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Chicago takes the lead in Green Hotels
But taming one big resource-hungry monster is a lot easier than bringing lots of little monsters to heel, which makes hotels a prime target for greening up. The city of Chicago recognized that when it began its Green Hotel Initiative, with the goal of having more certified green hotels than any other U.S. city. That, it must be admitted, was not such an ambitious goal, since Portland, Oregon and Washington, D.C., the contenders for that distinction, had only two such hotels each. But Chicago's hotels, encouraged by the initiative's offer of a 50% subsidy for the first year's certification costs and help sharing best practices, stepped up. In October, five-the Hotel Monaco Chicago, Hotel Burnham, Hotel Allegro Chicago, InterContinental Chicago, and the Talbott Hotel-were certified by Green Seal, a third-party certification organization chosen by the city for its credibility and for its program tailored specifically to lodgings. Seven more hotels are close to certification, and 18 others are at an earlier stage in the process.
To be certified, hotels must go over their operations thoroughly, taking steps such as instituting recycling programs, choosing efficient equipment when replacing heaters, refrigerators, copiers and the like, minimizing the use of disposable items, and using nontoxic cleaners. They must institute systems to ensure that the procedures they put in place survive as employees come and go.
Participants say they have benefited enormously from Chicago's monthly educational meetings with discussion of the challenges of cutting waste, training staff, and re-thinking purchasing decisions. The City has also made a staff member at the Department of Environment available as a liaison between hotels and Green Seal. In the future, the City may be able to expand its current small composting pilot projects to help hotels compost their food wastes-a practice encouraged by Green Seal, but difficult at present due to inadequate composting services.
Until the last couple of years, Green Seal vice president for certification Mark Petruzzi says, hotels didn't have enough demand for green operations to go to the trouble of overhauling their practices, but that is changing. He cites the Green Meeting Industry Council as a positive influence, and says an increasing number of companies and government entities are adopting policies that favor green hotels. Although it is too early to see an uptick in bookings due to the recent surge in green hotels in the city, Meghan Risch, director of public relations for the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau confirms that "More and more of the RFPs [requests for proposals] coming in are specifying green needs, not just for their meeting spaces, but hotels."
David Burdick, who conducts hotel audits for Green Seal and has worked with 40 hotels in the last year, thinks that in today's faltering economy being certified as green is particularly attractive to hotels working harder to attract guests. He also says that, although meeting Green Seal standards does raise certain costs, hotels usually save money overall, although he finds that the hospitality industry doesn't track expenditures and savings very closely.
"There seems to be this underlying perception that guests don't want to see the green efforts," says Petruzzi on obstacles to greening the industry. While this perception may be widespread, fears that high standards of service and comfort are incompatible with environmental responsibility may be most common among hoteliers who haven't taken the plunge. According to Nabil Moubayed, general manager of the Hotel Monaco, even in a four-star hotel guests are willing to accept some changes in what they are used to for the sake of green benefits, but in fact, he says, at his hotel the changes are barely evident. "In overall comfort, there's absolutely no difference," he says. Gretchen Spear, promotions manager for the Hyatt Regency, which is the largest of the chain's hotels and is in the process of seeking certification, agrees. There are "brand standard" issues to work out-using disposable paper cups in rooms, for example, which isn't allowed under Green Seal standards-but, she says, "It's all been positive."
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