Home Green Hotel Focus Historic Willard InterContinental Hot in Pursuit of Sustainability

Historic Willard InterContinental Hot in Pursuit of Sustainability


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Led by general manager Herve Houdre, the Willard InterContinental Washington, just two blocks from the White House, is on the road to becoming one of the most environmentally friendly hotels in the United States.

To move the 334-room hotel toward sustainability, Houdre and his team of associates have initiated a plan called “Willard InterContinental—The Next 100 Years.” The plan emphasizes steps that encompass the triple bottom line of economic viability, social responsibility and environmental concern. Three teams have been put together to develop and carry out the plan’s programs. The teams include: Community and Suppliers; Customers and Employees; and Consumption, Waste, Energy and Emissions. Thirty associates participate in the committees.

“My goal is for the plan to be so ingrained that nobody will be able to stop it,” says Houdre, who also is regional vice president for the Northeast region for the InterContinental Hotels Group.

Houdre, who has a personal interest in sustainability issues, joined the Willard InterContinental in 2004 but did not begin pushing environmental programs until 2005. One of the first initiatives involved switching over incandescent light bulbs in public areas and guestrooms to compact fluorescents. It is a program that is saving the hotel approximately $100,000 in energy costs annually.

First Impressions Count

Houdre says he was hesitant to switch to compact fluorescents at first because he did not want to give guests at the luxury hotel the impression that the Willard was trying to cut costs.

“The trick is not to look like you are trying to save money,” Houdre says.

When Paul Hurst, director of facilities, found a bulb that looked like an incandescent, Houdre gave him the O.K. to make the switch. Now, bulbs that consume only five watts each churn out the light equivalent of 60-watt bulbs.

To reduce water consumption, waterless urinals were installed in public restroom facilities. These will save about 26,000 gallons of water per year. To save additional water and cleaning chemicals as well, the hotel began a towel and linen re-use program in May.

As part of a waste minimization program, associates at the Willard recycle cans, bottles, cardboard and other items. Several months ago, the hotel began a food waste recycling program. A local vendor hauls the waste for composting.

To identify areas for potential energy savings in the future, an energy audit was conducted. The audit helped Houdre see the need for a vestibule in the lobby entrance and new windows as well.

Willard associates are also taking a look at how to change over to green cleaning products in the hotel and are pursuing ISO 14001 certification and ISO 22000 certification. Both designations were established by the International Standards Organization.

An ISO 14001 environmental management system is meant to develop a systematic approach to the environmental concerns of an organization. The goal is continuous improvement in environmental management. ISO 22000 certification demonstrates an organization’s commitment to food safety.

Community Efforts Add Up

As part of the hotel’s commitment to social responsibility, volunteers from the Willard have participated in the cleanup of the Anacostia River and have adopted the Pershing Park across the street from the hotel. Teams of employees help clean the park and weed the garden.

After the tsunami in Indonesia, the hotel raised $25,000 for relief efforts. For Katrina victims, $14,000 was raised. Houdre says it is important to look at sustainability with a holistic, broad perspective. It is not just the environment and cutting costs that matters but social issues as well.

To help educate the property’s hotel and restaurant visitors about environmental responsibility, Houdre says his staff will create a conservation tips pamphlet for distribution. Approximately 200,000 visitors either stay at or visit the hotel each year—an opportunity to impact a lot of people, he says.

Houdre’s goal is to make the Willard a testing ground for other InterContinental hotels.

“There is a great opportunity for our entire company to make a difference,” he says.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at greenlodgingnews@aol.com.