Special Report: How hotels are going green
Willow Aliento | 13 August 2015
More travellers, particularly corporate travel groups, are looking for sustainability credentials when they book a place to stay. This, along with reducing high running costs, is driving an increasing number of hotel operators to implement initiatives ranging from energy-efficiency to greener purchasing policies.
“The expectations of the global consumer market have now changed. Travellers now expect that well run and professional hotels and visitor attractions should be also be environmentally friendly and adhere to responsible business practices,” according to Stewart Moore, chief executive of EarthCheck.
“Companies will no longer send their staff to attend international conferences or stay in hotels which do not comply with accepted international reporting and operational standards.”
EarthCheck is a global certification system with headquarters in Brisbane that promotes responsible tourism and assists hotels to improve their operational efficiency and reduce their environmental footprint. It is built on the Agenda 21 principles for Sustainable Development.
Membership in Australia includes a number of chains, such as Langham, RACV, Radisson (Carlson) and TFE. Also included are independent properties such as Emporium in Brisbane, Amora Hotel Riverwalk and Alto Hotel on Bourke in Melbourne, and Chateau Elan at the NSW Hunter Valley.
Covering some 32 sectors, EarthCheck Certification in Australia also includes airports and all of the major convention centres in the country.
How some operators embrace the green imperative
There are plenty of case studies in the sector around shrinking footprints.
The Hilton group and Light Stay
The Hilton Hotel Group has a mandatory sustainability program, Light Stay, all its operations must adhere to, according to Craig Cavers, chief engineer for Hilton Sydney.
He says the plan was put in place in 2008, and included a requirement that hotels in the group achieve a 20 per cent reduction in energy use and a 10 per cent reduction in water use within five years. Cavers says Sydney has exceeded that target through a range of measures including changing about 10,000 lights to LEDs.
A complete review of the mechanical systems was undertaken. It was found that the main chiller providing all the chilled water for airconditioning systems throughout the hotel could be switched off for eight hours overnight, and the HVAC could use the cooler air outside instead.
Cavers says the central chiller is the single largest energy user in the hotel, accounting for 25 per cent of total power use.
The HVAC was also linked into a building automation system, which shuts the system down in any guest room or the hotel’s 4000 square metres of event space when the area is not in use. Guest HVAC is now switched on automatically on check-in, and switched off on check-out, and event space HVAC is activated by timers linked to the week’s bookings.
Roof lighting and external lighting has been linked to daylight sensors, and timers were installed on the hotel’s large pastry ovens.
Cavers says the entire efficiency program required “no real investment”. The lighting project attracted Energy Saving Certificates that largely covered its costs, and all the other measures were a case of simply “reviewing the building and what we were doing.”
One efficiency measure that did require a small capital investment was installing optimisation technology on the gas boilers that supply hot water and also heating for HVAC systems. Cavers says the seven per cent saving on gas use gave this initiative a payback of around 12 months.
The hotel used a private water auditor as part of implementing the Sydney Water “Every Drop Counts” program.
Water flow restrictors and aerators were installed on all shower heads, reducing flow rates to 11 litres per minute while still ensuring a good shower experience for guests. The same was done for all handbasins, and a new water softener was installed for glass washing stations in the food and beverage areas, enabling these to now use recycled water.
All toilets were retrofitted to dual flush, and motion sensors installed for urinals and hand wash basins in the amenities.
Cavers says the number of travellers who want to know that sustainability programs are underway is increasing, particularly guests from Australia, the USA and some of the Asian countries.
The Hilton in Cairns also upgraded its energy and water efficiency with a program in 2012 that general manager John Lucas says has been beneficial both from an environmental and from a financial perspective.
Initiatives included retrofitting low flush toilets, low flow showerheads. In terms of energy use, Lucas says the focus was on “making sure the backbone of the system” was efficient.
The hotel has also focused on recycling of key waste streams including glass, paper and cardboard, and on guest education, with signage in rooms asking guests to be mindful of water use. This includes a no-change option for towels and linen, which has the flow-on effect of reducing laundry energy and water use.
“We are always looking for more opportunities in our processes and in guest education,” Lucas says.
NuGreen finds opportunities in the hotel sector
NuGreen Solutions has carried out a number of energy-efficiency projects in the hotels sector, including Mantra Group’s Peppers at Broadbeach and Q1 at Surfer’s Paradise. Energy audits at both properties carried out by the consultants found that lighting upgrades would deliver substantial bottom line and environmental benefits.
At Broadbeach, a changeover of 3895 lights across the hotel from halogen and fluorescent to LED has delivered an 89 per cent reduction in electricity costs for lighting, equating to up to $1.6 million in savings over 10 years. The car parking lighting was also upgraded, with 1050 lights changed over to LED, delivering an expected $510,000 in financial savings and a 722 tonne reduction in carbon emissions over a decade.
At Q1, 1500 lights were converted LED across the hotel, resulting in an 86 per cent reduction in lighting costs, and a drop in carbon emissions of around 6,200 tonnes over 10 years.
NuGreen has carried out a similar project in conjunction with Nuvo Group for Crown Promenade in Melbourne. The retrofit of 9000 LED lights, installation of 120 motion sensors and addition of ventilation control for the HVAC system resulted in an improvement in the hotel’s NABERS rating from zero stars to three stars and a 32 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.
City of Melbourne helps hotels reduce footprints
City of Melbourne’s Savings in the City pilot program engaged the hotel sector, with 30 hotels and serviced apartments participating. Council’s sustainability research showed that hotels can save on average 4.8 litres of waste per guest per night, or 2410 tonnes annually. The total saving for two years, across the 30 hotels, was 628 truckloads of waste.
In terms of water, hotels can achieve an average reduction in water use of 15.3 litres per guest per night, equivalent to 25.4 Olympic swimming pools. Over the duration of the program, participating hotels saved the equivalent of 45 Olympic swimming pools.
On the energy front, total energy saved by the 30 hotels over the term of the pilot program equated to 24,769 tonnes of greenhouse gas or 2890 households.
Hotel chain Best Western is using a rating and accreditation tool, Eco-Friendly STAR, to promote the sustainability achievements of some of its hotels. The standards for the tool were developed in a partnership between AAA Tourism and EarthCheck under the guidance of the former Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre, a federal government initiative.
To be awarded Eco-Friendly STAR Accreditation hotels and motels need to meet a number of minimum requirements. These include energy-efficient lighting, water-saving shower heads and toilet flush systems, no-change options for towels and linen, no leaks in any plumbing systems and a paper recycling program in place.
Accor aims high and wide
Accor operates more than 630 hotels across the Asia Pacific region. It launched a sustainable development program, Planet 21, in April 2012.
The group’s 200 Australian hotels had achieved some significant sustainability gains by 2014, including 99 per cent switching to eco-friendly cleaning products and 93 per cent achieving Planet 21 Bronze status through fulfilling at least 10 specific actions across environmental, social and community investment.
The specifics of these actions included a commitment to plant more than 50,000 trees over five years in partnership with Greening Australia and raising over $1 million for Mission Australia.
In terms of operational efficiencies, between 2013 and 2014 the group’s Australian hotels reduced combined water use by 4.64 per cent and energy use by 3.6 per cent.
Accor’s Pullman, Novotel and ibis at Sydney Olympic Park have installed solar water heating systems, and Novotel Sydney Olympic Park has also installed nearly 300 rooftop solar panels for electricity generation.
“Accor is proud of its commitment to Planet 21 and strives to minimise its environmental footprint while maximising its corporate social responsibilities across all levels of hotel operations, and we are committed to hitting ambitious targets in 2015,” Simon McGrath, chief operating officer for Accor Pacific says.
Other initiatives the group has implemented across its operations include offering business-to-business clients a Carbon Optimiser service to reduce the footprint of meetings and conventions. The online tool calculates the carbon footprint of a convention based on the number of participants, the length of their stay and their catering choices. The client receives the carbon assessment together with an invitation to participate in the hotel group’s reforestation projects.
In 2014 the group’s asset management division also announced a commitment to sustainable construction with energy and performance standards including the US Green Building Council’s LEED, the UK GBC’s BREEAM and the French High Quality Environment standard HQE for all new owned hotels built as of 2015.
To date, new buildings have been certified in five countries, including Mercure Kraków City Center, the first BREEAM-certified hotel in Poland, due to open next year.
EarthCheck general manager sustainability, Marco Sepulveda, outlines the energy and water picture for the average hotel, and where the easy gains can be made:
On average, hotel energy consumption patterns are reflected as follows:
Critical steps operating properties can implement to be more efficient are:
- Metering and sub-metering of the largest consumers of energy (chillers, boilers, pumps, ventilation, and refrigeration systems)
- Integration of sensors which automate lighting and temperature controls
- Ensuring all equipment purchased or replaced is efficient. There are several rating schemes in Australia which provide an easy way to filter energy efficient appliances.
Water is a key area where hotels can improve their resource efficiency. On average, hotel water consumption patterns are reflected as follows:
Critical steps which operating properties can implement to be more water efficient include:
- Metering and sub-metering water consumption
- Ensuring all equipment purchased or replaced is water efficient using the Australian WELS water efficiency rating scheme
- Education of staff and guests to promote water conservation through innovative incentive programs
- Integration of sensors which automate irrigation with optimal external conditions to avoid losses through evaporation
According to EarthCheck’s vice president for relationship management Melinda Watt members need to meet criteria grouped into six key steps.
These include the development of a sustainability and environmental policy, and benchmarking of their environmental and social performance in the areas of energy, water, waste, community, paper, pesticides and cleaning products.
They also need to implement, maintain and monitor a long term sustainability approach, address their environmental and social performance as well as communicating their environmental and social commitment, goals and objectives to all key stakeholders. The compliance with the criteria is then verified by an independent, third party auditor during annual audits before certification is awarded.
“Some of the sustainability initiatives our members implement to improve their environmental performance range from more common measures such as installing LED lights, low flow taps and showers and dual flush toilets, to educational programs for visitors on cultural/social/environmental issues to create awareness and promote considerate behaviour,” Watt says.
“Some of the more innovative initiatives include settlement of bees on hotel roof tops to create habitat and produce local honey which is then served in the hotel’s restaurant/bar.”
The science and reporting used is aligned with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 14064 range of standards for greenhouse gas accounting.
EarthCheck’s Stewart Moore says the organisation’s research demonstrates that the advantages of its platform include “improved management control and reporting processes, a reduction in overheads and returns to the top line through efficiency gains as management adopt more well defined and documented operational procedures and processes.
“It is true that ‘What gets measured gets managed'”, he says with more than 1000 hotel properties using the system showing that data benchmarking and continued membership yields financial benefits.
The data shows, he says, that members are achieving savings averaging tens of thousands of dollars annually through efficiencies in the areas of energy, water and waste.