Green Hotels: The Business Case for Sustainability

green-coverA chat with the authors of High Performance Hospitality: Sustainable Hotel Case Studies

I had the chance to catch up last month with Amisha Parekh and Michele Diener, two of the three authors of High Performance Hospitality: Sustainable Hotel Case Studies, a lodging industry textbook.  At a time when the Westin is launching its Element line and other hotel chains are playing up their “green” credentials, this book is the first in-depth analysis of the business case for sustainability within hotels.

Amisha and Michele, who also wrote the book with their friend and classmate Jaclyn Pitera, met while they were dual-degree students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the University’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.  This book was the outgrowth of a joint master’s project.  Michele currently serves as the Director of Sustainability Strategies at MGM Mirage, Amisha is a strategy consultant for Deloitte, where she is part of the firm’s sustainability team, and Jaclyn is in her third year of the joint program.

The book focuses on eight hotel properties and features detailed analyses of their respective sustainability efforts.  What differentiates this text from other coverage of “green” business is its focus on the details.  As Michele said, “There was no comprehensive book taking a property from design, to construction to operation…from soup to nuts, how a hotel can be more sustainable.  Our intent was to get this information out there to the industry in a very simple way, with a lot of checklists, lessons learned, etc.”

She continued, “There is a matrix at the front of the book summarizing all of the green initiatives [the featured hotels] are doing.  We also categorized the programs based on complexity (how difficult to implement), guest transparency (would it make a positive or negative impact on guests), etc.”

Of course, the economy is top-of-mind for everyone these days, and during our conversation this was a main piece of the discussion.  Amisha and Michele explained that the book is “the business case for sustainability” in the lodging industry, with a focus on the financial benefits to the company to implementing certain steps.  As Michele explained, “At a time when [hotels are making cuts], management sees sustainability as a benefit, helping the organization to consume less water, less energy, and therefore, save money.”

Key takeaways
According to the authors, below are some of the key takeaways from the study.  Although they were derived from their hotel analysis, they are very relevant to all organizations interested in driving change around sustainability:

  • Employee education is key – Green is not something for just the green team to implement, but rather must be part of the company culture.  If it’s part of the culture, it is much easier to implement (and less likely to be cut)
  • Experimentation is important – Some of the products and programs and technologies that the authors studied are new to the industry.  What they found, Michele said, is that “if it’s new to your property, you need to experiment with it, in a few rooms, a floor, at your home –for example a manager installed a low-flow shower head at his home to see how it worked.  Through experimentation, an organization can identify the projects that work, and then execute them more effectively.”
  • One size does not fit all – Amisha said, “We looked at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco and the Comfort Inn and Suites in Revere, MA.  They both were very strong in educating people about sustainability.  However, the Ritz was behind the scenes, whereas the Comfort Inn was more ‘in your face about it’ to guests.”
  • Financial drivers to going green are there – either from less start-up costs or lower ongoing costs

The authors studied very different hotels, balancing their selection across a number of variables, including size (90-900 rooms), price (mid-rate, convention, luxury), location (urban/rural), diamond rating, guest type (transient, government, business, conventioneer).  In addition, they also considered whether the hotels, all of which are in North America, were existing vs. new buildings, as well as branded versus independent.  However, all were considered green in some respect.

The book did not address the consumer.  However, when asked how customers have responded to hotel sustainability, Michele said, “Anecdotally, the consumer is not willing to pay more for [the green] rooms.  But it has become more of the expectation.  When companies are contracting with hotels for meeting and conventions, those questionnaires now include questions on lighting, recycling, green attributes.  If you want that business, you need to make those efforts.  Corporate clients are increasingly green options.”

The authors also were very grateful for the support they received from the following organizations:

If you’re interested in reading a portion of the book, here’s a link to downloadable chapter, which includes the book’s foreword, executive summary, as well as a case study on the Comfort Inn & Suites in Boston, MA.

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