LEED-certified property

The brand’s sweeping Green Engage program allows hoteliers to earn credits toward becoming a LEED-certified property

By Judy Maxwell, for AAHOA Lodging Business

InterContinental Hotels Group in January earned recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for charting a path of preparedness for its franchisees and operators.

In partnership with USGBC, a group called the Green Building Certification Institute gave IHG the official nod for the validity of its Green Engage program, a 200-step process that can lead to a hotel’s certification as a LEED property. As a result, USGBC awarded IHG with a “LEED Volume precertification” for its program designed to streamline the certification process for multiple buildings of a similar type. Green Engage simplifies the required LEED documentation through the use of prototyped standards, explained Jacob Kriss, USGBC spokesman. “It is especially useful for organizations that want to secure certification across a large portfolio of properties of a similar kind.”

To be clear, IHG does not grant LEED labels, rather the step-by-step process outlined in its Green Engage program positions a hotel to earn eco-friendly certifications from the USGBC as well as other green programs if the owner chooses to seek such awards. Along the way, the property can be holistically transformed into an eco-conscious, sustainable little planet of its own with happier employees, better satisfied guests and increased cash flow.

Robert Lamoureux, operator of the Holiday Inn & Suites Ambassador Bridge in Canada, can testify to those outcomes. The hotel, which sits just north of the U.S. border in Windsor, Ontario, is close to completing all the steps in Green Engage.

The hotel began the journey of LEED precertification in the beginning of 2012, starting with the easiest steps. “First, we organized our ‘green team,’” said the general manager, noting the best thing to do was to add the team to the hotel’s health and safety committee. The green team consists of one staff member from each of the hotel’s departments; they meet once a month after the health and safety committee meets. “I can hear hotel managers say they don’t have time for another meeting, but if you piggyback with your health and safety committee, it will work perfectly.”

Next, Lamoureux campaigned to get all of the hotel’s employees to buy in to the idea of going green. It was an easy sell. “The staff wanted to do it,” he said, so they began to take action, following the steps outlined in Green Engage, a four-part program with a number of action items at each level. Lamoureux stressed that hotels just starting to green-up should start with the easiest steps first, and that Green Engage action items do not have to be done in a certain order. His hotel has completed levels one, two and four, but still have parts of level three to finish.

Another early step to take is to inform your guests about Green Engage. “It lets guests know that you care about the environment and that you care about them,” said Lamoureux. “Reputation is everything in this business.”

To cut electricity consumption, the hotel began to change its light bulbs to CFLs or LEDs. It also switched its laundering to a night shift, lowering its electricity bill by 11 percent in 2012. In 2013, it changed out the bulbs in its meeting rooms; this year the plan is to replace the parking lot fixtures.

A major undertaking included installing a grease trap in the hotel’s kitchen water pipes. Before that, cooking grease and the chemicals used to break it up flowed into the public waste water stream. Now the grease is caught in containers and picked up by a recycling vendor.

The hotel restaurant also makes an effort to buy its food locally; and it grows its own herbs.

The hotel next plans to buy ozone laundry equipment as well as a tank-less hot water system. Lamoureux stressed that operators must research to find the best equipment and products for their hotel.

Computer software provided by IHG makes it easy to document the greening process to meet USGBC standards. It also helps calculate the cost benefit of going green, said Lamoureux, noting all he has to do is punch in the new data into the Green Engage mapping tool to measure the program’s effectiveness at his hotel.

Green Engage also helps hotel operators avoid following rabbit trails that lead to unnecessary steps and programs along the green journey, said Paul Snyder, IHG vice president, corporate responsibility and global lead on sustainability, the Americas. “We try to provide value to the process by vetting a certification’s impact and worth,” he said, adding some green-building programs are not applicable to hotels and therefore are not worth the staff’s time and attention.

A major advantage in the Green Engage program is that corporations and government groups today look for eco-friendly practices when shopping for hotels to contract with for meetings and to house their traveling employees. “It’s becoming more and more part of the dialogue,” said Snyder.

“The extra boost of LEED pre-certification will be of real value to owners as it provides a stamp of approval recognized by industry and corporate clients,” said Jim Abrahamson, president of IHG’s Americas region.

In the United States alone, reports IHG, a hotel, on average, spends an excess of $500,000 in energy expenses every year. Green Engage can make hotels 15 percent to 20 percent more energy efficient and deliver an average saving of $90,000 a year in energy costs. From 2010 through 2012, the 2,700 managed and owned hotels participating in Green Engage worldwide reduced energy per available room by between 6 percent and 10 percent. From 2010 through 2012, IHG reduced its carbon footprint by 9.7 percent per occupied room. The new Green Engage targets for 2013 through 2017 include reducing carbon footprint per occupied room by 12 percent (using 2010 as a baseline), and reducing water use per occupied room in water-stressed areas by 12 percent.

After an initial membership fee that pays for such things as the software setup and literature used to encourage employees to adopt green habits and make guests aware, a hotel pays $50 a month to use the Green Engage measurement tools. All of the costs are balanced out by the savings in operations, said Lamoureux. He also searches for value-added opportunities such as tax breaks or cash rebates on equipment and from energy suppliers, which more than fund the entire program.

The cost savings is a key advantage, but Lamoureux and Snyder both agree that the collateral benefits of Green Engage are found not only in greater guest satisfaction but also in a staff that feels confident and empowered to make a difference in their workplace as well as the world. “We don’t concern ourselves with whether we are doing what a customer would pay more for,” said Snyder. “Rather, we want to create a hotel that guests will love; will provide a more profitable business for investors and owners; and will make employees proud to work in a Green Engage hotel.”

If you need help in the Western US, please contact Ed LaCivita or Craig Sullivan at Parkwest General Contractors.

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