As a membership-based organization, the “Green” Hotels Association has focused on creating a network of environmentally friendly properties whose managers are eager to institute programs that save water, conserve energy, and reduce solid waste—all while saving money. With member hotels ranging in size from single-location boutiques to international brands, the association has helped introduce and implement both progressive and common-sense green concepts. President Patricia Griffin explains how to turn a hotel into an environmental education piece—without sacrificing service or the bottom line. 

There are thousands of things a hotel can do that are free. For instance, so many hotels provide guests with newspapers that have a sticker on the front saying, “Compliments of the hotel.” Instead, we recommend using a rubber stamp to put their identity or logo on the paper. This is just something that makes sense. Having guests reuse their towels and sheets has been another great push for us.

With any business you need to lean on savings and focus on where people receive value for their dollar. This is especially true in a tight economy. While all of our initiatives can save money, our goal is to purposely point out how and where. For instance, if you produce less waste, you send less to the landfill and pay less to haul waste away. You are also extending the life of landfills. Fortunately, we have seen success, albeit in baby steps.

Today most hotels know about the efforts, even if they are not necessarily doing what needs to take place. What is exciting is the number of vendors now offering green products. Take Procter and Gamble, for instance. Even if only ten percent of products are green, it’s significant. While we do not make any vendor-specific demands, we look at materials, MSDS sheets, etc., and keep track of what approved vendors are doing externally to be green. We also insist that the browser page from our website links to the vendor’s green products to help avoid confusion. And, we suggest having at least one environmental page that discusses what they do internally and what they in turn expect of their vendors. Our goal is to continue growing the circle with each transaction.

A plethora of green choices are available for hotels. This Hyatt Regency in Denver (background) is located near enough to the Colorado Convention Center that transportation needs are eliminated.

We know that any building operating under green principles should have a higher value [and] sell quicker and at a higher price because it is healthier. But the public needs to understand that being green is a much healthier lifestyle, especially regarding respiratory issues. However, it is not just a matter of gaining public buy-in. Early on, staff acceptance and change was a serious issue, yet over time a greening initiative creates camaraderie amongst employees and shows the staff that management cares about their well-being. When you are using toxic cleaners, you are breathing the fumes and it impacts your health. Staff sees the difference almost immediately.

Management also has the opportunity to gain buy-in by listening to the staff. For instance, the initial introduction of green cleaning supplies faced a resistance at one of our member hotels in California. Rather than giving up, the management decided to split the cleaning staff into two teams, with one using traditional—toxic—products and one using green products. And after two weeks the teams switched. It was a real revelation for everyone, and within a few weeks the buy-in was there. Fortunately, the approach created an environment where there was a lot of discussion amongst the staff. Before making their final selections, they used a survey/questionnaire to garner staff opinions on how well the products worked on various surfaces, if they liked the smell, etc.

It is almost always one person at a property who takes ownership of the initiative, which is wonderful because it takes enthusiasm to make good things happen. Someone needs to carry the flag and serve as the champion. We have seen that as these people move on to other establishments, they bring the initiative with them. Of course, we know everything has a life—the greening of hotels in no exception. To me this will occur when hotels no longer have to publicize being green. They no longer would have to ask visitors to reuse towels—it would be a given. With millions of daily visitors, hotels have an opportunity to serve as educators. If we can get the public to understand the impact green products can have on our lives, it would be magic.