Annual Sustainability Roundtable Wraps Up at Cornell University's Hotel School

10/31/2011 By Glenn Hasek

ITHACA, N.Y.—Thirty industry leaders in sustainability and a smaller group of Cornell University students met last week in Ithaca, N.Y. for Cornell University’s annual Sustainability Roundtable. The event featured six sessions covering different aspects of sustainability. Eric Ricaurte, principal, Greenview, moderated the day-long event.

David Jerome, senior vice president Corporate Responsibility for InterContinental Hotels Group, led off the Roundtable by moderating a session entitled, “Managing Sustainability Across a Global Platform.”

“Sustainability is new and people are going to make a lot of mistakes,” Jerome said. “Owners don’t live in this space every day. A lot of our general managers have not connected that being green is being efficient. With owners you have to talk about making money.”

Jerome said that the three myths of sustainability is that it is expensive, that guests don’t care about it, and that there is plenty of time to wait before doing anything.

Software Solutions Needed

In regard to large companies and tracking progress, Faith Taylor, vice president Sustainability and Innovation, Wyndham Worldwide, said, “Country to country, state to state, you need some type of software solution.” Wyndham, which recently ranked among the top 10 percent in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Global 500 Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index, has developed an eco-software tool to evaluate the company’s green efforts across its large portfolio.

How does a company get its employees to buy in to sustainability? “You have to find the things that matter to employees—creating less waste or participating in something like the Clean the World program,” says Jennifer Bauchner, director Rooms Operations & Sustainability for North America, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

What about guests and what they care about? “Guests don’t really care that we are saving so much but they want to stay at hotels that have a purpose,” Bauchner adds.

Denise Naguib, corporate senior director Sustainability for Marriott International, said the most challenging countries for Marriott to make sustainability progress in are China, India and Brazil. “What we may believe is available or accessible in another country may not be the case.” Recycling was cited as one green practice that is not easy in every country.

Focus on Carbon Measurement

It was recently announced that industry leaders have been working with the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) on an initiative to unite hotel industry efforts to calculate and communicate carbon impact by agreeing on a standardized methodology and metrics. This was the focus of a session entitled, “Standardizing the Measurement of Environmental Footprints from Hotel Stays.” Paul Hildreth, director, Engineering & Facilities Management, Global Operations Services, Marriott International, moderated this session.

“There is not a common accepted standard for carbon measurement,” Hildreth said. “Do you measure by available room? Occupied room? Room sold?”

Roundtable participants mentioned “room sold” as a more accepted measurement. Hildreth added, however, that one of the challenges in hotels is that utility bills do not always come every month. One may have to wait six months for a water bill.

“There are already standards out there for reporting carbon,” Ricaurte said. “What is different is product level footprint—a hotel night or meeting.”

Katarina Tesarova, executive director, Sustainability, Las Vegas Sands Corp., said a challenge in measuring carbon impact in her company is the retail aspects of the resorts. Visitors may come to the facility but not stay overnight. How do you measure the impact of their presence?

What Should Come First

Dave Stipanuk, professor emeritus, Hospitality Facilities and Operations, Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, said that before the lodging industry comes to any kind of conclusion about how to measure carbon impact, it should come to an agreement on how square footage is measured in a hotel.

For any kind of carbon measurement system to be effective at the hotel level, submetering has to be pervasive. That is something that has not yet happened at most hotels. “There are great issues around metering,” Wyndham’s Taylor said.

Also yet to be determined is who will house the data that will be used in a carbon measurement system. Whoever does, says AJ Singh, associate professor, Michigan State University, will have to be trustworthy, reliable, and present no conflict of interest.

In a session entitled, “Sustainability and Customer Choices,” Howard Chong, Vanessa Choy and Rohit Verma presented the results of an analysis they conducted of J.D. Power and Associates consumer survey data from the last several years. Chong is assistant professor of Economics and Sustainability, Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Choy is a Master of Management in Hospitality student at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Rohit Verma is professor, executive director for The Center for Hospitality Research, Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

Seventy percent of guests participate in green programs, the presenters said. Conference, female and older guests tend to participate more. How can hoteliers get travelers to participate more in sustainability?

“You have to give an option until it becomes accepted,” Starwood’s Bauchner said.

“If you make participation mandatory, guest satisfaction is less,” added Michael Giebelhausen, assistant professor Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

Frustration Regarding Green Meeting Standards

Susan Robertson, president, ASAE Foundation & executive vice president, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, moderated a session entitled, “Hotel Sustainability in the Meetings and Events Sector.” During this session, the progress of the Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX)-led initiative to create standards for environmentally sustainable events was discussed. Several Roundtable participants expressed frustration with the Accommodations portion of the standards, saying that there are now far too many items (more than 1,000) on the list of what makes up green accommodations. The Accommodations section has not yet been completed and made available to meeting planners and others with a stake in green meetings.

Robertson emphasized that it is the job of industry leaders such as those at the Roundtable to educate meeting planners so that they are asking the right questions about sustainable meetings.

“Some of the things we were talking about today are not digestible to meeting planners,” Robertson said.

The date and location for next year’s Sustainability Roundtable has not yet been announced. 

Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.


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