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How an Outside Consultant Can Help You Green Your Hotel

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During the past several years, we have all witnessed the incredible growth of green building projects. At times, it seems that that the number of buildings establishing green initiatives is expanding almost exponentially. Building owners and developers are seeing that introducing green practices not only results in a positive environmental impact but also cost savings and marketing advantages.

Certainly the hospitality industry—looking to attract the growing legion of guests and green meeting planners that care deeply about energy reduction, a healthy indoor environment and sustainability principles in general—has joined the surge to achieve the greenest possible profile.

The purpose of this column is to demonstrate how one mid-sized hotel without a large staff—the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown in Michigan—was able to achieve its green goals through the cost-effective use of an outside consultant.

The three-star hotel, with 175 rooms on eight floors, is a member of the Green Hotel Association and has achieved Leader Certification from the Michigan Green Lodging Association, the highest level of environmental recognition available to hotels in the state.

General Manager Had Little Extra Time

Formerly the Days Hotel and relaunched as a Holiday Inn in December 2009, the hotel approached our company in November 2007 with the request to help make the property greener.  From the outset, it was clear that even though general manager Ellen Markel was passionate about making green policies a center piece for the mid-sized hotel, she was knee-deep in management duties enough for three people, had no dedicated in-house support team for green initiatives, and needed an outside agency to help achieve her green goals.

First and foremost behind all the green initiatives at the Holiday Inn are the hotel owners, who are thoroughly committed to environmental sustainability, and Markel’s unwavering focus on energy efficiency and recycling. Markel has also integrated the hotel’s green strategy into everyone’s job, requiring each department to come up with a new, green initiative every quarter.

The role of the outside consultant at any hotel is to act as the hotel’s dedicated green team and to help it become greener. It should create detailed reports, track energy usage quarterly and provide statistics on how much and where the hotel uses energy and water, and then compares that to previous quarters. Tracking utility consumption since 2008, the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids’ consultant now has several years of data on file and is able to provide critical analyses about the hotel’s progress and associated savings.

Overall, the consultant should track the areas of green room sales, electricity, gas, water, waste and public relations. For example, analysis for the third quarter of 2010 showed that total sustainability measures implemented at the Holiday Inn generated $14,110 in value, which was a $554.07 increase over the previous quarter. In addition, the Holiday Inn used less electricity and gas in Q3 of 2010 than in Q3 of 2009, continuing a strong trend of decreasing utility consumption. The profit from sustainability-related room sales in 3Q 2010, at $8,683, was significantly higher than any previous quarter in 2009 or 2010. Cumulatively, sustainability savings for the hotel since tracking began in the fourth quarter of 2008 are at $44, 073.

Assisted With Marketing/P.R.

At the Holiday Inn, the consultant helped with the creation and marketing of sustainability events for the hotel, and wrote press releases about the events and other green initiatives. The Holiday Inn features at least one green event per month to benefit the community as part of its sustainability program.

Most recently, in January the hotel held a Christmas tree recycling event, where community members were encouraged to drop off their trees which would then be sent to a composting center, ground down and turned into soil. The hotel also held a “Lights Out Lunch” event at its Pearl Street Grill on Thursdays each week during the month of August, during which the restaurant served meals with no electric lighting to promote energy conservation.

Conference and event professionals, as well as guests, increasingly select a venue based on green factors, and accordingly the hotel is eager to make its green policies known to meeting planners.  The hotel’s consultant created the green meetings package brochure for outreach campaigns using the slogan: “You book the meeting. We’ll save the environment.”

While a major component of green practices is energy savings and increased revenue, profitability, while important, is not the hotel’s sole motivation. The hotel has organized several green community events that were never intended to be money-makers. Hotel ownership and management truly care about being green for the sake of the environment which is readily felt by customers. The overarching theme of customer and community service is a commitment to being a contributing member of a sustainable community.

Strong TripAdvisor Numbers

For its efforts, the Holiday Inn is recognized as the leading green hotel in the area. One indicator of success is that more than 90 percent of TripAdvisor reviewers recommend the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown, a phenomenal statistic since many AAA five star rated hotels receive only 80 percent approval on the travel website.

From this representative case study, you can begin to see how a mid-sized hotel without a large staff can achieve its green goals through the cost-effective use of an outside consultant. Since making a formal commitment to environmental consciousness in 2007, the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown has successfully implemented sustainable programs that touch all areas of its operations, with positive effects that are quantifiable. With minimal in-house resources and a large dose of passion for environmental sustainability initiatives, the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown has consistently achieved cost savings from waste, energy and water use reduction, and has increased its conference and room revenues through green branding.

Darren Johnston is principal and co-founder of Boulder, Colo.-based UHG Consulting, a full service sustainability consulting firm specializing in design, administration and support of sustainability initiatives ranging from waste reduction to LEED certification. UHG recently helped the Colorado Convention Center obtain LEED certification, making it the largest facility in Colorado to earn the distinction from USGBC. UHG’s services include LEED consulting, property audits, energy audits, waste audits, project management, and green building. Johnston can be reached at djohnston@uhgconsulting.com. Patty Breech is a LEED Accredited Professional with experience in sustainability projects serving the hospitality, customer service and nonprofit industries.

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