(TVLW) – They plunk hotels down in the midst of some of the nation’s most beautiful natural settings. Santa Barbara’s East Beach. Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. The Florida Keys.
The reason is simple. Travelers are drawn to places of natural beauty.
Yet the environmental footprint of a hotel can have a significant negative impact on the very surroundings that we find so desirable.
An average-sized hotel purchases more products in a week than 100 families will in a year, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, generating as much as 30 pounds of waste per room per day. The lodging industry in California also generates 112,000 tons of food waste, 2 percent of the state’s total. To wash one pound of room linen takes approximately two gallons of water, according to Hilton Hotels Corp., and a typical occupied room uses 11.5 pounds of linens per day. A single large, fully occupied hotel with a typical stay of two nights can use more than 34,000 gallons just for laundering room linens.
The “greening” of the travel industry is a hot topic both for those in the industry and for travelers. More than a third of travelers surveyed in April by travel advice Web site Tripadvisor.com said that environmentally friendly tourism is a consideration when traveling. Though many hotels have been moving for more than a decade toward lessening their environmental impact through simple solutions such as the use of cards encouraging travelers to reuse towels and linens, a movement is afoot for states to take a more active role in identifying what constitutes a “green” hotel.
While state tourism agencies can be involved, it is state waste management boards that are often taking the lead.
Next month, Rhode Island will become the latest state to join the green hotels movement when its Department of Environmental Management launches its green hospitality and tourism certificate program. Its program is based on a successful one in Maine.
Florida already has a very proactive and well-developed program, and other states are getting on the green bandwagon.
“There are probably 30 … states that are aggressively going about their own green initiatives,” said Ernie Wooden Jr., executive vice president of brand management for Hilton. “Many of our hotels are currently getting certified.”
Several Midwest states have programs to certify green hotels. Green Lodging Michigan is sponsored by Michigan’s Energy Office and the Department of Environmental Quality (www.michigan.gov/greenlodging). Wisconsin has its Travel Green Wisconsin (www.travel greenwisconsin.com) state program.
Illinois does not currently have a state-sponsored program but the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association is launching a statewide green initiative in 2008, said Marc Gordon, president of the IHLA. It will include green logos in its annual guide to hotels as well as mention on the IHLA Web site of hotels that have gone green. Many local hotels are working on green initiatives on their own and with the City of Chicago. The Talbott Hotel, for example, has gone green and, among other things, is purchasing electricity that is being replaced on the grid by electricity generated by renewable sources.
Becoming certified typically involves a hotel filling out a questionnaire about its environmental policies. In many states there is an inspection of the property to make sure it is in compliance. The 15 questions on a California state survey include: Does your property have a recycling program? Are you currently on, or can you put in place, a schedule to install energy-efficient indoor lights? Does your property offer a towel/linen reuse option to multiple night guests? Does your property use individually packaged amenities?
The answers to these questions can have a significant impact on a hotel’s business. Many states are steering their traveling employees to stay at certified hotels, a trend that Wooden expects in the future to apply to local and federal employees as well.
Part of the challenge for the hotel industry is to educate travelers and make them active participants in reducing their environmental impact during their stay.
“I’ve always considered the hotels to be educators” on environmental issues, said Patty Griffin, president and founder of the Green Hotels Association, a Houston-based group with about 300 hotel members that has promoted ecological consciousness in the hotel industry since 1993. It was among the first to suggest that sheets and towels did not need to be laundered every single night.
The next big leap for travelers may be those little plastic bottles of amenities. Though perfectly recyclable, “those things ultimately end up in the dump somewhere,” Wooden said.
Hilton is in the process of researching travelers’ tolerance for using bulk dispensers for amenities, like you find in the shower at the gym. Though they are widely used in hotels in Europe, American travelers might miss their little bottles.
Individual travelers can have a huge impact on pushing hotels to act in a more environmentally friendly way, says the Green Hotels Association’s Griffin.
Travelers “have a voice,” Griffin said “Hoteliers listen to their guests. The most important thing a [traveler] can do is let the hotelier know they want it to be green.”
For travelers, finding reliable, consistent information on green hotels is still a challenge. There is no single listing of all “green” hotels. One of the challenges is that there is no consistent definition of what constitutes “green,” which is partly why the industry is asking states to step up.
The Green Hotels Association lists its member hotels on its Web site (www.greenhotels.com), but any hotel can join and there is no vetting by the association as to whether the hotels are actually implementing green programs or not.
“The only requirement is that the management be committed to saving water, saving energy and reducing solid waste,” Griffin said. “The state programs see themselves as standing between the traveler and the hotel.”
Florida has perhaps one of the most comprehensive and accessible to travelers programs. It rates hotels one or two palms, and many of the certified hotels display their official certification prominently on their Web sites. It also has a listing of certified hotels at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/greenlodging/lodges.htm .
California’s is equally obtuse: http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/EPP/GreenLodging/Direct ory/Default.asp.
For now, travelers interested in green hotels might want to try a Google search including the words “green hotel” and the destination. Or call the hotel and ask about its environmental practices and policies.