative impact on the environment through its use of toxic cleaning chemicals, consumption of energy and water, and generation of waste. Thousands of new hotels are currently in the pipeline—in the U.S. alone—and that means even more environmental impact.

The good news is that a lot of people care and are taking significant steps—through process change and the implementation of new products and technologies—to minimize our industry's environmental footprint. Let's face it, without travel, our industry will die. Yet with travel, we put our planet in even more peril. Solving this conundrum will continue to be our greatest challenge. Maybe by Earth Day 2010 we will be one step closer to sustainability. We shall see. Happy Earth Day everyone.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Bedbug List You Do Not Want to Be On

Is your property on "the list?" The list that nobody wants to be on? What I am referring to is the Bedbug Registry. It is a free, public database of bedbug infestations. It includes bedbug reports posted as recently as today. Travelers can search by hotel or general location to make sure they are not reserving a room at an infested property. Because reports are mapped on the website, one can quickly see the areas of the United States where bedbugs are most prevalent. The Northeast, especially the New York area, has had a lot of bedbug reports, according to the site.

In addition to searching by location, one can also view reports by hotel brand. Which one has seen the most reports on the site? Days Inn. The brand is followed closely by Marriott and Best Western. Of course those brands that have the most properties are more likely to have more reports but this is not a list one wants to be No. 1 on. Or, No. 2 or 3 for that matter. The site is certainly a great lead generator for any company that provides bedbug treatments. The website also includes an "alerts" tool. If a property located within a mile of where you live is reported to have bedbugs, you will be notified by e-mail.

Travelers cannot make claims anonymously and can be sued for libel if false claims are made. Owners and operators of accused properties can "appeal" to the site administrator if they believe their properties have been wrongly listed. Travelers certainly should report bedbug problems during their stay but this site provides an additional way to pressure an owner or operator to take action.

Bedbugs are a serious problem in our industry but they can be eliminated from a property without harmful chemicals. (See this November 2008 article.) Hopefully, those with bedbug issues will not find out about them for the first time at the Bedbug Registry.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Make Bicycles Available for Your Guests

I have always enjoyed bicycling. When I was a teenager and in college, it was my only form of transportation. I did not own a car until late in my senior year in college. During my college years I took a couple of very long solo rides. One involved bicycling about 275 miles in three days. Today I still enjoy riding. Unfortunately, where I live in Cleveland, the weather limits the bicycling season to about five months.

This week I attended the New England Eco Hospitality Expo in Nashua, N.H. One of the speakers at the event—the element Lexington's (Mass.) general manager, Chris Hartzell—said his hotel makes bicycles available for guests. The element is certainly not the first property to do this. In fact, I am hearing more and more about properties offering bicycles as a recreational and transportation option. It certainly makes sense. Bicycling is great exercise and obviously generates no harmful emissions.

If your property is located in an area that is bicycling friendly, consider purchasing a small fleet of bicycles for your guests. In order to understand your liability, be sure to contact your insurance company first. Your guests may have to sign a waiver form before borrowing a two-wheeler. Make sure maps are readily available—helmets as well—and keep the bikes tuned up and safe. Your guests will appreciate having the bicycling option and it will demonstrate your concern for the environment.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Challenge to Large Trade Show Events?

I am preparing to leave to attend the New England Hospitality Eco-Expo. (Look for coverage at Green Lodging News.) The event will begin tonight and conclude tomorrow, Tuesday, April 14. I am looking forward to attending this first-time event. The Northeast has been a hotbed of green lodging activity and there should be a good turnout. The organizers have put together a good lineup of speakers and there is a trade show as well. A regional event like this one is quite unusual but it does make sense. How many other regions in the United States will follow New England's lead? It seems to me that the Pacific Northwest and California would be likely candidates—possibly the Chicago area. As with any successful event, it takes someone with good leadership and organizational skills to make it happen. Having a solid business plan is also important.

I recently learned that the Second Annual Green Lodging and Hospitality Conference, organized by the TREEO Center at the University of Florida, will be held December 9-11 in Orlando. For the first time, this year's event will be open to hoteliers from outside of Florida. The organizers' attempt to make their event a regional one is a smart move.

From an environmental standpoint, regional events can potentially leave a much smaller carbon footprint than national and international events. Should organizers of events such as the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show have reason to worry about regional competition? Yes. At the very least, organizers of these types of national or international shows need to make their events more appealing to those interested in green lodging. Otherwise, regional events such as those described will become the meeting places of the future for learning and purchasing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Harrah's Takes Conservation to the Streets

Hats off to Harrah's for taking conservation to the streets. Armed with 75,000 compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) donated by NV Energy, approximately 100 Harrah’s employees will help Nevadans become more energy efficient. Throughout selected neighborhoods in Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe and Laughlin, each resident will receive 12 CFL light bulbs from Harrah’s H.E.R.O. (Harrah’s Entertainment Reaching Out) volunteers.

Since 2003, NV Energy has provided rebates on more than 7 million CFLs to promote energy efficiency and help its ratepayers manage their energy usage. The 75,000 light bulbs in this project will collectively reduce more than 63 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and save more than $3 million in energy costs over the life of the CFLs. CFLs use 75 percent less energy, emit 85 percent less heat, and last up to 10 times longer than their incandescent counterparts.

"Our relationship with Harrah’s H.E.R.O. volunteers is just one shining example of our community coming together to help our residents save money and energy," said John Hargrove, program manager for NV Energy. "During these tough economic times, customers are looking for ways to reduce their energy bill. Not only are customers saving money by replacing their incandescent light bulbs with CFLs, they are reducing their carbon footprint as well which helps ensure a clean future for all Nevadans.”

"We have realized significant savings by replacing lighting in our casino resorts with energy efficient options," said Tom Jenkin, western division president, Harrah’s Entertainment. "Over the next several weeks our H.E.R.O. volunteers are sharing this energy saving tip—and the light bulbs—to the residents in our Nevada communities. The strength of our environmentally sustainable programs comes from our employees as they continuously develop new ideas to reduce our environmental footprint."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Don't Take Top 10 Lists Too Seriously

Having been a public relations consultant for more than seven years, I have written many press releases. What I learned is that just about everyone, including the media, loves "Top 10" lists. I would suggest not taking them too seriously. Oftentimes, the lists are totally subjective and publicized without any well-explained methodology.

TripAdvisor just released a list of its top 10 eco-friendly accommodations. I came across the release on PRNewswire. It is a list, TripAdvisor says, that was generated by TripAdvisor editors and travelers. TripAdvisor did not say how many travelers participated in suggesting destinations for the list. Was it 10 travelers? Ten thousand? We may never know. Were there any criteria at all for choosing the green accommodations? Again, this is something TripAdvisor does not reveal.

I am not questioning the "eco-friendliness" of the properties that made TripAdvisor's list. There are some good ones included, including the Hotel Terra, The Ambrose and Concordia Eco-Tents. But there are also some glaring omissions, including the LEED Platinum certified Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C. and those hotels that have been certified LEED Gold.

Top 10 lists are great publicity tools. Most of the time, however, they should not be taken too seriously—especially when survey sample size and methodology are omitted. What do you think?

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Sustainability Report Worth Reading

Few hotel companies produce sustainability reports. Even fewer hotels do so. The Rezidor Hotel Group recently released its 2008 report. I highly recommend reading it. (Click here to locate the report.) The report details the company's sustainability strategy, its environmental impact, and its responsible business program. The report also includes an easy-to-scan chart that summarizes the company's accomplishments. Some of the highlights of the report:

1. The company's Park Inn hotels reduced waste by 22 percent in 2008.
2. Those same properties reduced energy consumption per guest night by 14 percent in 2008.
3. Seven percent of the company's hotels have grey water systems in place; used shower water is used for the flushing of toilets.
4. Seventy-one percent of hotels ask suppliers specifically for policies on human rights.
5. Sixty-five hotels obtained third-party certification in 2008.
6. Sixty-two percent of hotels provide organic certified food items.

Will the recession impact Rezidor's goals for 2009? No, says Kurt Ritter, president and CEO, The Rezidor Hotel Group. "Our commitment to social, environmental and ethical business conduct will by no means be impacted by the current downturn," he says. Be sure to check out Rezidor's report.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Understanding Green Product Certifications

Architects, designers, hotel developers and others are increasingly specifying green materials for the buildings they are designing and developing. Sifting through all of the green product labels/certifications for those products can be a challenge. Air Quality Sciences has released a white paper that explores the differences between eight certification programs. The programs include: (1) Energy Star; (2) WaterSense; (3) Cradle to Cradle; (4) GreenGuard; (5) Green Seal; (6) the GreenSpec Directory; (7) Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and (8) Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

The white paper provides a brief history of each of the programs and defines each program's goals. What the paper lacks is an indepth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each program. Still, the white paper is worth a quick read and worth filing for future reference. Click here to check it out.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On Guestroom Energy Management Systems

When I began covering the lodging industry in 1989, one of the first companies I became familiar with sold a guestroom energy management system. At the time I was in awe of the technology. These systems are common in lodging properties today but most hotels and resorts still do not use them. That baffles me. Energy management systems that incorporate sensors, controllers and switches can power down HVAC systems and even lighting when guests leave the room. With most guestroom energy management systems, heating and cooling systems will run from 20 percent to 40 percent less time. That can equate to significant energy savings.

What is preventing more hotels from implementing these systems? I suspect the following: cost, unfamiliarity with available rebate and assistance programs, and lack of education and awareness. Hotel owners typically want a fast ROI but some of these systems can take two years or longer to recover the initial investment. In areas of the country where utility costs are higher, ROI time can be much faster, however. What many owners don't realize is that investment recovery time can also be a lot faster once utility incentives are factored in. Utility companies in a number of states offer substantial incentives. Some vendors even offer programs that eliminate upfront costs. They earn their money from the dollars saved through energy cost reductions. When shopping for a guestroom energy management system, be sure to ask vendors about financing options.

Lack of education and awareness is certainly an obstacle to wide adoption of these systems. If an owner does not attend trade shows, does not closely read trade publications, is not contacted by system vendors, or is not inquisitive about saving energy, there is little chance any action will be taken. How can our industry overcome the education obstacle? Chains certainly can do a better job promoting these systems, especially for new construction projects. Vendors need to do a better job of making their presence known at industry events and in trade publications. I will continue to do what I can to get the message out about the value of these systems. Look for an article soon on Green Lodging News. Really, guestroom energy management systems should be standard in every hotel and resort. (See the Green Lodging News Product & Service Directory for a list of suppliers that sell these systems.)