by Eric Flamer (MBA ’13)
The US Green Building Council reports that as of March 3, 2011, 91 hotel properties have achieved LEED certification, with an additional 1100 projects registering with LEED and working towards certification. From my employment experience in the Washington, DC convention hotel market, the truth is that most of the buildings dedicated to hospitality were constructed in the era preceding the green revolution, and are sorely lacking in any type of green efficiency. What are some ways the industry can align guest satisfaction, bottom-line reduction, and green values successfully?
Recently I came across a LEED gold-certified property during some volunteer work in East Baltimore, MD: Marriot’s Fairfield Inn and Suites takes pride in being ‘Baltimore’s first green hotel’. After examining the Fairfield’s greening strategies, there are some points to consider in examining the overall trend towards a greener hospitality industry:
a. A zero-carbon footprint, achieved by purchasing wind-sourced, renewable energy credits – a more apparent greening effort, this fits with a smaller property’s reduced electricity usage compared to a larger property.
b. Fragrance-free, all-natural, biodegradable cleaning products and laundering – while there is no direct correlation between this initiative and guest satisfaction, many travelers are sensitive to industrial cleaners, and in some cases, may be allergic. Eco-friendly cleaning products, though, are more expensive.
c. Recycling bins in every guest room – a simple procedure that seems like a no-brainer for any hotel, regardless of size, since many of us already commit to recycle.
d. Alternative transportation for both guests and associates by having bike racks and supplying bicycles – a wonderful way to improve guest satisfaction by increasing accessibility through an in-house initiative. It goes well with the city’s commitment to bicycles.
e. Appliances and fixtures that reduce energy, waste and water usage, resulting in an operation that is 24% more energy-efficient than required by code – there’s no doubt this impacts the bottom line in a big way. In older properties, the commitment to replace old fixtures may dampen revenue in the short run by reducing available room inventory.
I had a chance to speak to Roberta Wittes, the General Manager of the Fairfield Inn. When I asked about the meaning of the LEED certification, she explained that the commitment to green values began with the vision set forth by the property’s ownership during the hotel’s construction. While it hasn’t necessarily translated into more revenue or a greater marketing presence, the starting objective to save materials from ending up in landfills and invite guests into a clean and eco-friendly experience has established a recognizable long-term vision. Take for example the Pur-Water Technology that operates in the hotel’s lobby.
“We’re encouraging guests to refill their water bottles to avoid purchasing bottled water,” Wittes explains. The property’s staff may lose out on gift shop revenues, but comes away knowing that Fairfield is making a difference in its daily operations.
Eric Flamer is a first year MBA at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.