Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Green Advantage - Chain Hotels vs Independent Hotels

A recent study on green hospitality conducted by Washington State University noted that chain hotels have a distinct advantage over smaller independent hotels when it comes to implementing green initiatives. From the standpoint that larger chains have established corporate guidelines, purchasing restrictions and proprietary monitoring systems, this may be true.  However, independent hotels have much more to gain, and when accessing the right resources can actually develop more strength and flexibility in sustainable hospitality than the chain hotels. 

Because independent hotels don’t have ready-made green programs to rely on, they must take the initiative to boldly move forward on  the sustainability journey on their own. The good news is that there are resources available.  One of the most valuable and impactful decisions a hotel can make is to seek third-party certification.  A  hotel making a green commitment can use a scientifically developed standard such as Green Seal’s GS-33 standard as their guideline to ensure that they are implementing the green practices that make a difference for a hospitality operation. Using this standard as a green compass, hotel executives can be confident that their sustainability program is well-rounded and addresses the most impactful concerns. 

Some hotel chains have developed their own environmental tracking and measuring systems that they require each property to use.  However, there are other systems available that can help hotels track and measure utility, water, waste and recycling.  Independent hotels can use the EPA Wastewise ReTRACsystem to track their waste and recycling volume, as well as the Energy Star Portfolio Manager to track and measure their energy and water usage.  Both of these programs are free, provide benchmarking and analysis, and will also provide reports on related GHG emissions. 

One of the biggest advantages that chain hotels have is their power to enforce purchasing agreements, with preferred vendors and specific product requirements, which does not afford a hotel the option of selecting products that might be less expensive but have a greater environmental impact.  But this advantage may also limit a property from searching out new innovative products, services and solutions as they become available. 

While chain hotels may provide guidelines and resources, the responsibility of establishing a green culture at the property level remains with the on-site property managers.  With this being true, a chain hotel may have established green procedures, but may not be encouraging and monitoring daily green work habits.  Therefore, the shades of green between chain hotels may vary widely. 

On the marketing front, an independent hotel can truly establish its identity as a green hotel, whereas a chain hotel’s identity is established by the corporate marketing department.  Typically, the green marketing strategy of a hotel chain will be conservative, to protect against the risk of greenwashing accusations.  An independent hotel can take more control over their public image in marketing by consistently infusing a green message associated with their hotel name. 

Ultimately, when getting started with green initiatives chain hotels do have the advantage over independent hotels in that much of the groundwork is done for them.  However, while some chain hotels continue to pursue ongoing improvement, many will not progress above and beyond the corporate mandates, whereas independent hotels may be more likely to pursue and utilize third-party certifying standards, such as Green Seal and Green Key, which encourage and promote ongoing continuous improvement.  Both chain and independent hotels can take a stand for environmental stewardship and demonstrate green leadership by achieving third-party certification. 

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