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What is the Color of Your Next Hotel?


There’s an aftershock rippling across the country and it’s starting in California. No, it’s not from an earthquake, but it does involve the planet. After the initial jolt that Al Gore delivered with An Inconvenient Truth, California lawmakers addressed global warming head on by enacting the first piece of legislation in the country to directly mandate reductions of greenhouse gases (GHG) linked to climate change. The effects are being felt nationwide. In fact, industry worldwide is feeling the impact of climate change, and those in the hotel business, whether they want to or not, are taking notice.

Last year, California lawmakers effectively ended the global warming debate with the passage of Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), which directs the state as a whole to begin aggressively reducing GHG emissions. And now Congress is taking up the charge and will ask the rest of the country to follow.

What will you be doing in the year 2020? It’s not that far off, but if businesses comply with the new clean air legislation, you may be feeling a little cooler. Recognizing that global warming is a threat to public health and safety, not to mention the vitality of California’s economy and tourism, AB 32 sets a goal of reducing the state’s GHG emissions to the levels they were in 1990 by the year 2020. Statewide, this amounts to a rollback of GHG emissions by roughly 30 to 35 percent.

Furthermore, via an Executive Order from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, GHG emissions are to be capped at 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. How will the hotel industry fare in the future carbon constrained world? What will mandatory “caps” mean for the hospitality industry at large and ultimately for guests? Certainly not business as usual.

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts has been implementing environmentally conscious changes at its North American properties for years. Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group now asks its housekeepers to use nontoxic cleaning agents. These hotel chains and many others are savvy enough to stay ahead of the curve.

The Cost of Building Green

Nobody said it was going to be easy. New green hotels may cost a slight premium, but it is much more cost-effective to build green as compared to retrofitting. As power and utility companies, cement businesses, paper and pulp manufacturers, and oil and gas conglomerates are hit by the new climate change legislation, they will pass their costs along to hotel developers who will pass them on to guests.

Insurance carriers are also leaning on hoteliers. Fearing the effects of global warming, many have begun canceling policies, raising premiums, or reducing the breadth of coverage for existing policies—all purportedly due to the increased risks associated with climate change. In fact, hotels and resorts on the coastline that have even a remotely increased chance of flooding because of rising sea levels are becoming harder to insure.

So, what are the pluses? The good news is that the hospitality industry is listening. LEED (which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a rating system set by the United States Green Building Council, and although there are now only four LEED-certified hotels in the United States and one in Sri Lanka, the number in the works is rising. The fact that ordinary citizens had the extraordinary foresight to establish a Green Building Council in the first place, let alone a rating system to help developers reach higher levels of environmental awareness, is a BIG plus. And, just as misuse of our natural resources added up to a crisis, so are all these green efforts adding up to a solution.

By planting the seed of environmental awareness in the hotel industry, travelers are sure to benefit from the future savings green establishments are destined to reap. By doing something as simple as installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, eco-minded hoteliers are bound to gain an edge over their competitors who are not riding the green wave that has swept up many of their potential clientele. Besides the fact that considering the planet in day-to-day operations is the right thing to do, hoteliers are starting to realize that more and more of their guests want to do their part. It’s definitely a win-win situation all around—environmentally and economically—for travelers and the hotels they patronize.

A Proven Formula for Success

In fact, the sooner hoteliers start adopting energy efficient practices, the sooner they will start harvesting the benefits of lower operating costs, which they can market as a savings to their guests. Simply put, most hotel owners can reduce their energy usage by somewhere in the range of 10 to 20 percent with a return on their capital investment in two to three years. Guests who stay in green hotels can enjoy both the psychological and health benefits of being a part of the climate change solution, and hotel staff can take pleasure in working in a cleaner, more efficient environment. Most importantly, travelers who tread on this planet and hoteliers who build on it, are lightening their carbon footprint and that can only benefit generations to come.


Malcolm C. Weiss is a partner at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro (JMBM), an environmentally conscious law firm, which recently added a Climate Change Group to its more expansive Environmental Group, which Weiss heads. JMBM is hosting a Green Hotel Developers Conference in March 2008 in Las Vegas, which is going to be entirely carbon neutral.

Adrian Partridge began his career in the nuclear industry, moved into a carbon management role with a major retail group in the United Kingdom, and then moved into consulting. He has completed energy engineering projects around the globe—in Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Nepal, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela. He joined ENVIRON early this year.