Gaylord Entertainment “GETs” the Sustainability/Smart Business Connection

5/6/2011 By Glenn Hasek

It was almost exactly a year ago that the Cumberland River’s waters knocked on the doors of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville and “Tennessee Waltzed” right in. That flooding closed down the almost 2,900-room hotel until this past November. A total of $270 million was spent on the landmark property’s renovation. Just a few weeks before the flood, Andy Mims was hired as Gaylord Entertainment’s vice president of sustainability. Mims was charged with formalizing Gaylord’s sustainability initiatives—a long list of green steps now known officially as GET Green (GET is Gaylord Entertainment’s ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange). “Unfortunately, the flood slowed down our [GET Green] launch,” Mims says.

After things began to settle down after the flood, Mims got to work prioritizing Gaylord’s sustainability goals. A greenhouse gas inventory was taken, energy audits were completed and by the end of 2010 energy conservation goals were established. Just a few weeks ago, on Earth Day, Gaylord Entertainment officially launched GET Green and revealed its goal of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per square foot by 20 percent by 2015. (See related article.) The goal applies to not only the Opryland in Nashville but to the other Gaylord properties that Mims oversees.

Operational changes and capital investments have resulted in significant progress being made toward reaching the 2015 goal. Gaylord STARs—the company’s employees—are trained from day one to do the little things that add up to big savings: turning lights and exhaust hoods off, making sure vacant rooms are not cooled too much, honoring guest requests not to wash towels and linens, etc.

Cogeneration Plant Up & Running

During the flood at the Opryland Resort, the facility’s natural gas powered cogeneration plant was disabled. It has since been rebuilt. It now supplies 35 percent of the property’s electricity. One hundred percent of waste heat from the system is used to generate steam that heats water. After the flood the laundry facility at Opryland was also rebuilt. Water is now recycled and heat is captured for reuse.

“The dryers now know when to shut off based on moisture in the exhaust,” Mims says. “Standard tunnel washers use three to four gallons of water per pound washed. We are at .6 gallons per pound. We are also using EPA approved detergents. We don’t use bleaches.” At a resort where up to 20 tons of laundry is washed and dried each day, those steps are significant.

In a typical hotel, most heating and cooling takes place in the guestrooms. At Gaylord’s four large hotels, however, only 15 percent of total energy consumption is in guestrooms. Those familiar with Gaylord properties know they all have mammoth atria and meeting spaces. Mims says building management systems are in place at all properties to help control heating and cooling. “[At Opryland], we just replaced three chillers and put in a chiller management system,” he says. Gaylord aims to maintain a 72 degree temperature in each atrium. That can be a challenge in the summer months. Mims says that shades and window films are currently being studied.

Waste Reduction Plan Coming

For guestrooms, different guestroom energy management systems are being tested. Compact fluorescents are already in every guestroom and LED lighting is used in public spaces and meeting areas. While energy conservation is priority No. 1, Mims says by the end of this year a waste reduction plan will be announced.

“We do a fantastic job with cardboard recycling,” he says. “We are looking into new solutions for organic waste. Some properties are doing a fantastic job recycling plastics. We are in the middle of doing waste audits. We think we can make a significant impact on waste.”

Mims says Gaylord Entertainment is already doing a great job recycling water and minimizing water consumption. “When we have had the opportunity to renovate, we have put in low flow fixtures,” he says. “At the Gaylord Texan, we have started incorporating xeriscaping. We also use smart irrigation systems.”

Commitment to LEED

Gaylord Entertainment is working on formalizing its green meetings program and has also made a commitment to pursue LEED certification for all future developments, including major additions and new builds.

To keep the GET Green momentum going, contests are held to generate ideas from STARs, and department heads talk about GET Green on a regular basis. “At all of our properties we have dedicated green teams,” Mims says. “The teams include senior leaders at the properties. We meet with them at least once a month and in person once a quarter. We make sure every department is represented.”      
 
“Our goal is for this to be part of our culture,” Mims emphasizes.

It is exciting to see a company as prominent as Gaylord Entertainment so excited and passionate about sustainability. I am looking forward to learning more about their initiatives in the coming months.

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