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How hotels are upgrading their sustainability efforts

Running a more environmentally friendly hotel is becoming part of day-to-day operations for major American hospitality chains, which are exploring new ways to save on costs while giving their properties greater ethical appeal.

At the Home2 Suites by Hilton, scraps of soap leftover in the shower after guests check out are purified and recycled, preventing 600,000 pounds of soap from heading to landfills.  

Marriott International is aiming to cut food waste in half and electricity usage by 30 percent by 2025, and remove all plastic straws from its 6,500-plus hotels by July this year.  

Westin and Sheraton brands have brought down water and energy usage and reduced carbon emissions across the board.  

“Overall, big brands are being eco-conscious about not just sustainability and being environmentally responsible; they are also investing time and resources to embrace social responsibility,” says Andrea Grigg, executive vice president and director of Americas asset management services for JLL’s hotels group. “Sustainable environmental practices and procedures that they can put in place are now top of mind for the industry.”

Save a tree, and money

In recent years, tourism and hospitality industries have aimed to go beyond placing notes in bathrooms that remind guests to reuse their towels. Since the United Nations declared 2017 as the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, independent hotels aiming for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification — a global green building certification program — have forged their own paths.

For instance, Two Bunch Palms in California’s Desert Hot Springs is the first carbon-neutral resort in the U.S., with others popping up in Aruba and Denmark. 

“We are seeing game changing trends,” says Grigg. “Hotels are looking at it both ways — as a way to connect with guests by talking about green practices, but also as cost-cutting measures.”

Among the changes are technological upgrades that include installing motion sensors in rooms that automatically turn off lights and air-conditioning. Whether part of upgrades or new construction, hotels are also installing low-flow toilets and shower heads.

Other sustainable swaps are more physical in nature. Operators are opting for swimming pools that are saline-based and are maintained using minerals, not chemicals. Recycling stations have been added throughout properties. Bulk shampoo bottles are a fixture in showers. Furniture made from recycled materials and landscaping using indigenous and low-water plants are favored.

At the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, energy is provided by 100 solar panels on the roof. In Las Vegas, Aria Resort and Casino shuttles guests around in natural-gas powered stretch limos, a world first. In New York City, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge was built using reclaimed materials.

Consumers in the driver seat

Grigg says that while sustainability practices make good business sense for hotels, the impetus is also coming from consumers. Millennial travelers, who may not be as loyal to a particular brand as previous generations, and base their bookings on what sort of experience a hotel can provide, are particular motivators, she says.

“Brands are paying attention to this new type of traveler,” says Grigg. “Millennials are not moved by traditional loyalty programs, and in order to target this generation, a hotel has to cater to their specific interests.”

Millennials want to see that there is a tangible effort being made to minimize the impact on the environment of their stay, and that there is a social responsibility component as well, Grigg says.

“They want to see that the property has a positive impact on the community,” she says.

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