The Comfort Inn & Suites, located in Revere, Massachusetts, appears as a classic airport hotel. Shuttles line the front entrance, and travelers come and go in a hurry. The lobby is comfortable and relaxed, and employees greet guests with warm, genuine smiles. Nothing about this room hints at the numerous environmentally friendly practices at work behind the scenes.
Inside a guest room, the commitment of the Saunders Hotel Group, owners of both the Comfort Inn & Suites and the iconic Lenox, located adjacent to Copley Square, is slightly more apparent. Next to the small garbage can is an equal sized recycling bin, and a page in the guest book is dedicated to the environmental actions of the establishment. There are signs in the bathroom encouraging guests to use minimal water and hang towels to indicate that they will be used again. Instead of disposable shampoo and lotion bottles, there are large, wall-mounted dispensers.
The primary actions, however, remain invisible to guests. For instance, the Comfort Inn has its own cogeneration system, which produces the electricity for the hotel on site and heats or cools the building depending on season. At the Lenox, wastewater from washing machines is filtered and re-used within the hotel, a system that alone saves the hotel 4 million gallons of water per year. Throughout both properties, only non-VOC, or volatile organic compound, paints and water-based cleaners with low chemical contents are used in an effort to improve the experience of the guests as well as the health of the hotel staff.
According to Tedd Saunders, president of EcoLogical Solutions Inc and chief sustainability officer of the Saunders Hotel Group, these programs minimize both environmental impacts and overhead costs.
“From a business perspective, we are reducing costs and reinvesting those dollars and creating loyalty with all of our stakeholder groups,” said Saunders. “Usually a business has to spend a lot of money to foster that relationship and here we are saving it.”
While guests are starting to expect a commitment to the environment, they may not be willing to pay more for sustainable services. The hotel must then find a way to provide the same or higher quality services, at the same or lower price.
“A lot of companies who haven’t implemented [sustainable practices] haven’t because they say it is too costly or think it will take a lot of time,” said David Cardenas, an assistant professor and research associate at the School of Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism Management, located in Columbia, South Carolina. “But we have found that it is not much more difficult and can be implemented in their routine training and can save a lot of money.”
There are no governmental regulations in the U.S. dictating ways in which hotels are required to minimize their impacts on their environment. Therefore, sustainability within the hospitality industry can only improve through the work of the owners, employees and consumers. In addition, any progress is movement towards an indefinite goal, because with constantly changing technology, there will always be new ways to make a space more sustainable.
“Things are changing, so what we thought was sustainable before might not be sustainable now,” said Cardenas. “We need to be able to modify and change our understandings.”
Each hotel is different, and what works for one may be entirely unsuccessful at another. For instance, due to the Lenox’s image as a luxury hotel, Saunders does not feel it is appropriate to post signs about environmental efforts in the same way they can at the Comfort Inn & Suites. However, they are able to serve locally sourced, organic offerings in the two restaurants and bar at the Lenox, a feature absent at the other property.
“[The Lenox] is supposed to feel more like home,” said Scot Hopps, director of sustainability for Saunders Hotel Group & EcoLogical Solutions. “A lot of efforts we’ve made to introduce sustainability to the hotel are specifically not in the lobby because we just haven’t found the right products to create that same feel.”
Many guests at the Comfort Inn & Suites were unaware of the environmental practices before arriving. However, the balance of environmental awareness and comfort can turn a one-time guest into a loyal customer. Neal Good and Beth Clinch Good, both returning guests, recently stayed at the Comfort Inn for part of their honeymoon.
“We come for the Red Sox games, so there are definitely hotels closer to the park,” said Neal. “But we come here because we know what we are going to get.”
After first being drawn to the hotel for its convenient location between her family in Lynn, Massachusetts and Fenway Park, the couple returns in large part because of the hotel’s environmental commitment.
“We are very happy to see the recycling bins,” said Neal Good. “They make it easier to help.”
Others appreciated the environmental efforts, but did not feel they served as a deciding factor as to whether or not they would return.
“The environmental efforts definitely made us think more highly of it,” said Michael Clary of Syracuse, New York. “We would definitely come back, but there are other reasons for that.”
The environmental initiatives at both locations are designed to take on responsibilities often put on the consumer. While towel reuse programs or shorter showers can help the environment, they can also decrease the customer experience, something Hopps feels strongly should be avoided. He believes that the hotel should implement enough programs and be sustainable enough behind the scenes that the guests do not need to worry about such things.
“You look at why a person goes to Whole Foods and shops, or why a person buys a Prius,” said Hopps. “It’s very different from why a person travels to Boston. They travel to Boston because they have to be in Boston for something, whether or not they care [about sustainability].”
Check back next week for part 2 of Blast’s latest series, “Sustainability Within the Hotel Industry”.