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VOL. 35 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 16, 2011

Certification helps ‘green’ hotels build loyalty while cutting costs

By Hollie Deese

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Certified hotels in Nashville area:

  • Courtyard by Marriott, 170 Fourth Ave. N., Nashville
  • Doubletree Hotel, 1850 Old Fort Parkway, Murfreesboro
  • Franklin Marriott Cool Springs, 700 Cool Springs Blvd., Franklin
  • Hampton Inn and Suites, 2573 Highwood Blvd., Smyrna
  • Hilton Garden Inn, 2631 Highwood Blvd., Smyrna
  • Holiday Inn Vanderbilt, 2613 West End Ave., Nashville
  • Hutton Hotel, 1808 West End Ave., Nashville
  • Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, 2100 West End Ave., Nashville
  • Nashville Airport Marriott, 600 Marriott Drive, Nashville
  • Residence Inn by Marriott, 2300 Elm Hill Pike, Nashville

Jamie Qualk uses local ingredients as much as possible when he cooks for his family. He also recycles, watches his water consumption and only uses environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies. And as the vice president of SSRCx Sustainable Solutions Group, a team of LEED professionals who work on the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, eco-living is a part of everything he does.

So when he travels, staying in a hotel with the same sustainable mindset and having access to that same quality of local, unprocessed food is important to him. But finding those properties is not always easy.

“When you are on the road it is difficult to eat healthy especially when you are in the airport, which is kind of a food desert,” he says. “I really don’t eat fast food if I can help it. But when you are on the road you sometimes don’t have a choice but to eat junk food.

Andy Mims, vice president of sustainability for Gaylord Hotels

“Also, we don’t use any chemicals in our house to clean, so when I go somewhere else that uses ammonia or bleach I am much more sensitive to that. If I can find a place to stay ahead of time that has a green cleaning policy then I know that is not going to bother me when I try to go to sleep at the end of the day.”

Qualk uses the Internet to help find places that fit his needs when he travels.

“If I can find any place in the cities I travel to regularly that focus on sustainability, use whole foods and don’t use packaged foods or processed foods, that means I can carry what is a priority for me at home on the road,” he says. “I go to certain cities quite often and, in a larger city, it is possible to find those types of places. But whether or not they are convenient to your hotel or the offices you are visiting or the clients you are visiting is a whole other story.”

Tourists coming to Nashville are starting to have more choices in lodging that make the environment a priority, thanks in part to the Tennessee Green Hospitality certification program.

It started in Chattanooga a little more than two years ago, the idea of Tom Cupo, general manager of The Chattanoogan, an upscale hotel and conference center.

“He wanted some sort of certification for sustainability practices in hotels,” says Dobbin Callahan of Sky Con, which helps facilitate the certification of Tennessee hotels, restaurants and state parks.

What’s required for certification:

Certification is awarded after an on-site visit to participating hotels and restaurants to ensure that all minimum standards are in place. Once certified, facilities are encouraged to work with the Tennessee Hospitality Association’s efforts to increase awareness in businesses and the community, to reduce waste from operations, to promote natural resource conservation, and to promote efficiency measures and alternative energy deployment.

The program consists of six core activities for lodging and restaurant facilities that must be in place for certification. There are approximately 150 additional activities that can also be included in the audit.

Core activities for lodging properties, minimum standards for certification:

  • Optional linen service
  • Recycling and reducing waste
  • Water conservation
  • Energy conservation
  • Offer a "green events" package
  • Written plan for continued environmental improvement

Core activities for restaurant facilities, minimum standards for certification:

  • Minimizing the use of disposables
  • Recycling grease
  • Recycling and reducing waste
  • Water conservation
  • Energy conservation
  • Written plan for continued environmental improvement

To learn more, visit tnhospitality.net

“He could have found a sustainability program that would fit his hotel, been certified and then gone into the marketplace talking about what a great hotel he has. And he does. But he chose instead to work through the Greater Chattanooga Hospitality Association to create a program that would be available to all hotels in the Chattanooga area. His goal was to make Chattanooga more of a destination from a sustainability perspective for those guests that it was important. He thought if you bring more customers into the whole Chattanooga area, than everyone would benefit.”

The program sets itself apart from similar state programs in that it has third-party certification and has grown to include restaurants and parks with lodging.

“About the same time we were doing that, the Tennessee Hospitality Association became aware of what we were doing and asked if we would share it with them,” Callahan says. And though the original intent was to boost Chattanooga’s sustainable visibility in the state, it is now open to the entire state, with 40 certified properties.

One of those properties in Nashville is the Hutton Hotel, a 247-room hotel with 13,600 square feet of meeting space that opened downtown in February 2009. Being green was a focus from the start.

“Part of the initial development process was to ensure that it was a green hotel and that we were spending some extra dollars to make sure we had some new initiatives into the building that were going to benefit us in the long term,” says general manager Steven Andre. “It was a big part of what we did and what we wanted to be and we knew it would be a strong presence for us.”

That includes bamboo floors, dual-flush toilets, water-free urinals in public restrooms, LED lighting, a recycling program, card readers that disable guest room lighting when they leave and a state-of-the-art mechanical energy recovery wheel system that preconditions air before heating or cooling. And the on-site restaurant, 1808 Grille, uses fresh local produce.

These kinds of initiatives are very appealing to a person like Qualk.

“I am very excited when my hotel has a restaurant that shares those values,” he says. And knowing a hotel or restaurant shares your ideology can build loyalty and even create buzz.

“Hotels are aware that a majority of guests, tour guides and meeting planners now give preference to facilities that have specific and documented sustainability practices in place,” Callahan says. “They are becoming increasingly aware that implementing sustainable practices can reduce operating costs. Interestingly, quite a few seem to be primarily motivated simply by the desire to do the right thing. There simply is no downside.”

Andy Mims, vice president of sustainability for Gaylord Hotels, agrees. He was brought in 18 months ago to start a sustainability program in Nashville that would be centralized across the organization. They already had green teams in place at all of their properties, but no corporate-wide strategy. He had only been on the job a few weeks when the flood hit.

“The timing was a little rough, but what we were able to do right out of the gate was make some good investments,” Mims says. “The silver lining here was that we were able to upgrade some of the core assets that are tied to energy and water. We spent north of $10 million dollars just on efficiency upgrades.”

Those upgrades have benefitted the hotel’s bottom line, with natural gas use down 30 percent compared to 2009. “We are saving a lot of money,” he says.

And while a better bottom line is the goal, consumer awareness also is a huge motivator when it comes to instilling these practices.

“This summer we have seen incredible heat waves and have had rolling brownouts across the country, so I think people are even more sensitive to this topic then before,” Mims says. “Our group businesses are increasingly asking us what we are doing with sustainability and in our guest satisfaction comments we are seeing more and more comments about it as well.”

Even state parks with lodging – six of the state’s 53 parks do – are getting certified.

“It really goes hand-in-hand with the goals of the department as a whole, and the state park system to protect the environment and provide a green service to customers,” says Tisha Calabrese-Benton, communications director with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “A lot of our customers in the state parks system value that kind of management so it makes sense from a business standpoint, it makes sense from an environmental standpoint and we want to be a leader in that effort.”

There are 40 total properties certified in the state, with more in the process.

“We thought we would be successful when we got to 20, but now it is really going,” Callahan says. “People have started to realize that you don’t have to make a decision between being sustainable or improving your bottom line. You can do both. By improving your sustainability you are improving your bottom line. If you reduce the amount of energy you use you are reducing your costs. If you are reducing the amount of waste you generate, you are reducing your costs.”

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