Would you sleep easier in a green hotel?

A new energy-efficiency toolkit has been launched for hotel properties in Europe; closer to home, the Starwood hotel group has snagged its 15th LEED certification.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

It is reasonable to expect that we might be able to control our eco-behavior in the privacy of our own homes, but it definitely gets a lot tougher when you travel, especially when it is for business. Let's start with the fact that priority No. 1 for your corporate travel department is going to be finding the cheapest price for your lodging, not whether or not a certain property conserves water or is committed to renewable energy.

But some hotels are definitely trying to do their part. A couple of years ago, I wrote about the gamble that Starwood is taking with its eco-hotel chain, Element, which is pitched as an alternative to extended stay properties such as Courtyard by Marriott. (An update on Element in a moment.) More recently, I touched on the fact that a number of really high profile companies are working together to at least try to standardize the way they talk about their impact. The effort is being spearheaded by the International Tourism Partnership and the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Now, hotels interested in operating more sustainably have some additional help in the form of a green toolkit from the United National World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The toolkit is part of the Hotel Energy Solutions initiative, focused on helping hoteliers evaluate energy consumption, source renewable power and improve their overall energy management profile. Aside from the UNWTO, other partners backing the effort are the UN Environment Program, the International Hotel & Restaurant Association, the European Renewable Council, and the French Environment and Energy Management Agency.

The toolkit was tested at approximately 100 European properties in Haute-Savoie in France, Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Bonn in Germany, and Strandja in Bulgaria. It focuses on what you might expect, helping managing when linens are laundered, ensuring that thermostats are adjusted appropriately, and controlling lighting throughout properties so they are on only when necessary. The original premise of the project was that it could help small and midsize hotels save up to 20 percent of overall energy consumption through focused efficiency measures and by reminding guests about eco-friendly behavior.

The initial target for the hotel toolkit is Europe, where something like half of the world's 5.9 million hotels are located, but it will eventually be extended to other markets. Figures from the European Action Plan for Energy Efficiency estimate that hotels could cut their energy consumption by up to 30 percent by 2020. Overall, the sector could save as much energy as, say, the residential or transportation sector.

So, obviously, this is a European initiative. I'm happy to report that I continue to hear inklings of good ideas here in the United States. I'll go back to Element, which I've been wondering about during the continued sluggish economic recovery.

After poking around a bit for some updates, I discovered that Element's hotel in Ewing, N.J., was designated as the first New Jersey hotel certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program in May 2011. All hotels under the Element brand are striving for LEED certification, and the Element Ewing Hopewell is the fourth one to do so. Starwood, overall, now manages 15 properties worldwide that have been LEED-certified -- the most of any global hospital company.

The property has 127 rooms that are all outfitted with EnergyStar-rated kitchen appliances, eco-friendly bath fixtures, and recycling bins for paper, plastic and glass. Filter systems for the drinking water help decrease the number of disposable cups. The carpets are made out of 100 percent recycled content and the paint is low-VOC. Natural lighting is used copiously; it is supplemented by compact fluorescent bulbs that save about 75 percent electricity over the incandescent alternative.

The hotel even features a ChargePoint electric vehicle charging station, which is part of a nationwide rollout by Element.

Said Perry Hansen, the hotel's general manager:

"Our LEED certification is gratifying because is recognizes our team's efforts to conserve resources and reduce waste. But even more important, guests keep telling us how much it means to them. There's a real appreciation among guests for all of the thoughtful practices that have become an integral part of the Element experience."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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