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Hospitality Employees Play Big Role In Sustainability Efforts

By Casey Laughman, Managing Editor - April 2013 - Green


While guests sometimes offer new ideas, they come and go constantly, are generally only on the premises for a short period of time, and don't exactly expect to be asked to be part of conservation efforts beyond deciding whether they want their towels washed every night or not. Employees are a constant, and even employees outside of the facilities staff can play a big role, says Gaines.

When it comes to the environment, employees leave a big footprint, Gaines says. "Employees are aware of their footprint and it yields a lot of returns," he says. "As a result, they're watching their fellow employees and holding each other accountable because they understand that every little bit counts."

With employees outside of the facilities department, it's often the little things that make a big difference, such as getting employees in the habit of turning off lights and checking thermostats in unoccupied meeting rooms, as well as having them remind each other to keep an eye out for potentially wasteful use.

A side benefit of involving non-facilities employees in sustainability efforts is the force multiplier effect, Witt says. Every little bit helps, so when employees take these lessons home, it can expand out the effect of sustainability efforts.

"Ideal for us would be if we give a housekeeper the tools to minimize the amount of water that she uses when she cleans the bathroom, then that person in turn goes home and teaches her kids to turn the tap off when they're brushing their teeth," she says.

Holesko also stresses the importance of training employees outside the facilities staff on what they can do to help. When he was the chief engineer at the Buffalo Marriott, he would conclude each briefing of a new employee by pulling out a $100 bill and offering it to the employee if he or she could answer "yes" to the following question:

"I would say, 'How many of you, when you left your home or apartment today, left your oven on, your refrigerator door open, the air conditioning cranking and every light in your house or apartment on? Because that's what happens in our hotels.'"

Nobody ever claimed the $100, but the point stuck. By keeping an eye on the lights, turning down — or off — ovens that weren't in use, and not propping open cooler doors, employees with no energy management experience or responsibility could help contribute to big savings.

More Room to Keep Going Green in Hospitality Industry

While the hospitality industry has made great strides in its sustainability efforts over the last few years, there are still opportunities for improvement, says Michael Bendewald, consultant, Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit energy consulting firm and think tank. According to Bendewald, the industry spends nearly $8 billion annually on energy costs, but is often limited in how aggressively it approaches efficiency due to concerns about occupant demands.

"People demand services, not energy," Bendewald says. "So the question is 'how can hotels provide the same, or often better, services with reduced energy use?'"

One reason the hospitality industry offers a lot of potential is the similarity in design across portfolios. While there are likely substantial differences in design between a hotel in Manhattan and a hotel of the same chain in Phoenix, for the most part, buildings of the same chain will be very similar. So instead of having to evaluate each building from scratch, facility managers can test strategies and products in one or two facilities, then roll them out across the chain.

"For example," says Bendewald, "perhaps the most energy efficient window type is operable in order to enable natural ventilation during fall and spring months, which saves energy costs as well as improves indoor air quality and guest comfort."

By testing those windows in one or two locations, facility managers can determine if they're feasible across the portfolio without having to test them at each site. Conversely, if operable windows or another tactic don't work in a mild climate, they can be dropped from consideration in more harsh climates.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has been involved in a number of large-scale energy efficiency projects since its inception in 1982, including an in-depth energy retrofit project at the Empire State Building.

— Casey Laughman, managing editor





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