10 ways to make your hotel greener

25 October 2007 by
10 ways to make your hotel greener

1. Carbon offsetting

Carbon-offsetting schemes, where people pay a fee to neutralise their carbon emissions, have been around for a while now but the idea is still relatively new in hotels.

One company that introduced an offsetting scheme in March this year, as part of its wider environmental policy, is Finesse Hotels, which includes the Lace Market in Nottingham. The scheme allows hotel guests and conference delegates to make a voluntary payment of anything from 50p to £5 on top of the normal rate, and once a month the money is sent to tree-planting conservation charity the Woodland Trust (www.woodland-trust.org.uk). Although take-up was initially slow, according to managing director James Blick about 20% of guests now choose to contribute. "£5 buys half a tree, so if you add it all up, it's quite significant," he says.

To publicise the scheme, details are simply included on check-in forms and administration is "straightforward". Blick thinks the scheme has also helped to win business, particularly in the conference market. Finesse sales staff now include details of the scheme when pitching to bookers and agents, and generous delegates receive a certificate from the hotel, which can act as an effective "follow-up" after a meeting. "In the States, it's normal for companies to ask about carbon offsetting when choosing a venue," Blick explains. "It's only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream here."


2. Have your water use audited

Older-style lavatory cisterns can use up to nine litres per flush, compared with new ultra-low toilets which use only four some taps have a flow-rate of 25 litres per minute compared with the advised rate of five and uncontrolled urinals can flush once every 10 minutes, seven days a week, 365 days a year. How can you find these things out?

The answer is to have your water use audited. Deans Place, a 68-bedroom hotel in Alfriston, Sussex, had an audit completed by Hospitality H20 at the start of this year. After the less-than-impressive findings, the hotel installed nine ultra-low flush toilets in the public area, reducing water used by 50% and saving £275 a year. It installed new flush devices for 26 en suite toilets and replaced 10 others with four-and-a-half-litre versions, a saving of 42% or £507 a year. It installed controls in the two public gents' urinals (each fed from one cistern), saving 86% water use - a massive 815cu m per year - and £2,067 in bills. It installed in-line flow-restrictors into 10 of the newer-style taps, replacing the remaining taps with aerating taps - which can reduce water usage by up to 50% - and push taps on staff hand basins, saving 1,061cu m of water per year, reducing usage by 74% and resulting in a saving of £2,693.

Of course, with enough dedicated time, all this information could be gathered without external help, but for a professional water audit the first port of call is your local water company. If it can't help, then environmental bodies such as Envirowise (www.envirowise.gov.uk) can help or advise.

3. Run a green day for staff

The co-operation and understanding of staff is paramount to pursuing a green agenda. Staff are the lifeblood of a hotel, and if they don't know what's going on, how can they be expected to help make the establishment greener?

At the Royal Lancaster hotel in London the beginning of a green policy in December 2005 was followed, nine months later, by a green staff awareness day. It was deemed a success, and the management repeated the event this year. The session, held in the staff canteen during their lunch break, helps to galvanise the hotel's green policy in the minds of staff, says marketing executive Holly Stedman. The hotel's recycling collector Greener World and toiletries supplier Gilchrist & Soames were both present to discuss how they contribute to the hotel's environmental policy. Thames Water and government-supported environmental consultant Envirowise provided stalls, while information regarding the hotel's achievements in recycling and saving energy were posted on the walls. A raffle and a bring-and-buy sale helped attract staff into the room.

Corporate social responsibility was the buzz for the day, says Stedman, and it let staff who otherwise might take the recycling bins for granted know exactly what was going on behind the scenes, with the hope that they will be knowledgeable in front of concerned guests and continue the good work throughout the hotel.


4. Switch to LED lighting

As well as lasting anything up to 100,000 hours per bulb, LED lighting can reduce energy consumption by between 25% and 50% and installation doesn't require extensive rewiring. Apex Hotels has gradually switched over to LED lights across its five properties for 20W, 35W and 50W lights, completing the transition in July this year.

Jo Harbisher, environmental director at Apex, says the cost across the group's 638 bedrooms came in at £15,000 and she estimates the total savings from the conversion will be £312,000 over five years. Her advice is to go through your designated lighting supplier and try out all the various bulbs available as each one offers a different effect: some too harsh, some too dim.

The group tested the bulbs in different rooms to examine the mood each would create before deciding which to implement across the five properties.


5. Recycle more

It's an easy statement to make, but you'd be surprised how many establishments stop when the obvious items of glass, plastic, paper and metal are shipped off in recycling bins. With landfill taxes having increased from £21 per tonne to £24 per tonne on 1 April, and set to increase annually by £8 per tonne until at least April 2010, cutting down on landfill as much as possible makes financial as well as environmental sense (more details on www.netregs.co.uk).

The 365-bedroom Hilton Heathrow, which was highly commended for its waste policy by environmental association Considerate Hoteliers in its annual awards, has extended its recycling programme far beyond the norm. Glass, paper, oil, toner cartridges, cardboard, plastic, batteries, cans and light bulbs are all recycled, old furniture is given to staff or charity, and metals or old metal-based machinery is given to a metal merchant. Food is processed through a macerator into a waste drain and garden waste is cut up and used as compost. The hotel has also introduced an electronic system for paper documents, which are scanned and archived on disc, allowing the paper to be recycled. All of this has meant the hotel sent only 125 tonnes of waste to landfill in 2006 for the 62,000 guests who visited, down 12 tonnes from the year before. And the hotel isn't stopping there. It's currently in talks with Aardvark Recycling (www.aardvarkrecycling.org.uk) to explore the possibility of having its food waste turned into compost, which the company is currently doing for Lambeth Council.

For more information, go to www.wrap.org.uk

6. Have an energy audit conducted

To see how an audit can help you save money - and the planet click here.

7. Appoint a director of environmental affairs

Creating a whole department devoted to green issues might seem a luxury, but for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts it's been a holistic exercise - saving costs, improving the company image and preserving the environment.

Heading the department is director of environmental affairs Michelle White, an authority on sustainable operations in tourism. Her responsibilities include the day-to-day operations of Fairmont's Green Partnership programme, an initiative launched in 1990 to minimise the impact of hotel operations on the environment. The programme, which is recognised internationally by the World Travel & Tourism Council and National Geographic Traveler magazine looks at improving areas such as waste management, energy and water conservation and community outreach programmes.

Many companies pay only lip service to green issues, but White, who has an environmental science masters degree, has clout within the company. It's her job to ensure that environmental policies are part of the decision-making process and to see that property performance is improved. At the moment, for instance, her team is working with the purchasing department to review procurement policies and products.

"You can't expect programmes to be effective if you don't invest time and effort in educating colleagues so they can participate," White says. "Effective recycling, for instance, requires that colleagues are trained in proper procedures, that bins are clearly labelled and messages continually reinforced."

She warns that some initiatives have an initial cost. For example, energy-efficient lighting often costs more than regular lighting to buy, but it does have a demonstrated payback period. To ensure success, she always identifies programme goals over the long term and tracks performance through benchmarking each property. For instance, about 40% of the electricity needs of the Chateau Lake Louise hotel near Banff, Alberta, is met by wind and run-of-river power.

"In order for green programmes to succeed, they must become part of the corporate culture. Sustainability should never be viewed as a project," says White.


8. Chemical-free spas

Creating a green spa isn't easy. Most tend to guzzle energy and water at sky-high rates, while health and hygiene rules usually dictate the use of strong chemicals to keep facilities, especially pools, clean.

One spa that breaks the mould, however, is the Titanic Spa in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, billed as the UK's first "eco-spa". Converted from a derelict mill, the building was gutted before reopening in 2005 and is now a model of state-of-the-art green efficiency, with solar panels and a combined heat and plant system heating the five floors, including 130 carbon-neutral apartments.

A major aspect of the building is the borehole, 100m underground, which provides the entire water supply, including drinking water, showers, laundry and the swimming pool, which is chlorine- and chemical-free. Rather than a chlorine tank and pump, the spa uses a salt regulator which kills bacteria and bugs without the need for potentially harmful substances.

While equipment is more expensive - a salt regulator costs about £8,000 compared with £1,000 for a normal tank - director Warrick Burton says the system is easy to maintain, requiring only regular monitoring of pH levels. He says there are other advantages to being chemical-free too, as spa-goers don't have to put up with any harsh odour, and being non-toxic, the system is safer for staff to use and less damaging to the environment.


9. Eco-conferencing

Whether it's banning paper handouts, encouraging delegates to arrive by train, or insisting that caterers use locally sourced foods, more companies are starting to look at how they can make their meetings, and choice of venue, more environmentally efficient these days.

One venue addressing the eco-conferencing issue is the Cotswold Conference Centre in Broadway, Worcestershire, which runs about 500 events a year for clients including Waitrose. Two years ago the centre signed up to Hospitable Climates (www.hospitable-climates.org.uk) and has since introduced environment-friendly initiatives including planting trees across its estate to offset carbon emissions, using Ecover cleaning products and introducing more local produce on menus. Other measures include installing low-energy light bulbs, recycling all paper, cardboard and glass - bins are placed in each training room for delegates to use - and supplying pens made from recycled materials.

On a bigger scale, a natural spring currently supplies grey water for the centre's showers and toilets but the next step, according to sales director Nick Akeman, is to start bottling the water for drinking, using a rented bottling and cleaning kit which costs £1,600 a year. "We were using literally thousands of plastic water bottles each year so it makes huge environmental sense," he says, adding that the venue's green credentials are an increasing pull for clients - a distinct advantage in the competitive meetings industry. "It builds rapport because customers relate more and more to what we're doing," he says.


10. Knock it down and start again?

Some hotels might be so old that it seems an impossible task to make them energy-efficient, so much so that it might seem more worthwhile knocking them down and starting again. This, however, is one of the least green things you could do, says Fiona McNeill, senior architect at Ian Springford Architects. In terms of the energy expended demolishing it, the landfill created and the materials and energy used in building a new one, a complete rebuild is a nothing if not wasteful.

Instead, there are simple things that every hotel can do to improve its efficiency. The foremost of these, says McNeill, is to install high-performance windows and strip the building to its cladding and fully insulate the exterior walls. The difference from these two actions will be huge, she says. After that, the best route to take is to have a thermographic imaging survey of the hotel completed by companies such as Virtis (www.virtis.co.uk) to identify where the most energy is escaping and move forward from there.

Further assistance

Carbon Trust
A government-funded independent company helping businesses and the public sector to cut carbon emissions.

Hospitable Climates An energy advisory programme between the Institute of Hospitality and the government, offering free advice to help reduce energy consumption.

ECA (Energy Cost Advisors) Group Provide independent, energy-cost consultancy services to large and small businesses from all sectors.

Energy Management Solutions An independent consultancy which focuses on helping industrial, commercial and public sector organisations to reduce their energy usage.

Considerate Hoteliers An association of like-minded hoteliers whose purpose is to "encourage, assist, cajole and motivate fellow hoteliers to adopt sound and sustainable environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices".

Envirowise Free government-supported environmental consultation, advice, and documentation for UK businesses.

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