Home Vendor News U.S. government Travel Planners Begin to Screen for Green Hotels

U.S. government Travel Planners Begin to Screen for Green Hotels

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Last November I wrote an article about the Hotel Association of Canada’s (HAC) Green Key Eco-Rating program for hotels. One of the most intriguing things I learned while writing that article was that the government of Canada had endorsed the program and is requiring many of its employees to stay at Green Key hotels. I just spoke with Tony Pollard, president of HAC, for an update article on Green Key and he stated that one of the primary reasons for Green Key’s success is the government participation and requirements.

Until last week, I had not read or heard about any U.S. government efforts to link its employees’ choice of hotels to whether or not the properties are green. In case you missed it, a reporter for The New York Times reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given its procurement staff a list of questions that, as of May 1, they must ask hotel and convention center personnel who are bidding for EPA business. What types of questions? They touch on recycling programs, energy efficiency, paperless billing and the reuse of linens and towels. The agency said it would consider the answers when it evaluates the bids.

If your hotel company intends to pursue government business in the future, you need to be aware of this shift in purchasing practices by the EPA. In the aforementioned article, Thomas A. O’Connell, an EPA procurement director who led the Green Meetings Work Group that devised the new rule, said the following: “We can use our own purchasing power to influence behavior, and to strengthen the link to our mission of protecting health and the environment.”

The EPA spends about $50 million on travel annually, so the volume of that agency’s business is not huge. However, the General Services Administration (GSA), which sets policy for all government travel, is amending its own rules to suggest that meeting planners throughout the government consult the EPA checklist. That could affect a significant chunk of the $13.5 billion in annual federal spending for travel.

No Audits Included in Process

According to the Times article, the EPA will not audit hotels to make sure they are not greenwashing—lying about their greenness—but any hotelier who would consider not walking their talk would be making a big mistake.

Hotel companies like Marriott, already very familiar to EPA because of its Energy Star program participation, stand to benefit. Other companies, with no ties to EPA or without formalized environmental programs, risk losing existing or potential new business.

Kudos to the EPA and GSA for taking steps to encourage environmentally responsible travel. Other government bodies, at the federal, state and local levels should take similar steps. Too many hotel companies have been slow to green their operations. Market pressures from environment-conscious consumers and now government will help reduce the impact of travel on the planet.

If you are not yet convinced there is a major shift taking place in the travel industry, you had better get studying. According to a recent Orbitz survey, more than half of Americans believe the tourism industry in the United States is not environmentally friendly. You can bet those travelers—inside and outside of government—will be checking out your property sometime soon. Will you be ready?

As always, I can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com, or by calling (440) 243-2055. I look forward to hearing from you.

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