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Don’t let the verdant gardens and fountain-filled lobbies of resorts fool you — most of the Western U.S. is in the 15th year of the worst drought to hit the area in more than 800 years. However, some hotels are finding that sustainability is both fiscally and environmentally responsible, especially as travelers grow more conscious of their water consumption.
“We live in a desert, and our community is dependent on water,” said Chris Brophy, vice president of the Corporate Sustainability Division for MGM Resorts International. “The hospitality industry has started moving in the direction toward lower-flow fixtures and water-smart practices. But, it takes a while to make that change throughout the community.”
The move toward sustainability is exemplified by City Center in Las Vegas, a complex launched by MGM Resorts International, that encompasses residential units, resorts and casinos. At around 18 million square feet in size, it’s the largest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold-certified development.
“People who come to Las Vegas often don’t worry about their water and energy consumption,” Brophy said. “They come here to have fun. So we make sure that — from a building management perspective — we do the right thing without impacting the guest experience.”
CityCenter has its own heat and power central plant that produces hot water and 30 percent of the campus’s electricity. The on-site bathrooms have low-flow water fixtures; linens are washed at a default of every three days; and water is only served to guests on request at CityCenter’s restaurants. Drought-tolerant native plants are irrigated with a system using sensors to measure variables such as weather and ground moisture. And more recently, restaurants in the complex have stopped thawing meat under running water in favor of defrosting it overnight. These procedures have reduced water consumption by 160 million gallons per year, when measured against the building-code standards of 2007.
However, water conservation is as much a task for the larger community as it is for the hospitality industry.
According to Brophy, MGM’s resort properties in Las Vegas consume less water per year than do their employees when at home. That’s why MGM launched a Drought Buster campaign in June as part of its My Green Advantage, a website that teaches employees about green practices.
Benita Skalada, director of sales and marketing for Hotel Indigo in San Diego, said business groups have become increasingly environmentally conscious as well.
“When companies are looking for a place to hold their meetings, one of the important questions [they ask us] is ‘Are [you] green friendly?’” Skalada said. “They want to know what differentiates us from our competitors as far as how we take care of the environment.”
Hotel Indigo uses Green Engage, an online tool designed by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to track and assess energy and water usage. This month, IHG will launch the program to more than 4,700 of its hotels worldwide.
The only LEED-certified hotel in downtown San Diego, Hotel Indigo conserves water through water-efficient bathroom fixtures and toilets, drought-tolerant plants and an offsite laundry facility that uses less water through large load machines.
Plenty of other hotels have embraced similar measures. Courtyard Los Angeles Torrance/South Bay cut its water usage by 15 percent when it replaced 900 square feet of turf with local California grass. Aloft Hotel Tempe, the first LEED certified hotel in Arizona, utilizes recycling and eco-friendly cleaning products. And Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City Hotel recently replaced ivy plants on its balconies with water-frugal succulents.
Although the initial construction of environmentally friendly buildings may be more costly, both Brophy and Skalada agree that the long-term savings are well worth the initial premium.
“We didn’t build the least costly facilities,” Brophy said. “But, in the long run, we’ll make that money back, use those resources efficiently and pay less in the future.”
Recent studies conducted by the Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) support the notion that the hospitality industry stands to gain from sustainability. One study states that LEED-certified hotels financially outperform non-certified competitors for at least two years post-certification. CHR also analyzed the effect of Travelocity’s Eco-Leaf label on a group of U.S. hotels, finding that certified hotels had more operations- and customer-driven resource efficiency.
On the flip side, it looks like travelers also have “going green” on the brain. In 2007, 96 percent of Conde Nast Traveler readers felt that hotels should protect the environment they operate in, and more than 74 percent said a hotel’s environmental measures influence their booking decisions. According to a 2012 Trip Advisor survey, 71 percent of travelers said they planned to make more eco-friendly travel choices in the next year.
As water becomes a scarcer resource for the Western U.S., drought-friendly hotels may become less of a novelty and more of a necessity.
“Most large hospitality companies understand and embrace the business case for being environmentally responsible,” Brophy said. “I wouldn’t call it a trend. I would call it the new standard.”
Aloft Hotel Tempewww.alofttempe.com
Courtyard Los Angeles Torrance/South Baywww.marriott.com
InterContinental Hotels Groupwww.ihgplc.com
Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City Hotelwww.intercontinental.com
MGM Resorts International www.mgmresorts.com