Sustainable Development for B&Bs

During the Greening of Hospitality Industry conference (GMIC) I attendend in Portland, OR, in February (2007), I was introduced to several high-end hotel properties that are stepping up to being environmentally sound hotels and adopting energy conservation as one of the actions they are taking to preserve the environment, and their budgets.

One particular presentation about sustainability especially caught my attention, and introduced me to a green hotel chain I’d previously been unaware of — Scandic Hotels. That chain has done so much for improving their environmental actions I wanted to share their success story with you. Granted a hotel chain has a bigger impact on the environment than a B&B does, but we all have to do our part, and every little bit helps.

One of the first things Scandic Hotels did was decide to make their environmental commitment their differentiating point, their path of success. So here we are, more than ten years later, and this group of hotels are still green and going strong. Their plan about a 10-year plan to get all hotel rooms in line with the commitment. Here is a list of some of the actions they have incorporated, actions you could adopt too:

  • a towel/sheet reuse program
  • bulk bathroom amenities
  • energy efficient appliances in the laundry, kitchen, HVAC, offices, and guestrooms
  • environmentally safe cleaning products
  • organic food
  • recyclable guestrooms
  • recycling in the guestrooms and in the inn
  • wood and laminate (Pergo flooring was developed and refined in Sweden), instead of carpet, floors

Here are some of the other environmental issues they tackled:

  • Bulk Amenities:
    The first thing they did was to replace their bathroom amenities with bulk dispensers and products. By their measurements, 15 percent of their bar soaps, shampoos and conditioners were used and the balance trashed. By replacing their traditional amenities with bulk items, their waste volume was reduced by 40 percent. Your 40 percent savings will surely make a difference to your trash bills and how much you contribute to your landfill.
  • Recycling:
    By placing three-bin cans in guestrooms, not only did they reduce their waste by 45 percent, but they also educated their guests about recycling and their environmental program. They learned that having an environmental dialogue with staff and guests has made the program more effective, has lifted employee moral and spirits, and has excited their guests.
  • Environmentally Safe Cleaning Products:
    Cleaning was another area that has successfully gone green. They found five cleaning products for their various needs (they had traditionally used 13 different cleaning products) and that would be environmentally safe. Housekeeping not only likes toting fewer products around, but they like the effectiveness of the products and the healthier situation they work in. The hotel has reduced the cleaning supply inventory, carrying costs and disposal costs — another benefit of being green.Furthermore, chlorine bleach was replaced with an oxygen bleach, saving employee health and stretching the life of sheets, towels and table linens, as well as reducing the impact on the environment. Machines with fewer wash cycles were installed, saving water and energy (17% energy savings).
  • Guestroom Decor:
    Whether you are in the start-up phase or realizing it’s about time to redecorate to freshen your guestrooms, this is a plan to seriously consider. For Scandic Hotels, their recyclable guestrooms may have been the biggest step made in the quest to be green and set the hotels apart from the competition. A design was created that would allow the new rooms to use renewable and recyclable materials; 97 percent of its materials are reused and recirculated.Wood replaced plastic and metal where possible. Wood or laminate floors replaced carpet. Natural fibers replaced nylons and acrylics. Paints and finishes are water-based. They have estimated the initial investment was 15-17 percent higher, but because of the increased durability and longevity of the materials, the total life-time cost was decreased by 30%. Guest feedback showed a preference for the new rooms over the old rooms. And after looking at the guestrooms’ pictures, I agree. I prefer the elegance and simplicity of wood floors.

Some learned lessons to make your path smoother and more successful:

  • create a program that fits your business
  • involve suppliers early on, or only work with those who “get” your concept
  • make decisions that are visible and actively promote your green initiatives
  • start and maintain an environmental dialogue because it gets buy-in and creates loyalty with guests and employees alike
  • think globally, act locally; empower people to create change, and make resources available locally and publicize your results
  • walk your talk from the beginning of your plan

The reason for Scandic Hotels change? To create a competitive edge. Their market research showed that consumers (48% by 1994) were rejecting products that didn’t have environmental aspects;thus the decision to change to sustainable business practices. Management realized building guest loyalty needed to be done through shared values.

They have been successful. At the top of their success list — employee moral and commitment is high. Better employee attitudes have improved the guest experience. Guest education programs helped raise awareness of the hotel’s green initiatives and actions, and guest loyalty increased as a result, and furthermore new business increased by 15 percent. The bottom line results were that sales increased 25 percent and operating margins increased from 3.5-5.2 percent. An environmental approach to business is clearly profitable.

Develop your sustainable business plan. Create an environmental dialogue with your staff and your guests. Make a difference to your top and bottom lines. If a complete environmental program worked to turn Scandic Hotels’ business around, think what it can do for you too. What was true in 1994 about consumer preferences is even more true today. Sustainability is a mind set of a successful business. Go green and see for yourself.