WASHINGTON, D.C.—In one effort to gain better understanding of building energy efficiency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is searching for a more granular level of building data from the multi-billion dollar hotel industry.
Based on data collected from a nationwide survey of buildings (the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey—CBECS), the EPA developed its 1 to 100 Energy Star scoring system to benchmark hotels, motels, and other lodging facilities on their energy efficiency, and hotels want honors-level grades. But the industry has grown significantly—2014 marked the fifth consecutive year that hotels and lodging added new jobs to the economy, bringing in $176 billion in sales revenue, according to data from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA). With that growth, the variables for characterizing building energy efficiency are changing as hotels make upgrades to differentiate, attract new customers, and keep old customers.
To address those changes, the EPA has partnered with the AH&LA’s Sustainability Committee to overhaul the methodology for the hotel scoring system. In addition to one year of energy consumption data, the Energy Star energy tracking software system, called Portfolio Manager, asks for hotel or lodging facility building and operational information. Data points include building square footage, the number of guestrooms and workers per 1,000 feet, heating and cooling data, and whether cooking facilities exist on site—a crucial detail that can negatively affect larger full service hotels in their points for energy and water consumption.
At the same time, many full service hotels go to lengths to counteract that type of consumption with other eco-friendly policies such as LED lighting and using occupancy sensors to automatically reduce energy use.
Flawed Points System
“The underlying problem is that with the current Energy Star scoring system, there’s been an absence of certain data points in the CBECS survey that might not provide enough distinction between full service and limited service hotels,” said Zack Moore, Senior Vice President of Customer Solutions and Co-founder at SOL VISTA. “That can lead to skewed results, where you’re not getting a full picture of the hotels and their true efficiencies. Basically, it could give hotels like a Courtyard Marriott or Motel 6 a better rating than it would give a Westin or a JW, or a hotel that has more full service operations for guests.”
In July, the EPA and AH&LA launched a survey to help analyze the variables between hotels with different levels of service. The survey results will help inform the EPA’s Energy Star scoring algorithms about potential changes that might provide a more complete picture of hospitality service levels.
“It’s going to help us ensure that the new Energy Star score for hotels is equitable across all segments of hospitality,” said Clark Reed, National Program Manager for Energy Star commercial buildings. “For example, the current CBECS survey characterizes laundry on site in a binary way, with just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ options. The AH&LA survey goes into the specific quantities; how much laundry is done on site. It’s much more hotel-specific, and what we’ll be able to do is see if the changes to our rating system will be able to account for those broad segments of the hotel industry, whether they are economy hotels, luxury hotels, or resorts.”
In addition, 16 local governments currently require energy benchmarking, and more are expected as the United States increasingly sets energy goals from state to federal levels, such as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Legislators in Portland, Ore. are currently debating whether disclosing building energy use should be voluntary or mandatory, and the city of Denver recently set a goal to reduce city buildings’ energy use by 20 percent by 2020.
Four Seasons Hotel Denver Example
Many lodging facilities have independently begun implementing systems to provide data for these mandates, and to save energy and lower utility costs. But these changes aren’t affecting Energy Star scores enough to earn many hotels the certification that some believe they deserve. Clayton Allen, Chief Engineer at the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver listed some of the hotel’s amenities that use a lot of energy: two full-time kitchens, an on-site 24-hour laundry facility, and a heated outdoor pool.
“When it asks how many hotel rooms we have; well, we only have 239 rooms. But lots of those are two bedroom suites with high end appliances,” Allen said.
Allen, who began working on the hotel’s energy efficiency with an energy audit when he took the job in 2013, said basic equipment upgrades can make a huge difference in energy use.
“Within the first three months of working here, I realized the building was wasting $1 million a year in energy costs,” Allen said.
The improvements he was able to implement—preventive maintenance for energy consumption is generally not at the top of the priority list for new budget items—boosted the hotel’s Energy Star score up 13 points, but that wasn’t enough to earn it the sought-after Energy Star certification, which requires a minimum score of 75. In July, the Denver Four Seasons’ Energy Star score was 54 out of 100 possible points, still 21 points fewer than needed for the certification.
Make Room for Luxury
“It’s different when your business is wrapped around customer service,” Allen said. “We’ll wash and press your shirts and have them back in your room within a few hours, because service is what we’re providing. I’d love to see Energy Star become more comparable for luxury brand hospitality.”
More than 400,000 buildings already use the EPA’s Energy Star scoring system to track their energy performance. If you would like to participate in the EPA/AH&LA survey to have your hotel’s benchmarking better represented by Portfolio Manager, you can find submission directions here: http://ahla.com/energysurvey/.
“The survey is going to augment the characterization of full service and limited service hotels, and the information we get from it will help us make sure that they are accurately portrayed in the updates to the Energy Star scores,” Reed said.
About the Author & SOL VISTA
April Nowicki is an independent writer, editor and investigative journalist. SOL VISTA helps hotels quickly and continuously reduce utility expenses through a unique combination of on-site services and its performance data analytics platform, Skywalk. The on-site services leverage Skywalk, the company’s SaaS platform, to transform energy and water data into results that significantly reduce utility consumption and supply costs. At more than 200 hotels, including many well-known brands and properties, SOL VISTA has successfully delivered actual utility cost savings of 20 to 50 percent.