NORWALK, CONN.—HEI Hotels & Resorts being recognized as an Energy Star Partner of the Year for the fourth consecutive year should come as no surprise to those who follow the Norwalk, Conn.-based company. HEI has been relentless and methodical about weeding out energy, water and waste inefficiencies for years and that dedication is reflected in the 34 hotels that it owns and manages and the nine properties that it just manages. Since 2005, HEI has spent $12 million on energy conservation projects and is currently participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge. As part of that program, HEI has committed to reduce energy consumption at all of its properties by 20 percent by 2020 (baseline year 2008).
According to Bob Holesko, vice president of facilities for HEI, Environment is the “E” in HEI’s CARE program. The “C” stands for Community, the “A” stands for Associates, and the “R” stands for Relationships. HEI’s balanced business approach has led to numerous stellar achievements in areas of environment, safety, and employee wellness and made it a magnet for participation in programs such as the Better Buildings Challenge.
Within HEI’s portfolio are Hilton, Marriott and Starwood properties. Each of those companies has set its own aggressive energy reduction goals. While those goals have certainly pushed HEI, it is the company’s own strategy that has led to its success (three HEI hotels are already Energy Star rated and one—the W Hollywood—has earned LEED certification).
Certain Upgrades Standard in First Two Years
Holesko says that within the first two years of a hotel being owned and/or managed by HEI, an energy survey is done, lighting is upgraded inside and outside of a property, and kitchen exhaust hoods are switched over to ones that automatically adjust the speed of the fan by measuring the temperature, steam and smoke in the hood.
“Everybody gets programmable thermostats,” says Holesko, adding that the thermostats are part of a larger sensor-based energy management system. “We do a survey of the larger motors and everybody gets VFDs (variable frequency drives).”
Larger hotels may get a new chiller and undergo a retrocommissioning survey. Seventeen HEI hotels have gotten retrocommissioning surveys. Holesko says HEI’s ROI “sweet spot” is three years on capital investments.
Once the capital investments are made, HEI starts shifting the operational culture of a property—training employees to turn off the lights, for example. The chief engineer is the energy champion at each hotel and participates as part of a “Fab Four” along with the executive chef, executive housekeeper, and banquet manager. Managers are incentivized and awarded for their green accomplishments and try to have fun in the process.
“One Halloween I painted myself green and I was ‘Buzz’ the energy bee,” Holesko says.
Last summer, HEI chairman Gary Mendell announced the addition of a corporate social responsibility initiative to the company’s Managers-In-Training Program. As part of the comprehensive training program, the managers-in-training must complete a project focusing on one of the key areas of HEI’s corporate social responsibility platform—the environment being one of the key areas.
Through the Energy Looking Glass
Unique to HEI is its custom energy monitoring dashboard called the Energy Looking Glass. It takes into account electricity, water and gas consumption, as well as factors such as weather, capital projects, and occupancy to determine how a hotel is doing on a daily basis in terms of environmental performance.
“It has been working phenomenal since we rolled it out in 2009,” Holesko says. “Ours is unique because we tailor ours to occupancy.”
HEI also has an Energy Set-Point program which defines optimum settings for key systems (domestic hot water, chilled water, etc.). This was introduced to make sure all of the chief engineers keep set points at comfortable, yet efficient levels.
Two years ago, HEI launched a new waste initiative—a dumpster awareness program. Recycling rates have increased and dumpsters are now only picked up when they need to be picked up. At one hotel, the Boca Raton Marriott at Boca Center (Fla.), dumpster-related costs have been reduced by 35 percent. To encourage recycling, HEI developed a “Reese Cycle” bee image that now appears on signage in back-of-house areas at its hotels.
Moving forward in 2013, HEI will continue with its Energy Looking Glass and Energy Set-Point programs and will invest $1.5 million in capital improvements. “We want to stay ahead of our brands,” says Holesko, adding at some HEI hotel locations, the 2020 goal of reducing energy consumption by 20 percent already has been accomplished.
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Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.