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Hotels Go Green Across the World
Hotels around the world are recognizing that pursuing environmentally friendly practices can attract customers and help save money on operating costs. This article explores what these hotels are doing within their construction, operations and procurement to decrease their impact on the environment.

For several years, hotel chains and individual hotels have been taking easy steps to save energy and water usage. Many hotels suggest to their guests that they re-use towels and sheets to save water and energy by reducing the number of loads of laundry. They also use energy efficient lighting and appliances like mini-fridges and TVs, and ask guests to turn off lights and appliances when not in use. In addition to these simple "green" steps, what else are hotels doing, and which hotels are doing it? Hotel chains like Fairmont, Starwood (owner of Sheraton, Westin, "green hotel" chain Element, and other hotels) and Host (owner of Marriott and others) are taking a company-wide approach to corporate sustainabilty, the practice of making a company more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

On the environmental side, hotels are assessing how they build and maintain their buildings, how they can minimize resource use and waste through their operations, and how they can decrease environmental harm through the many products their hotels buy. In terms of green construction, hotels are using green materials like bamboo for flooring material, energy efficient heating and ventilation systems, solar panels, solar hot-water heaters, low volatile organic compound (VOC) paint and carpeting, sky lights and natural daylighting. They are also retrofitting their appliances, replacing old toilets with low-flow versions that save water, for instance, and installing low-flow shower-heads, occupancy sensors in bathrooms and meeting rooms.

After hotels build and update their hotels to be more green, they also ensure green operation of their properties. Hotels practice energy efficiency in lobbies, meeting spaces and other areas of the hotel by simply turning off lights and using occupancy sensors and programmable thermostats to automatically turn off lights, air conditioners and heaters when not needed. Energy efficiency measures like these at Marriott International have saved the company $4.5 million annually. Fairmont hotels also purchase green power to run some of their hotels. Additionally, hotels save water where possible. Starwood, for instance, committed to reducing their water consumption by 20% in 2010.

Another piece of green operations that hotels pursue is waste minimization. Hotels like Fairmont are using recycling bins in individual guest rooms, meeting rooms and reception areas to lessen the amount of garbage sent to the landfill. Some Renaissance hotels, a Marriott brand, are also composting food from meals and events and using the resulting soil in hotel gardens.

Hotels are also pursuing what is known as green procurement, buying goods with reduced impact on the environment relative to other goods. Sheraton hotels use green cleaning supplies that are less toxic to cleaning staff and the environment. Hotels also buy sustainably harvested wood for bed frames, desks, and other room furniture along with recycled paper and organic food that uses no chemicals in the growing process.

Beyond taking steps to go green themselves, hotels are also encouraging green behaviors among their guests. Many hotels now leave notes for their guests requesting that they recycle, save energy, reuse sheets and towels and set their air conditioning/heating units to a more energy efficient temperature range. To improve their social and labor records, hotels are also pursuing fair labor practices to ensure that their workers are safe and suitably compensated. As part of their sustainable procurement pursuits, hotels are also analyzing which products they buy come from companies with unfair labor standards. From there they can chose to use other suppliers with higher standards. Additionally hotels are engaging with their guests, investors, employees and other stakeholders to get their opinions on company practices and make changes as needed.

Leading hotels are also making their headquarters' operations more sustainable along the same lines as their hotels. Host, Starwood, Marriot and others are reporting to public the greening initiatives they pursue through regular corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. These reports and many other details on sustainable practices can found on the companies' websites. Next time you use a hotel, pick one of these greener options to support thier good work.

Photo credit: polkcountyiowa.gov

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