Investigate Incentives Before Making Green Investments

by Glenn Hasek November 30, 2010 08:11

Nobody likes to pay full price when it comes to renewable energy projects or energy efficiency initiatives. Oftentimes, developers do not have to pick up the entire tab thanks to rebates or other incentives offered by local, state and national governments, utilities or nonprofit organizations. Being able to take advantage of an incentive can mean the difference between a project getting done or not done. Before investing in any form of renewable energy--solar, wind, etc.--or any technology that results in greater energy efficiency for your property, be sure to check out the DSIRE website. I have written about the site before and it is a great resource to find available incentives. DSIRE recently updated its site with additional programs.

The DSIRE home page features a U.S. map for easy access to incentives and policies available in each state. Clicking a state or territory provides a list of available incentives and policies in that state, organized into two categories: (1) Financial Incentives and (2) Rules, Regulations & Policies. The Search tool on the DSIRE home page allows users to search all incentives and policies by state, incentive type, technology type, implementing sector and/or eligible sector. Searching by any of these criteria provides a comprehensive list of applicable incentives and policies, with links to each program summary. To view or print all summaries, click "See All Summaries" at the top of the page.

DSIRE tracks relevant incentives and policies for all investor-owned utilities in the United States. However, because there are thousands of electric cooperatives and municipal utilities across the country, DSIRE's scope is generally limited to incentives and policies established by electric cooperatives and municipal utilities with more than 30,000 customers. (If your utility is relatively small, contact the utility directly to find out if incentives are available.)

To find out which incentives and policies have been added or updated during the past two months, click What's New? on the DSIRE home page.

Have you taken advantage of an incentive such as a rebate or tax credit to get a project done? I would love to learn about it. Leave your comment here. 

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Looking for Lies in the Most Polished Press Releases

by Glenn Hasek November 18, 2010 04:36

One of my biggest challenges as editor of Green Lodging News is determining whether or not a statement in a press release is an exaggeration (greenwash) or outright lie. Sometimes it is not easy to determine but it does get easier as I get older and more experienced. There are words and phrases to watch out for. I am always skeptical when a company says it is the "first" at anything or the "only" something. Really, did they do an exhaustive search to make sure they are indeed the first or only? Or, are they just trying to make themselves look as good as possible, hoping that an inexperienced editor will allow the exaggeration (lie) to slip through?

I often wonder whether or not it was the public relations writer or his or her client that insisted on the flowery language. On my watch, Green Lodging News will never allow a company to say it is the first or only at anything, unless the accomplishment is so obvious--the company is the first to open a megahotel entirely powered by wind, for example.

I recently received a press release from one of our industry's largest hotel companies--I will spare them the embarrassment--about their green certification accomplishment. In that release it was stated that the certifier of their hotels "is the first to rank, certify and inspect hotels based on their commitment to sustainable operations." Knowing what I know about green lodging certification, the statement is not true and the company did not even try to prove the statement. The release also stated, in regard to the certification program, "It is the only certification program that performs on-site inspections of certified properties...." Anyone knowing a thing or two about green lodging certification programs knows that a number of companies perform on-site inspections.

What would motivate such a well-known organization to stretch the truth (lie)? I wonder. In my mind the green lodging certifier has lost some credibility. This is not the first time I have caught one of our industry's leading green certification companies lying. My advice to anyone thinking about saying they are the first or only at doing something is to not do it--unless you are ready to prove it. Your thoughts?

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Bed Bugs a Hot Topic of Conversation at IHMRS

by Glenn Hasek November 16, 2010 05:21

I just returned from the annual International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show (IHMRS) in New York City. I managed to walk every aisle of the trade show floor--not an easy task given there was more than 800 exhibitors. The one trend that jumped out at me like a bed bug on steroids was, well, bed bugs. In all of my years attending IHMRS, I have never seen so many vendors selling mattress encasements, bed bug detection systems, and bed bug treatment solutions. Of course every company selling mattress encasements--a way to keep bed bugs in or out--said their product is superior in one way or another to those encasements sold by other companies.

As in past years, there was a company offering the use of its bed bug sniffing dogs as a means for detection and prevention. Will there come a day when hoteliers keep their own beagles on property to sniff out the little critters? Maybe not but dogs are a great pesticide free way of preventing bed bug infestations. One company displayed an innovative heat treatment system to kill bed bugs; another offered equipment that uses carbon dioxide to freeze insects to death.

I sympathize with hotel owners who are trying to figure out the best way to deal with bedbugs. Should they purchase their own equipment and train their own staff to deal with the bugs? Use outside experts? I have written about bed bugs a couple of times for Green Lodging News. What I learned is that their is no "one" solution for bed bugs. It takes a multi-prong strategy to deal with them and it is most challenging eliminating the pests without using pesticides.

It takes just a few seconds now to alert the world that your property has bed bugs. There is an even a website that lists problem hotels. The little monsters can do a lot of damage, even if there are just a few of them in just one of your guestrooms.

I will be writing about "natural," "nontoxic" ways of dealing with bed bugs again very soon. If you have had success using non-pesticide solutions, I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments here or write to editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

 

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Exploring the Potential of 'Green' Parking

by Glenn Hasek November 11, 2010 04:50

One of the more interesting green building topic areas that is not highlighted very often is parking. Yes, there are many hotels that give priority or even discounted or free parking to those who drive hybrids or electric vehicles. That is a nice gesture. Some hotels are installing electric-vehicle charging stations. That is smart, given the number of electric vehicles that are about to be introduced (Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, etc.). I recently wrote about a company researching the idea of using parking pavement as a source for heat to heat hot water. (See article.) And, of course there are developers that have built their parking garages underground to help minimize the urban heat island effect.

I recently learned about the new GreenPark Eco Garage, an automated parking facility in Chicago. While not connected to a hotel, it will incorporate building techniques and technologies that should interest any eco-conscious hotel developer. Created by VLF Development LLC, it is scheduled to open in July 2011 and is registered for LEED Gold certification. Green Park Eco Garage will use recycled construction materials, purchase electrical power from renewable energy sources and install energy efficient exterior lighting that avoids contributing to light pollution. A planted green roof will add to the sustainability of the site by collecting, filtering and slowly dissipating rainwater. Because it is fully automated, there is no need to heat, cool or light the building interior, except in the welcoming ground level receiving area. Emissions from cars have been completely eliminated, as cars are not driven to parking spaces. Instead, they are moved via a robotic system that uses only 125 amps of electricity with a natural gas backup generator. What a great idea.

In thinking about your current or future parking area, what can you do to reduce its environmental impact? In what ways can it help you spread your green message? I recently visited the Cleveland Airport Marriott. The executive chef there planted a quarter-acre garden along the hotel's parking lot. (See article.) I would love to learn about the creative, green ways you are approaching parking. Be sure to leave your comments. 

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New Ecolodge Book Represents Years of Research

by Glenn Hasek November 09, 2010 04:29

Would you take three years off from work to write a book? That is what Hitesh Mehta, founder and director of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based HM Design did to prepare for his "Authentic Ecolodges" book, released last week by Collins Design. In putting together his fascinating book, Mehta visited 44 ecolodges--ecolodges he knew to be among the best of the best in the world. Only 36 made the cut. They are located in countries ranging from China to Venezuela to Jordan. Mehta separates his book into 12 sections, with three ecolodges in each section. The first eight sections include: Sustainable Building Materials, Creative Design, Community Owned and Operated, Holistic Wellness Programs, Indigenous Construction Techniques, Biodiversity Conservation, Culinary experiences, and Innovative Technology.

The remaining four sections include: Art as Architecture, Interpretation Programs, Recycle and Reuse, and Unique Experiences. Mehta, an architect and environmental planner, also includes a section at the back of his book, "On the Drawing Boards," for ecolodges that are still in the planning stages.

In order to make his final list, ecolodges had to embody three main principles of ecotourism: 1) nature must be protected and conserved; 2) through community outreach and education programs, local community must benefit; and 3) interpretive programs must be offered to educate both tourists and employees about the surrounding natural and cultural environments. Ecolodges also had to satisfy at least two additional criteria from a list of eight. One, for example, is meeting energy needs through passive design and renewable resources.

Mehta’s book offers a colorful, fascinating look at ecolodge design. Each ecolodge profile includes photographs, illustrations and site plans and provides an overview of the ecolodge’s personality and features. Areas notably absent from the book are the United States and Europe—areas where Mehta says developers have “historically destroyed everything around them.” “Americans make the best ecotourists but not the best ecolodge developers,” he says.

Authentic Ecolodges is arguably the best book ever to come along about ecolodges. How many authors can say they visited every single destination they have written about? That is exactly what Mehta did. He must have a major case of jet lag.

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Gold Medal Winning CityCenter Pulls a Hamstring

by Glenn Hasek November 04, 2010 04:46

MGM Resorts International, 50 percent owner of the LEED certified CityCenter project in Las Vegas, announced its third quarter results yesterday. The company's operating loss for the quarter was $206 million. That is down from an operating loss of $963 million in the third quarter of 2009. In the company's press release announcing its third quarter results, Jim Murren, MGM Resorts International's chairman and CEO, said the following: "We continue to see the Las Vegas market stabilizing, Aria's operating performance is ramping up, and MGM Macau reported a record quarter. We have made significant progress on our financial position this year and have deployed several programs to better position our portfolio of resorts to benefit from a broader economic recovery going forward."

Aria is part of the $8.7 billion CityCenter project and had an occupancy rate of 82 percent and an average daily rate of $175 in the third quarter. Not too bad for Las Vegas. Aria, however, like Vdara, Crystals, and Mandarin Oriental--other business entities within CityCenter--experienced a significant operating loss. One has to wonder how the top executives of MGM Resorts International and Dubai World, both owners of CityCenter, sleep at night. According to an article this week in The Wall Street Journal, CityCenter's value has dropped from $5 billion a year ago to $2.4 billion today. Ouch. MGM Resorts International and Dubai World are in the process of negotiating terms on a $1.8 billion loan. If they cannot do that, CityCenter could be in default of the loan as early as mid-2011.

CityCenter, the largest privately funded construction project in the United States, may wear its LEED Gold medals like an Olympian but when it comes to making money it is like a 100 meter sprinter pulling both hamstrings in the biggest race of his life. Of course the timing could not have been worse for CityCenter but what the project is experiencing should be a lesson every hotel and resort developer should take to heart. No matter how environmentally friendly or progressive a project is, it has got to be positioned to make money and cover its debt--even in the worst of times. It will be interesting to see whether or not the award winning CityCenter will even survive.

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Use Words That Consumers Understand, Or Educate Them

by Glenn Hasek November 02, 2010 04:17

For those of us who delve into green lodging frequently, words such as "sustainability" or phrases such as "fair trade" or "carbon footprint" are easily understood. If you use "green" words or phrases such as these on your website or in your hotel however, you should not assume that your guests or employees understand what they all mean. You may even want to post definitions--a glossary. According to an online survey of 2,000 adults conducted by Mintel, 34 percent of respondents had never heard of the phrase "carbon footprint/emissions." Thirty-four percent did not know what "fair trade" means. (If you offer fair trade coffee or tea in your guestroom, do you leave anything nearby to explain why fair trade is a good thing?)

Forty percent of the study's respondents did not understand why supporting solar/wind energy usage is important. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they buy green or sustainable food and drink but many of those respondents were unaware what makes those items sustainable.

Whether or not someone appreciates or understands your green efforts and language will depend on many factors: level of education, age, and perhaps even country of origin. My advice is to educate simply, make reminders visible but not preachy, and be creative. For employees, certainly explain your green initiatives shortly after they are hired. For your guests and potential guests, do more than just explain what you are doing; explain why and make it easy to understand.

Your thoughts? What do you do for your guests and employees to help them understand your sustainability initiatives?

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About Me

Glenn Hasek is the publisher and editor of Green Lodging News. He has more than 20 years of experience writing about the lodging industry. He can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com or by phone at (813) 510-3868.