Monday, August 25, 2008

The green side of Memphis

I was quite impressed with how green the 6th Annual Memphis Hotel & Lodging Industry Summit felt. The meeting featured recycled cup insulators, notepads, tissues, pens and handouts. Chocolates on the table were made from sustainable organic agriculture. Even our lunchtime tablecloths crafted from recycled water bottles. (I still can hardly believe that one, they felt nothing like what I'd have expected, they almost seemed like a finely woven straw.)

Green also found its way into the program, with a panel discussion on how to make environmentally friendly hotels pay dividends—those of the financial sort.

Moderator Peggy Berg, president of The Highland Group, Atlanta, noted the way we use resources changes over time, from the cars we drive to recycling in our home to selecting locally grown or organic foods. She said that the green movement has many reasons for being hot, both large and small.

“When my mom went to the farm stand for fresh corn, it wasn’t a political statement, it just tasted better,” Berg said.

Dierdre Wallace, founder and president of The Ambrose Collection, Santa Monica, Calif., said her city is a great place to go green because of the very supportive community environment. Her hotel wasn’t originally envisioned as green when it was built, but their outlook has changed over the years.

“It’s not all just about going green, it’s still about offering a great guest experience,” Wallace said. “A lot of the things that we did when we built the hotel were green, though we weren’t thinking about building a green hotel at the time; they were common sense,” she said.

These items included energy efficient windows, efficient energy systems and Energy Star appliances.

Douglas Gamble, owner of The Q Hotel in Kansas City, said, “When you get ready to do this, write a plan. Put it all in writing, and then reach out to other folks and see what they think about it … some things that may be pertinent, be in demand in some areas, may not be in demand in other areas.”

The Ambrose is the first hotel to go through LEED-EB, a rating system for existing buildings, as opposed to the traditional LEED ratings for new construction. Wallace’s hotel has reached silver status.

“LEED-EB is fantastic for existing buildings because it really focuses on operations and maintenance, so you don’t necessarily have to do a whole overhaul of your existing structure, which can be very cost intensive,” Wallace said.

Wallace started policies and programs focused on green initiatives, including a preferred vendor list, an organic continental breakfast and 24-hour room service they cater through a local green cafĂ©, converting their shuttle to biodiesel fuel, instituting an on-site composting program and creating an “eco team” that monitors all documents and purchases. This helps avoid companies that are greenwashing—touting that they are greener than they really are.
Gamble agreed that greenwashing was something to watch out for.

“We found early on that people who are really sensitive to this stuff are so aware of greenwashing,” he said.

Environmentally friendly changes in a hotel can start in many ways, from operational changes to infrastructure.

“In-house recycling is one of the easiest things that you can do to green your hotel, it is definitely low-hanging fruit,” said Wallace. “We were a little concerned about how our guests would react to the program, seeing these receptacles in our guest rooms, but … they reacted very positively to it.”

Dennis Quaintance, president and CEO of Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., said his hotel currently has about 4,000 square feet of solar thermal, giving the property more than 60 percent of the energy it needs for hot water.

“It’s amazing, the boilers haven’t kicked on for three months,” he said.

Robert P. Smith, president and chief satisfaction officer, The Allied Group, explained that green can also be a focus both in deconstruction—where up to 90 percent of a building renovation can be reused or recycled—and in reconstruction, by installing environmentally responsible materials and products.

“Currently, the demand outweighs the supply of eco-conscious products and services, so we’re seeing a premium … but we’re beginning to see a shift, as the balance shifts to more prominent display of these products and services, you can expect to see the premium paid … to come down, and the costs become a lot more competitive,” Smith said.

In the green?
“Everyone asks, ‘does this save money?’ Some things do, some things don’t,” said Gamble. But he notes that a lot of government bookings are up at his hotel, as a result of their green initiatives.

Quaintance said it’s possible to do solar thermal fairly inexpensively. They received 30 percent federal and 35 percent state tax credits, and then borrowed $500,000 from the state at 3-percent interest for 10 years.

“When you put it all together, our return is like three years, it’s ridiculous. … We can’t wait for another season to see if there is something that we regret. So far, there hasn’t been, and we’ll put it on our other businesses.”

Additionally, Quaintance said that they were able to accomplish using 41 percent less energy, mostly by incorporating an intelligent, integrated design of the building from the start.
“We took 200,000, almost 300,000 BTUs of load out of the hotel’s HVAC system just by having an efficient building envelope and doing simple things. Everyone’s going to be doing this in a couple of years,” Quaintance said.

1 comment:

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