Kermit the Frog didn’t think it was easy to be green. But I disagree.
I’m talking about sustainability of course, which boasts a multitude of benefits, like costs savings and healthier employees, not to mention the possibility of broadening your consumer base. TripAdvisor, for instance, has a Green Leaders program that places a leaf next to green hotel listings, helping conscientious consumers find a hotel that fits their values. And it’s led to profitable results: “[A]lmost 25% of Americans are consciously trying to make eco-friendly choices when it comes to their hotel stays.”
Whether it’s part of a strategic business plan or pure altruism, sustainability is demanding the attention of all industries. And enterprise hotels like Loews, Kimpton, and Las Vegas Sands are already spending big bucks on the latest in green tech to satisfy consumer demand.
But what about you, the manager of a small, independent or boutique hotel?
We’d all like to transform our rooftops into garden getaways, raising our green profile while making better use of existing space, or even turn our hotel into a completely LEED certified building. But that also takes a lot of green (money, that is) and includes major construction overhauls.
So how can you become an eco-friendly, green hotel quickly and also stay within budget?
Below, I’ve gathered a list of quick and inexpensive fixes you can do to make your hotel a bit more sustainable. And if you really want to go the extra mile, there’ll be some links to various organizations and programs you can join to really make a difference.
1. Get Guests Involved
Hospitality is all about the relationship between hotels and their guests. So why not engage the very people you cater to?
Your guests can play a very significant role in your sustainability strategy. For example, think of all the towels you go through. Or how big your heating and cooling bill is every month. These are things that are in the control of guests, so it becomes the role of your guests to help put these eco-friendly acts into practice.
However, not all your guests may be on board with your environmental initiative. So how can you incentivize them without disrupting their stay?
An easy way to encourage your guests while still allowing them to make their own choices, is to leave small note cards (made from recycled paper, of course) around the room to give gentle reminders about water usage and electricity.
Specifically, laundry accounts for 16% of all water hotel water usage says The Smithsonian, which seems like a small percentage until you translate it to monetary cost. By asking guests to use their towels, robes, or washcloths more than once, you can not only save on water, but also the electricity used to power washing machines and dryers. And in turn, will also increase the lifespan of your fabrics. Not changing the a guest’s sheets during their stay unless necessary is another great way to help cut down on laundry loads.
The famous Caesar’s Palace implemented a reusable towel initiative and has since saved “about $135,000 to $218,000 per year” from their efforts as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) hotel-specific water savings initiative, the WaterSense H2Otel Challenge.
So whether you choose to post a simple reminder to guests, or show them stats on the impact of their electricity usage, Steve Kiesner, director of national accounts at the Edison Electric Institute, says that in these initiatives, “facilities report savings of 20 to 50% through the use of timers, dimmers, keeping fixtures clean, and turning off lights when not needed.”
Aside from the potential in savings, of course, guest involvement with your hotel’s practices can also foster a closer, more connected relationship with you and your customer. Plus, giving back always feels good, and the happy feeling your guests associate with your hotel will guarantee a positive impression.
2. Get Employees Involved
While hospitality is largely about your guests, having a great hotel isn’t possible without your staff either. Similarly, becoming a more eco-friendly hotel also largely depends on your staff’s participation, not just your guests’.
The difference here, however, is that your guests’ participation is voluntary. But with your staff, you can make sustainability align with your business goals and change daily office habits or practices.
There are simple (and obvious) methods you can follow to cut down on waste: printing double-sided (and on recycled paper), adding a community recycling bin (personal ones require more plastic bags), turning off lights when leaving a room, and shutting down all electronics when leaving the office.
We know these things. But how can you get your staff to participate if they aren’t personally invested and engaged?
A different kind of green. The money kind of green.
Employee engagement is important, and not just inside of the sustainability sphere.
According to Jackie Pitera, senior analyst at AltaTerra Research, “[E]ngaged employees not only stay with a company longer, but they are also likely to be more productive and innovative, be sick less often, and have higher morale. They can help reduce healthcare costs; boost revenues from increased productivity and innovation and can be contagious spreading their enthusiasm to their peers. Conversely, disengaged employees can have the opposite effect, and spread their negativity to their peers.”
So to get more eco-friendly resistant employees on board, offer them incentives like bonuses or other forms of compensation, as well as recognition programs to identify those who are green leaders amongst your staff. Extra money is always nice and identifying those who are executing your business goals results in a variety of benefits for both employee and company.
Not to mention, Pitera continues, “a firm’s reputation for social responsibility (including environmental work) is one of the top ten drivers of employee engagement worldwide.”
3. Revamp Your Guest Bathrooms
Think about what you see when you walk into a hotel bathroom: single-serving shampoo and conditioner, paper-wrapped bars of soap, and disposable cups wrapped in more plastic.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the effort. These prepackaged amenities assure factory quality and personal wrappings imply cleanliness. But isn’t there a better way to go about this?
Many hotels, for example, have invested in refillable shampoo, conditioner, and soap dispensers as a way to cut down on plastic usage, not to mention the waste of half-used soap bars and other toiletries. Even the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) has embraced this practice as a viable and money-saving alternative to the tons of trash otherwise accumulated.
(To be fair, some hotels have donated leftover products that are recycled or given to needy households. However, some bottles in the process are deemed unrecyclable and end up in landfills anyway.)
In addition to refillable dispensers, you can also embrace sustainability by replacing your toxic chemical cleaners with more natural products (or even create your own). This will also cut back on toxic fumes and, because these cleaners make use of natural ingredients, the smell will be a lot nicer and the fumes healthier for your lungs.
And rather than replacing disposable cups with each new guest, simply implement glassware or reusable plastic cups to cut back on waste. However, if you’re wary about guests questioning their cleanliness, you can always leave a note card assuring them that the cups are washed and that any unsatisfied guests can request a disposable cup if they wish.
4. Change Your Menu and Food Disposal
We all know about buying organic. The absence of pesticides is both good for you and the environment, organic food is often fresher, and absent of GMOs. Buying local also fosters relationships with food vendors in your area and cuts down on carbon emissions that come with long-range transportation.
But aside from buying organic, which alone can do wonders for your sustainability initiative, there are a few other practices your kitchen staff can follow to cut down on waste and be a bit more energy efficient.
In addition to the obvious (like only running the dishwasher when it’s full and encouraging the use of recycling bins), you could also offer less red meat on your menu as cattle account for more than 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (which is even more than carbon emissions from transportation). Because red meat can also result in higher cancer risks, cholesterol levels, and heart problems, you’ll also be offering your guests healthier food options and cut costs due to the expensiveness of red meat. Younger consumers are also gravitating towards more healthy options, so your menu is sure to delight your millennial guests.
Another way for your kitchen staff to embrace eco-friendly practices is to begin a compost pile. While a compost pile seems like it could be a very smelly and unsightly option, compost piles can reduce your landfill waste and even result in fertile soil that you can then use for landscaping projects at your hotel. And if you really want to go above and beyond your green duty, this fertile compost soil could even help you start your own herb garden, so your chefs can go out back and cut sprigs of rosemary right then and there.
But if you’re looking for a more digital option, food service management software can also help you optimize your kitchen operations and digitize most paper processes.
5. Partner With Your Maintenance Staff
These are probably the last people you would think could help your hotel go green, but they may be, in fact, the most important.
The maintenance department is often seen as reactionary. They are meant to fix problems after they happen, whether it means a broken down heating and cooling system or problems in your piping. We often don’t turn to them until there is a problem.
But that doesn’t make the best use of one of your most important resources.
Because aside from fixing problems, maintenance can actually prevent them from even occurring, and having this attitude of preventability is important in the process of sustainability.
So aside from installing eco-friendly fluorescent light bulbs, regularly changing out air filters, fixing leaky faucets, and thermostat calibration, maintenance staff can also help monitor and record your energy and water use so you can see if you are on track with your sustainability goals. Not to mention, their expertise can help solve inefficiency problems, like adding insulators to copper water pipes or installing eco-friendly toilets to cut down on both water usage and heating costs.
6. Change How You Consume Energy
This last one gets a little more resistance, because most hotel managers assume they need to make big up-front expenditures to revamp how they use energy.
But in reality, this is an opportunity to actually save money and please your eco-conscious guests at the same time.
If your appliances are more than a few years old, they are probably a big burden on your energy bill — bigger than you realize. We’ve all heard of appliances rated by Energy Star, which is a joint program created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. But how much could an Energy Star appliance save you?
Replacing just one aging fridge with an Energy Star equivalent could save you $100 every year. That doesn’t quite pay for the replacement of a refrigerator, but if you need an update of your hotel’s appliances anyway, that’s a big subsidy.
One area where you could actually make money is solar energy. Your hotel probably has lots of space on its rooftop or parking garage that would make an excellent spot for solar panels. Once installed, solar panels generate free electricity for your hotel, reducing your electric bill and potentially paying for themselves in the long term — but you should run the calculations first.
The Solar Energy Industries Association provides a membership directory of solar power companies. Use this directory to find a local vendor who can meet with you and give you an estimate on how much it will cost to get solar panels installed, as well as how much power they would provide. It’s definitely worth a look, especially considering how impressed your eco-conscious guests will be by your hotel’s reliance on solar energy.
And there are very cheap ways of saving on energy, too — although the savings may not be as significant. The Department of Energy notes that lighting controls that automatically turn lights on and off as needed can be a simple way to save on energy. Dimmers, motion photosensors, and timers can also cut down on how much you’re paying each month for lighting.
Is it time to go green?
If you’re interested in other green practices or want to become a green-certified hotel, please check out AHLA’s list of guidelines or visit the Green Hotels Association’s official site. If you’ve got your own tips on how to make a hotel more green in a way that’s also affordable, let us know in the comments below.
Header by Rachel Wille