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Navigating the Road to Sustainability

Planning to develop a sustainable hotel today can be as challenging as solving a linear algebra equation—blindfolded. Purchasing eco-friendly building materials, furniture, and fabrics can lead to a vast amount of time-consuming, extensive research, often with confusing and ambiguous results.

As there is no clear definition of the word, “sustainability,” the process is complicated from the start. So, how does a hotel developer truly know which products are sustainable?

Building or converting into a sustainable hotel requires hiring the right team of experts to handle all aspects of preparation, purchasing, and seeing the project through to completion. Not surprisingly, there are rules to follow, processes to double (and triple) check, and intricate plans to develop. Those hotels seeking LEED certification face another level of complexities and strict testing procedures.

Kevin Goldstein, vice president of HVS Sustainability Services, a global organization providing hoteliers with eco-friendly guidance, believes that the first step toward sustainable purchasing is for owners to understand the reasons behind their desire to become green. By evaluating their business objectives, they can determine which specific actions and investments should take place in order achieve those goals.

“One of the initial goals that an owner/developer should have is to really identify what they are going to accomplish by being sustainable,” Goldstein says. “For example, they need to determine their focus: is it cost savings, the environmental aspect, the workforce, and are they going to incorporate sustainability into their marketing and branding? I think with that understood and documented, they can really look to the different avenues to pursue toward running and managing a sustainable hotel, and perhaps strengthen their purchasing investment approach.

“A general need within the hotel industry is a greater number of ‘one-stop’ purchasing shops so that you don’t necessarily need to learn everything about every aspect of sustainability,” Goldstein adds. “I think eventually we will get there, but now it seems to be fairly diverse, in terms of types of organizations, geography, and the vast number of associations offering guidelines.”

CONSORTIUM: A PURCHASING COLLABORATION
In an effort to assist the industry with sustainable purchasing navigation, the Hospitality Sustainable Purchasing Consortium is attempting to pave the way for a smoother system, by providing one of those aforementioned one-stop-shops for hotel developers seeking sustainable vendors and products that are endorsed by a trustworthy third-party.

The consortium was created by the sustainability consulting firm MindClick SGM and features a collaboration of like-minded hotel owners, developers, purchasing companies, suppliers, architecture and design firms, and sustainability professionals. These industry leaders share the goal of improving the environmental elements of eco-friendly building and operations.

Creating global standards for sustainability, the consortium developed the Hospitality Sustainable Purchasing Index (HSP Index), which examines how suppliers diminish waste in packaging, reduce toxicity, and use recycled content. Currently, this data is being converted to a Web data warehouse so stakeholders can see the numerical score of suppliers and products. Most important, they can access details behind the score, leading to informed purchasing decisions.

“The consortium is providing knowledge that gives the developers and owners the ability to make more informed decisions, based on trusted, validated information,” MindClick’s CEO JoAnna Abrams explains. “They can use that knowledge to clearly communicate the materials’ compelling background story to consumers. That story will illustrate how those products are helping to benefit guests, the hotels, and well-being of the community and the planet.

“There is a lot of momentum behind what we are doing, and a lot of cross-industry support,” she adds. “Members represent all facets of the industry, and there is a solid consensus: It just makes sense and it fits into the business needs of the industry. Leveraging sustainability will help us all drive our business forward.”

CONSUMERS APPROVE ECO-FRIENDLY APPROACHES
In early 2012, MindClick announced the results of a research study conducted with Expedia, surveying 5,000 consumers, which measured awareness, expectations, and the impact of hotel sustainability efforts. Revealing that consumers approve eco-friendly approaches, the survey illustrated that education is still necessary, and travelers still require real, substantial personal benefits as they select hotels.

“From our research, we find that guests are not necessarily willing to pay more per room for a hotel that promotes itself as ‘sustainable,’ but all things being equal, they tend to choose the one with more eco-friendly elements, and that hotel is viewed as a good corporate citizen,” Abrams says.

FINDING QUALIFIED SUPPLIERS
Currently, the consortium is actively seeking hotel owners and developers to join their pilot program, which provides overall support, database access, and marketing assistance as well.

Without the help of the consortium, companies connect with hotel owners and developers through the traditional means of trade shows, advertising, and sales representatives.

“The challenges with those methods are that most of our competitors use the same methods and it’s difficult for consumers to differentiate one company from another,” consortium member Randy Shafer, president of Shafer Commercial Seating, says. “In most cases, the sustainability discussion is an afterthought or takes place so far into the process that parties don’t have time to ‘start over’ if they find the company they are reviewing doesn’t match their level of interest in sustainability. Without the consortium, it is difficult for a buyer to focus on sustainability early on. The consortium allows them to search from a pool of pre-qualified suppliers.

“Every decision must be made in the context of the guest experience and the profitability of the property,” Shafer continues. “The consortium, through its rating efforts, has already tackled the complexity of determining the level of sustainability of a product, and provides a way to understand the sustainability of a product with confidence.”

NO SHORTCUTS TO SUSTAINABLE PURCHASING
Stephen Eckley, senior vice president of Amerimar Enterprises, a Philadelphia-based development company, explains that there is no shortcut to sustainable purchasing.

The Hutton Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., is an Amerimar conversion that opened in 2009. Although the hotel is not LEED-certified, Eckley confirms that the Hutton is the company’s most advanced and successful sustainable initiative to date.
During the project, Eckley worked with a robust team to explore purchasing options and ratings. As a result, the hotel now features recycled air, among other green features, which offset costs and provide environmental benefits.

“We researched materials and products that were rated ‘moderately high’ to ‘very high’ in efficiency, then determined the cost differential and made a decision based on that,” Eckley says.

Echoing Goldstein’s and Shafer’s sentiments, Eckley emphasizes that the developer of a sustainable project must set the tone and conduct research— before addressing purchasing. “As a developer, you must convey to your team the level of sustainability you are expecting from the project,” he says. “For example, you need to decide if you want to be LEED platinum or silver, or instead, do you want to simply do the right thing for the environment, but not necessarily apply for LEED certification?”

Hutton Hotel General Manager Steven Andre worked with Eckley during the conversion. He says it is important to have a vision and plan before embarking on a project of such scope.

“For us, it was essential to find an architect and designer who shared in our vision of this green property, and had the expertise to guide us through it,” Andre says.

“It’s important to have a great game plan and corporate commitment. I think that’s the future. It’s good for our customers and our bottom line.”

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