October 25, 2006 | General

Sustainable Resource Management In The Hospitality Industry

BioCycle October 2006, Vol. 47, No. 10, p. 40
Since 1996, the Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in Portland, Oregon has reduced its waste disposal volume by an impressive 65 percent.
Marnie McPhee

TO MANY guests, a hotel stay is supposed to be sumptuous, special, and fun. Skimpiness doesn’t hack it. They may select too much food from the buffet line, luxuriate in long baths and showers, leave the lights on, and expect clean bedding and towels after just one use – all things most of them would never dream of doing at home.
This puts hotel managers – who must manage resources and costs carefully – in a bind. Many implement waste reduction and recycling programs subtly, so guests aren’t aware of the changes. Others actively promote their sustainability programs, and invite guests to help them conserve resources.
One of the leaders in this group is the Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in Portland, Oregon. Since 1996, waste disposal volume has been reduced by an impressive 65 percent. During the first six months of 2006, over 126 tons of waste were diverted from the landfill, a savings of almost $10,000. And the Doubletree has done much more to conserve energy and water, filter and reuse storm water and buy renewable energy. (See “A Room With A Very Green View,” September/October 2006 In Business.)
A recent tour of the hotel, led by Steve Faulstick, General Manager, Michael Luehrs, Director of Operations and Doug Brecht, Director of Communications, provided a back-of-the-house look into the sustainability initiatives. The tour began in the kitchen.
At several work stations, the managers pointed out large heavy-duty green plastic “Portland Composts!” containers filled with food scraps. The hotel is participating in a food residuals diversion program that takes collected materials to Cedar Grove Composting in Washington State. Metro, the regional government that oversees garbage disposal and recycling, established the program with the City of Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development (see “10 Lessons From 10 Years Of Food Residuals Diversion Planning,” July 2005 and “Forward With Food Residuals Diversion,” November 2004).
The containers held the obvious onion trimmings and potato peelings, but there also were meat and cheese scraps, a few wax-coated milk cartons and small pieces of wood. “This is exactly what Cedar Grove has trained us to do,” Luehrs explained. “We place anything they can compost into these green bins. Everything else (mostly plastics) goes in the black trash containers.”
The tour continued to the loading dock, where there is a converted waste compacter for the kitchen organics. Staff empties the green compost containers into the compactors. Executive Chef Steve Ward and sous-chefs actually rake through the material to check for errant rubber gloves, tin cans or other debris that could void the whole lot. Since the program began, the hotel’s goal-setting and staff training have increased the volume of compostables from the original five to seven tons/month, to an average of 14 tons/month, and raised the ratio of collected organics to garbage to at least five to one. In the first six months of 2006, compostables comprised more than 40 percent of the hotel’s total waste. Luehrs noted that the program is cost-neutral, because reduced garbage disposal costs offset the increased costs for more frequent pick-ups.
In another corner of the loading dock, there was a rolling cart for waste oil. A local firm, Oregon Oil, collects the hotel’s waste kitchen oil and sells it to companies producing biodiesel and other waste-oil products.
Chef Ward explained that, to further reduce waste, kitchen staff maintains small inventories, prepares appropriate amounts of food for conferences, serves high-quality leftovers in the employee cafeteria, and, through a Metro program called “Fork it Over!” donates excess safe, prepared food to Blanchet House, a local shelter.
From the kitchen, the tour headed to the lobby, where Luehrs pointed out the coffee cart. “To reduce waste, food service has switched from single-serve to bulk containers for jams, sweeteners, creamers and more,” he explained. “In addition, consistent with our purchasing policy, 75 percent of the products we use come from suppliers that deliver products in environmentally-safe packaging and shipping containers, reuse them when possible, and collect them when they’re empty.” For instance, Sunshine Dairy and Medosweet Farms deliver their dairy products in reusable plastic crates. SYSCO Systems ships in cardboard totes; when possible, the hotel reuses them for shipping, while SYSCO picks up unusable totes for recycling. Larger shippers use and reuse pallets. Hotel policy prohibits regular suppliers from using Styrofoam packaging; staff is looking for a recycler to handle the Styrofoam pellets they receive from other sources.
Next to the main desk are containers for paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic. Luehrs noted that these are placed throughout the hotel’s public areas, guest rooms, kitchens and offices. “We figure that if we make it easy, people will go along with it,” he said. He estimated that the system diverts an estimated 600 pounds/ month of these recyclable items from the landfill.
The purchasing department collects used toner cartridges and sends them to a recycling center for remanufacturing. In addition, the hotel’s purchasing policy requires staff to buy paper with at least 30 percent postconsumer recycled content. A paper-saving program has reduced paper purchases by 20 percent annually. “We also buy high quality furniture that can be reupholstered, and other durable goods that withstand heavy use,” noted Faulstick. Outdated pieces are donated to the nonprofit Central City Concern.
Several plaques were displayed near the coffee cart. The first was a Green Seal certification. In January 2006, the Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center became the first hotel in Oregon, and the only branded hotel west of the Mississippi River, to meet Green Seal’s requirements for sustainable business practices. The Green Seal program ( serves as a compass for the hotel, guiding managers and staff to meet continually higher standards, particularly in waste reduction and recycling.
Other plaques honored the Doubletree for being the first hotel to participate in the “Portland Composts!” commercial composting program, and “Fork it Over!”, and the first to earn a “seal of sustainability” from the City of Portland’s BlueWorks Business program for green businesses. There also is a Commuter Choice Leadership Initiative certificate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Best Workplaces for CommutersSM ( program for subsidizing employee transit passes and for supporting and promoting commuter benefits.
“The more we do, the more we want to do,” Luehrs said. “But we are very careful about not over-promising or overstating how green we are.” Other initiatives include preferable purchasing of locally grown food, and procuring green cleaning supplies and recycled-content paper goods. “We know we’re ahead of the pack, and we want to stay there,” Brecht added. “We’re looking for that next bar to go over.”
Some of those next “bars” for the near term include: Define the hotel’s carbon footprint (by the end of the third quarter of 2006), then reduce it; Switch guest rooms to “green rooms” featuring sustainable wool carpets, drapes, bedding and hard goods (early 2007); Gain U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-EB (Existing Building) certification (mid-2008); Complete the hotel’s naturescaping project (mid-2008); Design a rainwater harvesting system to augment the city’s water supply and reduce storm water runoff; Generate electrical energy on-site by installing wind and/or solar power systems; and Achieve zero landfill impact (by 2015).
The zero waste “bar” is impressive. How does the Portland Doubletree plan to achieve it? Luehrs lists the top priorities: Invest in recycle stations for guest rooms; Recruit, hire and train a Recycling Coordinator to sort solid waste and capture recyclable material; Work with city and state agencies to take advantage of technological innovations such as compostable packing material; and Capitalize on demand for diminishing resources (fiber, glass, waste oil).
“We believe future years will bring new opportunities for companies to profit from the ‘waste’ we currently generate,” Luehrs explained. “We look forward to establishing mutually beneficial partnerships like these.”
The hotel’s managers are committed to this green path, despite the misperception that sustainability is expensive. “It’s very different to think sustainability first, then profitability will follow,” he added. “But that’s just what we’re doing. We understand that the additional costs we experience today will equate to solid, quantifiable business returns as well as the less tangible benefits of the goodwill created with our clients and guests.”
In fact, customers already are taking notice of the hotel’s actions. “We realized that there was a great market of customers demanding sustainability,” Brecht said. “I can track $500,000 in convention business we’ve earned in just the six months since we got our Green Seal certification!” One of these delighted customers wrote: “I had no idea that the Doubletree was ecoconscious, and I applaud that.”
Marnie McPhee is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. She specializes in sustainability – recycling, composting, energy efficiency and renewable energy, organic agriculture, and green building.

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