More and more hotels seem to be focusing on going green, but some tend to narrow their scope to sustainable design and not much else. So while a hotel might feature low-VOC paints, FSC-certified wood flooring, and low-flow fixtures, there is no recycling program in place, no employee engagement, no community outreach. The opposite is true of the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Denver. The five-year-old luxury hotel is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the greenest in the area, with Jasen Brown, the hotel’s chief engineer, leading the charge.
“As a brand, we’re undergoing a lot of changes,” Brown says. “There’s a big drive to get away from purchasing the finest amenities. We’re not interested in sacrificing quality, but we are interested in choosing amenities that are eco-friendly and composed of recycled materials. All of our cleaning products are environmentally safe, and our food is locally sourced and seasonal, purchased from Colorado farms. For us, the commitment to sustainability started at the top, and it’s trickling down.”
Two real game-changers for the luxury hotel’s Denver location were the Community Footprints program—a three-pronged program focusing on children’s well-being, hunger and poverty relief, and environmental responsibility—and the Ritz-Carlton Environmental Action Conservation Team (REACT), which has been in place since the hotel’s January 2008 opening. REACT brings together employees from various departments who are interested in sustainability for bimonthly meetings where the team brainstorms ideas for best practices moving forward.
One of the group’s finest ideas was the decision to participate in a single-stream recycling program, a system in which all recyclables are mixed in a collection truck, making it easier for depositors to just put all recyclables in one place instead of having to sort them. Because of the Ritz-Carlton’s Denver location, on a busy city block surrounded by five major businesses with 22 floors of apartments and residential units above the hotel floors, a majority of the area’s waste was being generated by the apartment and residential units. The Ritz-Carlton partnered with residents and local businesses to make recycling easier for everyone and more effective overall.
Brown also places a great amount of emphasis on utility consumption and energy conservation because it can’t control its utility rates, but it can control the hotel’s consumption. During slow times when the hotel isn’t full, entire floors are shut down. The same is true of the 15,000-square-foot event area if there is no wedding or other special event taking place. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. after areas are secured, the power is also turned off in all main areas. The goal, of course, is to save as much energy as possible and to educate the hotel’s guests.
The Denver Ritz-Carlton takes a special interest in Earth Hour, the yearly worldwide event encouraging households and businesses to turn off their nonessential lights for one hour. The hotel partakes in the global Earth Hour every April, but it goes a step farther by having its own hotel “Earth Hour” every day throughout the month of April. Every night from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., the lights are turned off and candles are lit at the Ritz. Guests can enjoy food and drink specials that feature glow-in-the-dark ice cubes as a fun addition. While guests nibble on cheese and sip wine, they learn about the importance of Earth Hour and why the hotel has decided to participate in it. “The educational aspect is very important to us,” Brown says. “You’d be shocked how many people don’t know what Earth Hour is. The city has been practicing it since 2009, and guests have been on the street at 8:30 when the city lights go out, and they have no idea why it’s happening. I see it as our responsibility to share the information we’ve learned with them.”
From working with Whole Foods to recycle wine corks and incorporating a bike station next to the Ritz-Carlton property as part of Denver B-cycle, the first large-scale municipal bike sharing system in the United States, the Ritz-Carlton is trying to push the limits on what it means to be green and what corporate responsibility should entail. “Our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint,” Brown says. “The behaviors we’re changing and the education we’re trying to incorporate are major components of that. We want to empower our employees and our guests, help them understand that every action, however big or small, can make a difference.”