Home Guest Columns The Green Hotel Revolution

The Green Hotel Revolution

Dan Ruben

In 2005, I co-founded Boston Green Tourism, to help Boston hotels reduce energy and water use, enhance indoor air quality and improve waste management. I didn’t realize then that our job would become easier, because the hotel sector was on the cusp of a green revolution.

The scope of recently introduced, environmentally-smart innovation is astounding.

Here are some of the green products and practices that have emerged or flowered in the last 13 years. Which ones have your hotel incorporated?

Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Since 2005, LED lighting was introduced, and it now dominates the hotel lighting market.

Today’s building management systems and guestroom energy management systems would be unrecognizable in 2005. They now have highly advanced sensors and analytic capabilities that enable facility managers to control HVAC and lighting, and detect equipment problems. We’re still in an early stage of the smart building revolution.

Motors are much more energy efficient now, because of the widespread use of EC motors and variable speed drives. Heat transfer technology, like energy recovery ventilation, is deployed more often, too. So is combined heat and power (CHP) technology which sharply reduces the energy needed to provide space heat and hot water.

Almost all energy-consuming equipment is far more efficient than it was in 2005. Boilers, chillers, elevators and refrigerators are a few examples. Ventilation technology has greatly improved, saving energy and improving comfort. New ventilation controls promise much greater savings in the coming years.

Today, many hotels purchase electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Others buy carbon offsets or encourage their guests to do so. More than a few hotels generate their own solar power.

Electric utility demand charges have become a prominent component of many hotel bills, prompting some properties to shave their electricity use during periods of peak demand. For example, hotels in several states charge powerful batteries when electricity is cheap and release the power from them when electricity use is peaking. This practice will soon be widespread.

Water Efficiency

Low flow water fixtures are now ubiquitous, thanks to improved technology and water conservation regulations.

New laundry equipment and dishwashers have dramatically cut hotel water use.

Liquid pool covers now reduce evaporation losses from swimming pools.

Waste Management

In 2005, high-end hotels shunned recycling bins, because they were unattractive. Today, elegant recycling bins are placed in the fanciest properties.

Refillable amenity dispensers are now attractive, too, and have gained a significant foothold. And, it’s now common to recycle or donate unused amenities.

The food waste reduction movement blossomed several years ago. Hotel chefs use new and effective techniques to identify food products that are over-purchased and under-consumed.

This year, citizen and government concern about single-use plastics has reached a tipping point. Hotel chains have responded with plans to reduce or eliminate them.

In recent years, five U.S. states and several big cities have enacted food waste recycling laws. Hotels comply with them by diverting their food waste to compost or anaerobic digestion facilities or by bio-digesting it.

This year, citizen and government concern about single-use plastics has reached a tipping point. Hotel chains have responded with plans to reduce or eliminate them.

Many hotels now have elaborate donation programs that provide furniture, clothing, linens and food to needy people.

Today, it’s more common for hotels to plan their renovations to assure that construction and demolition goods get reused or recycled.

Toxics Use Reduction

In 2005, the indoor hotel environment was less healthy than it is today. Now, green cleaning products and equipment are common. Hotels offer allergy-friendly rooms.

Integrated pest management practices have reduced pesticide use. Hotels can now control bed bugs with non-toxic methods.

Today, new furniture and other building products off-gas less than they did in 2005.

Products containing mercury, like old thermostats and fluorescent bulbs, are on the way out.


Over 1 million electric vehicles have been sold in the United States, and hotels have installed charging stations to accommodate them.

Hotel guests have greater access to bicycles, thanks to bike-sharing and bike rental programs.


In response to popular demand, hotels now offer more locally-grown and harvested food, and vegetarian and vegan dishes. Some hotel chefs put sustainable seafood on the menu, too.

In 2005, who predicted that hotels would house beehives?


Stronger storms, sea level rise and extreme wildfires have increased property damage worldwide. There’s now a growing recognition that hotels must do more to protect their properties and help communities respond to weather emergencies.

Of course, the green hotel revolution won’t end in 2018. It will continue to be spurred by economics, advances in technology and the urgent need to address climate change. I have no doubt that we’ll soon see “net zero” hotels—properties that don’t use fossil fuel at all.

How will you participate in the green hotel revolution?

Dan Ruben is the Director of Boston Green Tourism. He has organized over 100 green hotel workshops in Boston and throughout the United States. In 2019, he will introduce a course for professionals and students called How to Green Your Hotel. It will be available both in-person and online. In 2008, Boston Green Tourism received an Environmental Merit Award from the EPA. In 2014, Dan was named the Sustainable Lodging “Person of the Year.”