How hotels approach the concept of sustainability

Mattress recycling is one method hotels use to operate sustainably.
Mattress recycling is one method hotels use to operate sustainably.

Mattress recycling is one method hotels use to operate sustainably.

Hospitality, like many other industries, is making an effort to be greener, a broad concept often used interchangeably with sustainability. Those efforts, however, can vary among hotels.

“It seems that there are two schools of thought on sustainability,” said Kevin Goldstein, president of HVS Energy & Sustainability, a division of HVS, based in Mineola, N.Y., which helps hotel owners and operators reduce utility costs through proactive facility management and investment in building equipment.

One school of thought, Goldstein said, is marketing-driven. “The majority of hospitality organizations—including owners, operators, brands and developers—place a lot of focus on the marketing aspects of being green. All sorts of certifications, reporting schemes and collateral materials have been devised to help promote properties as sustainable.”

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The other school of thought, Goldstein said, is cost-savings-driven. “A much smaller collective of hospitality stakeholders equates sustainability with lean, efficient business practices. These individuals and organizations are typically prepared to invest capital into realizing building energy efficiency and, in return, are enjoying utility costs that are 10-30 percent lower than those of their direct competitors.”


Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide appears to straddle the line between the two schools of thought. Its sustainability efforts encompass trying to minimize the use of water and energy and the generation of waste and pollution, seeking to enhance indoor environmental quality and pushing to raise environmental awareness among associates, guests and communities, according to its first “Global Citizenship at Starwood” report. In making those efforts, the company both seeks certifications, follows reporting programs and makes use of collateral materials, and keeps an eye on costs.

Diverting food waste from landfills is a goal of Power Knot’s Liquid Food Composter at JW Marriott Marquis Miami.

Diverting food waste from landfills is a goal of Power Knot’s Liquid Food Composter at JW Marriott Marquis Miami.

“Reporting programs are used and we encourage third-party certifications where it makes sense,” said Ken Siegel, chief administrative officer, general counsel and head of global citizenship at Starwood. “For example, all of our Element hotels must be pursuing or have achieved LEED certification or the equivalent.”

Siegel also said that the company considers how its sustainability efforts will impact profit. “We set aggressive goals to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent, water consumption by 20 percent and carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020 across our global properties from a 2008 baseline. We’re making great progress toward these goals through foundational initiatives, such as low-flow faucets and fixtures and energy-efficient equipment and lighting. We calculate our anticipated savings to be more than $1 billion throughout our system over a 10-year period.”

Another sustainability initiative at Starwood is “Make a Green Choice.” It gives guests the option of declining housekeeping for up to three consecutive days, in exchange for either dollars for use at Starwood restaurants, or Starwood Preferred Guest points. According to “Global Citizenship at Starwood,” the company estimates that it has conserved 153 million gallons of water, 662,000 kilowatts of electricity, 871,000 therms of natural gas and 190,000 gallons of cleaning supplies between 2009, when the program was launched, and 2012.


Starwood is not alone in considering marketing and costs in connection with its sustainability efforts. The JW Marriott Marquis Miami, for example, recently issued a press release announcing the implementation of an initiative against food waste and quoting Florencia Tabeni, the hotel’s GM, as saying that initiatives like it “benefit both the environment and our business. We enjoy a positive cost reduction while decreasing negative effects on the environment.”

The food-waste initiative consists of the hotel’s investment in Power Knot’s Liquid Food Composter. The product, according to the press release, can divert food waste from landfills and reduce the amount of methane gases released into the environment. It does this by digesting food within 24 hours and then converting it into nutrient-rich grey water that can be released down the drain or used for landscape maintenance. Depending on the model, the composter can process 50-4,000 pounds of food waste daily.

Other JW Marriott Marquis Miami sustainability efforts include the use of low-flow plumbing fixtures, linen-reuse programs, the installation of Energy Star appliances and programmable thermostats and the use of high-efficiency air filters.

In recognition of such initiatives, the hotel was honored by the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association last year and named a member of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program in 2012.


Sustainability efforts, of various kinds, are taking place throughout the hospitality industry.

“Every property today has some level of focus on sustainability,” said C.J. Burgher, sales director at RoomService Amenities, a Morganville, N.J.-based company that creates soaps and other consumer products for hotels. 

Using products with natural additives is another green approach.

Using products with natural additives is another green approach.

Burgher said that hotels have a number of motivations to try to be sustainable. These, she said, include consumer demand, corporate social responsibility and an interest in reducing operating costs. Her company, Burgher said, offers amenity products “with natural additives that accelerate the biodegradation of plastic in landfills.” Such products, she said, “can be economical while adding to the green aspects of a property.”

Cathy Mansour, VP of marketing at Global Sustainability Solutions, said that sustainability efforts among hotels are widespread. “Many of the brands have sustainable programs in place and are gradually expanding those programs,” she said. “[They include] everything from energy and water conservation efforts to waste stream landfill diversion.”

Mansour added that energy and water conservation is where hotels typically start their sustainability efforts, but that sustainable sourcing and recycling are growing. She said that, in recycling, for example, bulky items are gradually being diverted from landfills, in some cases in response to state bans against mattresses and box springs being placed in landfills.


Whatever the business activities being targeted for sustainability efforts, whether design, procurement, cleaning or others, HVS’ Goldstein said that they can be viewed through a financial lens.

“What we, at HVS, call green boils down to the amount of utilities being consumed or waste being produced by a hospitality property each year, and how that can be reduced,” Goldstein said.

Utility savings, Goldstein said, lead to reductions in property O&M costs, and that, in turn, leads to operating profitability, which can lead to increases in property valuations.