U.S. hotels continue to make strides in energy efficiency

(LED lightbulb hanging next to regular bulbs)

In February, the 400-room Radisson Blu Frankfurt in Germany announced plans to install fuel cell technology that will allow the hotel to produce a portion of its own energy, including three gigawatt hours of electricity and two GWh of heat, starting this summer. The noncombustion process by which the fuel cells generate energy will allow the hotel to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 600 tons annually.

U.S. hotels aren’t making quite the same advances toward energy efficiency, but according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association's and STR’s 2016 Lodging Survey, energy-management sensors in rooms are at their peak overall usage; they have already been adapted by 48 percent of hotels. LED lighting has also seen an increase between 2014 and 2016 from 77 percent to 90 percent.

“The hotel and lodging industry takes pride in its dedication to fulfilling our environmental responsibilities, and we recognize the leadership role we can play continuing to advance sustainability efforts across all segments of our industry,” said Brad Aldrich, liaison to the AH&LA’s sustainability committee. “From energy management, high-efficiency lighting, and food- and water-saving programs to new linen reuse programs and updated management systems, our industry has a unique opportunity to raise awareness and be at the forefront of comprehensive global change as we move toward becoming a more sustainable, eco-friendly society.”

Required Energy Savings

Choice Hotels International announced a new mandate in March that requires all properties in its system to participate in the brand’s Room to be Green program, which is intended to reduce the hotel’s environmental impact and potentially lower operating costs by obligating hotels to use energy-efficient indoor lighting, to implement a recycling program and to give guest the option to reuse linens. As part of the program, hotels can also take advantage of added options, including light dimmers and double-paned or thermapane windows.

“Anecdotally, we know that a good number of our hotels were already exceeding our requirements on their own,” said Caragh McLaughlin, senior director, head of domestic brand management for Choice. “Many of our franchisees have been able to take advantage of rebate programs offered in their areas to upgrade their exterior lighting to LED at very low cost, which has created a good [return on investment] for them and it improves the guest experience by contributing to the outside appearance of their hotels and to the feeling of safety and security with better exterior lighting. We also have seen good acceptance of occupancy sensors and programmable thermostats.” Mclaughlin also noted that new-construction and renovated Choice properties are proactively including energy-saving measures such as low-emissivity windows and energy-efficient appliances in the building design.


Renovating for Efficiencies

Likewise, New York’s InterContinental Barclay upgraded to energy-efficient windows as part of the hotel’s $180 million renovation, which was completed in April. GM Hervé Houdré described the project as costly, “but a long-term return on investment and an important one.” As chairman of the Hotel Association of New York City where he created the organization’s sustainability committee six years ago, Houdré also encourages fellow member hotels to adopt the Green Key global sustainability certification, implementing several of the program’s 180 indicators annually. “My recommendation is to start with the low-hanging fruit and immediately change all the bulbs in the hotel—front and back-of-house—to LEDs,” he said.

But he also suggests that hotels contact their local energy provider to inquire about “demand response” programs, in which the provider will request the hotel reduce its energy consumption at certain peak times in exchange for rebates, as well as grant programs that will offset the purchase of energy-saving equipment, which is how the Radisson Blu funded more than €800,000 of its fuel cell technology installation.

Technology Provides an Edge

Like Houdré, Gary Isenberg, president of LWHA Asset Management Services, also is a proponent of working with consultants who can perform energy audits. “From a technology standpoint, the hotel industry tends to be far behind the curve,” Isenberg said. “Moving from traditional lighting to LED bulbs is minimal compared with what’s happening with wireless sensor technology that allows hotels to track power usage and adjust it accordingly—and that goes beyond lighting to also include boilers.” Working with a consultant, Isenberg is hoping to implement light-harvesting sensors in a client’s lobby, so lighting is automatically adjusted throughout the space when natural light is at its peak. He also mentioned that most hotels don’t maximize the benefits that wireless thermostats can provide, generating usage reports and controlling the system from a central location when rooms are unoccupied. “These thermostats have been around for a good decade, but as an industry, we don’t mine the technology because we’re too focused on the top line,” he said.