Beth Kormanik On Twitter @hotelinteractiv Green cleaning products haven’t always had a great reputation. They have often been typecast as more expensive and less effective than standard cleaning products, which makes them a tough sell to hotel housekeeping staffs. So Diana Beltran, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at the Grand Hyatt New York, knew she would have difficulty switching to an eco-friendly, non-foaming cleanser.
“Housekeepers are used to seeing foaming and feeling it’s cleaning,” she said. “I told them to give it a try for a week. If anything doesn’t feel clean or look clean, let us know. In the end the product did what it was meant to do. We showed them how it’s effective.”
Allowing the staff to give their feedback after a trial period helped create buy-in for the change rather than sending down a mandate from the top, Beltran said. Housekeepers could see how the product did its job as well as cut down on the chemical fumes and abrasiveness to their skin. And, she added, green products these days are not always more expensive.
“The most important thing is to understand their perception,” she said of the staff, “and if it’s not the best to change it.”
Beltran shared her experiences during a panel on sustainable hospitality sponsored by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Green initiatives come in all sizes. At the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid, N.Y., the owners were struggling over what to do with an ugly roof. There seemed to be few options because the hotel stood in the town’s sightline to Whiteface Mountain. Even a three-foot fence with seating would hinder the view, according to owner Jenn Holderied.
“It used to be one of the biggest eyesores of our property,” she said. “It was black tar roof that you could see from the street and from the town. It was terrible. For a long time we tried to figure out what to do there.”
The answer was planting a rooftop garden of low-growing, native species. The hotel installed the garden as part of a larger process of replacing the nearly 25-year-old roof and designed the new roof to withstand the weight of the plants, water and winter snow. The 3,400 square feet of blooms – which include herbs used in the hotel’s restaurant – covers a portion of the roof that can be seen from the street. Even though the plantings are in containers, they have grown so large that it appears as if they form one large garden, Holderied said.
“One of the biggest benefit we’ve gotten out of our green roof is guest education,” Holderied said. “You can see it from all of the town. People are constantly asking, what is it? What does it do? … In PR alone, it has paid for itself 50 times, easily. It creates a much nicer-looking aesthetic of the hotel from the street.”
Other efforts to move in a greener direction, though, have faltered. One example is the guest room amenity program. Holderied said she has switched her supplier three times because the soap and shampoo containers haven’t lived up to their environmental claims. She would like the hotel to switch to bulk amenities, but a guest survey the hotel did about five years ago “gave us back a resounding no.” She plans to repeat the survey this year to see if attitudes have changed.
“If it is not either invisible to the guest or it doesn’t enhance the guest experience, then we don’t do it,” she said. “We don’t necessarily always do the greenest thing if it’s going to take away from the guest experience, but we found most of the time it does enhance the guest experience.”
Ray Burger, president of the environmental marketing and distribution company Pineapple Hospitality, said he believes that a new survey would reveal that guests these days are more comfortable with bulk amenities.
“I would say dispensers have come a long way,” he said, noting that the initial dispensers in the early 1990s looked cheap but new models are suitable for upscale hotels. Burger added that bulk dispensers should be part of a larger environmental initiative in the hotel. Otherwise, they simply look like a cost-savings device. When they are part of a hotel’s overall environmental commitment, guests are more likely to accept them.
Communicating these initiatives to the guest is a balancing act, according to Tracy Freas of the Pollution Prevention Institute.
“You don’t want to push it in people’s faces and have it so loud that it takes away from the ambiance of the hotel or the elegance of the hotel experience,” she said.
Some changes will not ever be visible to the guests. The Grand Hyatt New York changes the toilet paper roll in its 1,311 guest rooms after every check out, Beltran said, and most times there is easily half a roll left over. Instead of throwing it out, the hotel donates it to local homeless shelters. The amount averages between 100 and 150 pounds of toilet paper a week, she said. For restrooms in public areas, the hotel switched to coreless toilet paper. Beltran said the new rolls have three times the amount of sheets per roll, which means less staff time is spent changing toilet paper.
Holderied described another back-of-house change. The resort switched to a glass cleaner that it dilutes on property rather than purchasing premixed chemicals. The change allowed the hotel to significantly cut back on packaging, from 770 bottles a year to just 15 bottles. She pointed out that hotel management needs to take the lead – suppliers will not always advertise these options.
“We had to go to them and say, ‘What are these products and what are our options?’” she said.
When selling a change internally, it helps to have numbers to back up a return on investment, Beltran said.
“We have to do our research, show strategic plan and show the amount of time it will take to get those results back,” Beltran said. “You cannot quantify every single project. It’s really thinking and looking at the effect of the triple bottom line: People, Planet and Profit.”