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The Greenhouse Effect

Juliette Borda Green hotels

Photo: Juliette Borda

One major player willing to make the change is the Hilton Hotels Corporation, which has been quietly transforming its California properties. In 2005, Hilton began working with the California Green Lodging Program (CGLP) to certify many of its hotels throughout the state—from Doubletrees to Hiltons—adopting recycling programs, refillable amenity dispensers, and non-toxic cleaning supplies and paints, among other things. These properties are also being fitted with low-flow water fixtures, timed outdoor sprinklers, programmable thermostats, sensor-equipped and energy-efficient lighting, and tinted windows to reduce air-conditioning requirements. Michelle Pike, Hilton’s corporate director of housekeeping, says initially there was reluctance to make changes that some thought might be costly or unwieldy, but explains, "We realized how quickly our properties could adapt." Now, Hilton, is thinking about sustainability literally from the ground up: The first LEED-certified Hilton, in Vancouver, Washington, opened in 2005; the company hopes to break ground on the second, the Waldorf-Astoria Beverly Hills, later this year.

Other chains have been following suit: in 2005, Kimpton Hotels developed an eco-program that incorporates, among other things, low-VOC paints, non-toxic cleaning products, energy-efficient washers and driers, and guest-room recycling programs. Hyatt, meanwhile, is taking steps toward sustainability, one region at a time: two of its Texas properties, for example, have started purchasing renewable energy to run their operations. Marriott recently announced an ambitious goal to cut its year 2000 greenhouse-gas emission levels by nearly one-fifth by the end of the decade. And next year, Starwood will introduce the Aloft hotels brand, the cornerstone of which will be a See Green program designed to introduce ecologically friendly products and services to their guests.

Although some of the See Green initiatives may seem a little gimmicky (special parking spaces for hybrid cars), others go further: replacing individual amenity packages with shampoo dispenser units, eliminating toxic cleaning products, and using carpets made from recycled tires.

There is little doubt that for most hotel companies, economics is driving these changes. After years of seeing green as either a liability or another marketing opportunity, hotels now recognize its benefits, especially in the financial realm. Andrew Popp, the director of engineering standards and operations at Hilton, estimates that by adopting sustainable practices, the company’s hotels can reduce their energy use by roughly five percent. According to Patricia Griffin, founder and president of the Green Hotels Association, even setting up a simple linen and towel reuse program can save a hotel over $6.50 per day. That may seem like a small figure, but it adds up quickly. And building an entire property according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards means significantly more savings. The Hilton Vancouver Washington, which received LEED certification in 2006, has reduced its annual energy expenditures by roughly $80,000 (the hotel has already seen a return on its green-building investment in a little over two years). A profit motive may not sit well with all environmentalists, but Griffin believes action trumps motivation. "We don’t care about the reason you get on the train," she explains. "Just get on it."

Money, however, is not the only incentive. More and more properties are taking into account the triple bottom line of People, Planet, Profit. That is to say, financial performance is no longer the only measure of a company’s success; environmental and social performance are a significant part of the equation as well. As Michelle Pike explains, Hilton’s push to meet CGLP standards was as much about economics as it was about the "moral imperative" that compelled the company to act.

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