AUSTIN, TEXAS—Hotel owners and operators just beginning to consider green practices should investigate the Habitat Suites Hotel, one of the lodging industry’s leading advocates of sustainable business practices. The 96-suite hotel has reduced its operating expenses by 18 percent as a result of it comprehensive environmental program.
The property has come a long way since it first opened its doors in May 1985. The hotel was not designed or built with ecological considerations in mind. In 1991, it became a charter member of the Green Hotels Assn., making its commitment to sustainable management official. Fifteen years later, evidence of the hotel’s practices can be found in its “Environmental Practices Handbook” which lists hundreds of ways the hotel’s staff works to save energy and money.
One of the most ambitious projects undertaken so far at the 96-suite property has been the installation of a solar array. Installed in May 2005, the 108 panels produce 18 kilowatts of power. Funded with the help of an $85,000 grant from the city of Austin, the system cost $125,000. The return on the investment has been fast for the hotel. Natalie Marquis, general manager, says the system saves them $4,000 a month. On sunny days the array even generates more power than the hotel needs.
“It is fun to watch our electricity meter run backwards,” she says.
Marquis says the hotel currently is pursuing the purchase of a solar water heating system. When operable, the system will reduce the hotel’s reliance on natural gas for heating.
The Habitat Suites Hotel has been an industry leader in finding every possible way to save energy and provide an environmentally friendly environment for its staff and guests. In reaction to concern about the impact of toxic cleaning products, especially on housekeepers and those guests with chemical sensitivities, the hotel now uses a natural cleaning product that includes orange oil. The hotel works with a local company to supply the cleaning product. It is delivered in reusable five-gallon buckets.
“It cleans just as well and it does not cause skin or other irritations,” Marquis says. “There is no residue after the cleaning is done.”
Areas addressed by the hotel’s sustainability program include air quality, land use, energy efficiency, waste reduction and management, recycling, resource conservation, water quality and conservation, human health, and public education. Among the hotel’s initiatives:
• All suites and the Guesthouse are smoke free.
• No chemical pesticides, aerosol products or Styrofoam are used.
• Housekeeping uses negative ion generators to clear dust and odors from air.
• Live potted plants in each suite and abundant trees on the property keep air healthier.
• “Weeds” that provide natural plant “medicines” for other plants are purposely kept.
• Windows that receive direct sun are tinted.
• Motion and occupancy sensors have been installed.
• Reflectors above fluorescent lights focus the light in desired areas without increasing bulb wattage.
• A “vending miser” was installed on the soft drink machine. The machine only comes on when a person is in front of the machine.
• Toilet paper rolls are “coreless.” This eliminates the cardboard centers.
• The hotel serves no fried foods, eliminating the need to send oil residue to a landfill.
Some of the hotel’s specific savings include:
• The addition of 108 solar photovoltaic cells reduces carbon dioxide by 38,000 pounds per year.
• Motion and occupancy sensors save 31,250 kilowatts annually.
• Compact fluorescents save 81,555 kilowatts each year.
• Trash has been reduced by 30 percent.
• The waterless urinal saves 50,000 gallons of water annually.
• Low-flow faucet aerators save more than 1 million gallons of water each year.
In addition to the many environment-related benefits, the Habitat Suites Hotel also is benefiting from a marketing and public relations standpoint. In 2005, it received the Green Business Leadership Award from Co-op America’s Business Network at the third annual Green Business Conference. The hotel is also attracting guests who have heard about the hotel’s green initiatives.
“More and more of our leisure business is from people who choose us because of our programs,” Marquis says.
For more information on the Habitat Suites Hotel’s green programs, contact Natalie Marquis at email@example.com.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.