Illinois Hotels: Taking Home The “Green” Ribbon In Eco-Friendly Initiatives
By Michael Jacobson President & CEO, Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association | October 06, 2019
Illinois hotels and their restaurant, banquet and spa outlets are – more than ever – dedicating resources to establish eco-friendly practices that aim to preserve our environment. In addition to numerous hotels being designed specifically to meet LEED certification requirements, there is an abundance of creative ways in which hotels are bringing mindfulness to their everyday business practices to do their part in supporting our natural resources.
These include initiatives ranging from monitoring for energy and water efficiency to reducing plastics, crafting sustainable wine lists and even placing used furniture with those in need.
As one of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association's core platforms, we explore how hotels nationwide can implement thoughtful, sustainable and turnkey practices as exemplified by others leading the way in this critical effort.
Reduction in Plastics
In the fight against plastic waste, hotels across the state are turning the tide on single-use plastics. To put this into perspective, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) -the corporation that claims brands like Holiday Inn and Kimpton Hotels and has 5,700 properties around the world-uses 200 million miniature plastic bottles for shampoo, lotion, and other bathroom amenities each year. This number is about to drastically change.
By 2021, IHG is said to be cutting out the usage of mini shampoo bottles in-room and will replace them with larger bottles and bulk dispensary. This shift will significantly reduce the total amount of plastic being used, and since they won't be going home with any travelers, the likelihood that the plastic is properly recycled also increases.
Even seemingly minor tweaks can lead to a major reduction in the environmental impact and help in our fight against plastic. At the Thompson Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, General Manager Paul Cardona has taken steps to eliminate all plasticware. So far, plastic containers and lids (such as the ones you'd find at a coffee bar or continental breakfast) have been switched to Green Restaurant Association-endorsed paper containers and all 5.5-inch and 7.75-inch straws (a hot button factor to the plastic debate) have been replaced with paper compostable straws.
At the Great Wolf Lodge in neighboring Gurnee, Illinois, the indoor waterpark resort has pledged to replace plastic straws with more environmentally-friendly paper straws at each of its 17 locations nationwide. It is estimated that this effort alone, will eliminate the waste of more than 5 million plastic straws annually.
We often see hotel rooms offer the option to not replace towels or linens until the end of a guest stay or the two-setting feature on toilets in an effort to save water. Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association partner, ECOLAB, assists hotels with programs focusing on water, hygiene and energy technologies and services that protect people and vital resources. With the consistent washing of linens in the hotel industry, many of our member hotels choose ECOLAB products and services to keep their environment clean and safe, operate efficiently and achieve their property's sustainability goals.
To showcase the power of its eco-friendly initiatives, ECOLAB conducted a case study with the Shangri-La hotel in Taiwan. ECOLAB implemented its Aquanomic™ Laundry Program that reduces water use by eliminating a flush-and-rinse step while still delivering clean, white and soft linens. Better yet, this specialized laundering process maximizes the longevity of towels and linens and reduces the environmental impact. In total, ECOLAB reduced Shangri-La Hotel's water usage by 363,236 gallons and saved $4,000 in water and energy savings.
This direction is something we are encouraging our members across the state to consider in achieving our sustainability and efficiency goals. By switching to a process that delivers the same outcome but yields lower environmental impact, it is a win for everyone.
Reduction of Energy
One of the top eco-friendly issues we face today is lowering our energy usage. As one of the top five operating costs for most businesses, energy is an important part of the overall business strategy, especially in the hotel industry. Due to the amount of electricity and gas hotels use to power their properties, our properties naturally emit greenhouse gasses. That's why we are working with the state of Illinois who is actively making an effort to be more sustainable, including a dedicated state effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% by 2025. With still a ways to go, Illinois has already reduced our emissions by 16% since 2005.
One of the ways Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association members are combating excess greenhouse emissions is by partnering with Constellation, the nation's leading competitive energy provider. Constellation offers a variety of energy solutions, including electricity plans, renewable energy plans and natural gas plans.
By utilizing energy suppliers like Constellation, and leveraging their property-level energy assessments, hotels can begin to dramatically reduce their energy usage and implement renewable energy goals for the future. This not only helps the environment, it makes good business sense, with the potential to save each hotel thousands of dollars each year.
Recycling Toiletries and Furniture
We all know and often hear the phrase, "Reduce. Reuse. Recycle." For many, reducing energy and water usage and recycling paper, plastic and aluminum are the quintessential ways to be eco-friendly within a given property. However, in the individualized and hygienic hotel space, reusing materials can become an obstacle, for the property and the guest. One of the best ways we have found to "reuse" is by donating the surplus of unused toiletries and gently used furniture to those who need it most.
This past Mother's Day, The Hotel Human Resources Association (HHRA) and the Illinois Women in Lodging (I-WIL) committee partnered on a community event where local hotels supplied excess amounts of shampoo, soap, lotion, toothpaste, combs and other toiletry items to assemble into "gift bags" which were delivered to survivors of domestic violence living in transitional housing. A simple toiletry drive like this can help alleviate the surplus of plastic for properties in order to make room for larger-capacity bottles while also doing good for the community. Similarly, this effort can be applicable for furniture as well.
Furniture is the least recycled household item in the U.S. and every year, over 10 million tons of furniture is thrown away. When properties undergo a renovation or decide to upgrade guest rooms, the hotel is often left with tons of extra furniture. Instead of throwing it all away, companies like the Chicago Furniture Bank, an Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association charitable partner, accept the furniture, donate it to those in need and provide complete furnishing packages.
To date, the non-profit organization has diverted over 280 tons of furniture from heading to landfills. After partnering with the hotel industry, the Chicago Furniture Bank was recently offered a donation of 50 hotel rooms-worth of furniture from the downtown Chicago location formerly occupied by James Hotel.
This is the type of "reusing" that all hotels can pursue rather effortlessly in its sustainability programs. Not only is this a generous charitable act, but a direct reflection of the hotel industry's core values in bettering its surrounding community.
Other Ways to be Eco-Friendly
Although many properties are adopting large-scale and corporate-wide initiatives, there are many smaller ways to be eco-friendly that can generate a substantial impact. From supplying locally sourced, organic foods and beverages to offering gas-free transportation, every amenity adds up.
As the winner of IHLA's 2018 Good Earthkeeping Award, the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza is a true frontrunner for sustainable hotel initiatives. The LEED Gold Certified property has recently partnered with Walter Payton College Prep High School for Earth Week celebrations. Students designed and built a small underwater robot to complete a series of public safety challenges such as inspecting and making repairs to a hydroelectric dam and monitoring water quality. Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza even offered its pool to the students for practice leading up to the competition.
Amenities abound at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, where guests can enjoy discounted DIVVY bike cards to take around the city and plug in to electronic car charging stations in the parking garage. The property even locally sources up to 40% of its food and produce.
Interestingly enough, the Thompson Hotel has even found a way to implement sustainable practices geared toward its bar. The property's wine list, curated by Sommelier Bret Heiar, relies heavily on organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming; featuring carbon neutral wineries and smaller producers. The hotel's commitment to sustainability is even showcased by their use of Santome Prosecco, which comes from sustainable vineyards powered by solar panels.
The integration of eco-friendly initiatives and pushing the creative envelope in this category is vital to the sustainability of our industry and the preservation of our precious natural resources. Doing so will help attract visitors who care about these critical issues, increase spending and contribute to building greener communities and hotel experiences.
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