Getting sustainable materials for operations or construction once meant paying more, sacrificing quality or sometimes both. That is no longer the case, sources said.
NEW YORK—Sustainability-minded hoteliers and developers once had a tougher time sourcing materials needed for day-to-day operations or construction than they do today.
Experts speaking at a roundtable on sustainability efforts held at the InterContinental New York Barclay hotel said prioritizing environmentally friendly materials or items such as cleaning products used to mean sacrificing when it came to pricing or quality. That seems to be no longer the case.
“I think it’s getting easier,” said Marcus Munse, a GM at Courtesy Management. “A lot of it is brand mandated, like you can’t choose your sheets. But you can choose your chemical companies, and there are a lot that are designed for the environment.”
Paul Snyder, VP of corporate responsibility for IHG, agreed scenarios are better than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean things are perfect. Because for many, sustainability is little more than a marketing vehicle.
“If you’re asking if the availability of green products has improved or if there’s still a long way to go, the answer to both questions is ‘yes,’” he said. “We’re seeing more and more green products on the market, but sometimes things that say they are green are not really green. Sometimes that means they’re not good but they’re just not bad.”
Snyder did note that the fragmented nature of the hotel industry, where even the largest company holds only a fraction of the total market share, makes it incredibly difficult to track and address industry-wide supply chain issues.
“We’re one of the biggest sectors of the economy, but it’s totally disaggregated,” he said. “When I go to sustainable brand conferences and attend sessions on the supply chain, there are companies (in other industries) with incredible, immense technology to track all of this stuff. But those industries aren’t disaggregated in the same way. So, we’re in this nether world where we’re big enough that it matters, but it’s so hard to track and manage.”
Cost and efficiency
One key positive, Snyder pointed out, is the price differential seems to be shrinking.
“The pricing differences for green and not green products is collapsing,” he said. “Things are developing more in the F&B space, and some other parts of the supply chain have a longer way to go.”
Bennett Thomas, Hersha Hospitality Trust’s SVP of finance and sustainability, said hoteliers need to take a close look at products and materials to see if they really live up to their promise, both in terms of efficiency and environmental impact.
“You have to look at each individual material you’re using,” he said. “That could be linens or chemicals.”
But he agreed things are significantly better than even the recent past.
“There’s less of a gap in price and really no gap in effectiveness,” Thomas said. “Ten years ago, everything green either didn’t work or needed twice the volume (to work).”
Austin Flajser, president of Carr Companies, said developers today have their choice of a number of environmentally friendly building options, but it’s important to consider them to figure out how costly and effective each might be.
“There are a lot of considerations, like having green roofs versus installing solar panels,” he said. “Our buildings are urban verticals, so we don’t have enough room for solar to be effective, but we build in water retention and other things. And we really haven’t seen a negative impact from it.”
He said there has been a significant improvement in the availability and cost of green building options over the course of the current cycle.
Hervé Houdré, GM of the InterContinental New York Barclay, said a lot of the efforts toward sustainability in food-and-beverage operations boils down to sourcing foods locally, i.e. within a 100-mile radius or less.
At the Barclay, Houdré said these efforts are particularly effective because they’re headed up by an executive chef who is invested in green initiatives and who personally oversees the operations of the hotel’s rooftop beehives.
“We’re lucky to have an executive chef who is passionate about the same things,” he said. “He goes much further sometimes than even I think is necessary. He’s found all local suppliers, so things on the supply side are easy.”
Control over the supply chain
One problem for the hotel industry at large, according to Zeke Hart, director of sustainability services at PwC, is hotels are often less influential in the early stages of the supply chain, meaning it’s harder for them to pressure suppliers into getting them exactly what they need and want when it comes to sustainability. That means hotels are often left at the whims of other industries that are more influential on the general supply chain.
“Hotels tend to be one step removed,” he said. “So they’re relying on suppliers often to make sure products are responsibly made and responsibly sourced.”
He said larger retailers including Walmart are able to pressure suppliers to make commitments to do things such as cut down on carbon emissions and set energy efficiency goals. He said hoteliers need to key in on areas, like F&B, where they’re more influential.
“That is an opportunity particularly around food,” Hart said. “They need to look at the upstream impacts. That’s one of the biggest unaddressed areas.”
Experts also acknowledged the experience of sourcing materials is not uniform across the entire industry.
Snyder said that can come down to brand parent companies better tracking franchisees’ purchases and giving them tools and education to be more sustainable.
“Sometimes empowering them is just a matter of prompting them to ask a question,” he said. “So we tell them to just ask questions of suppliers, because they often assume we don’t have (sustainable options).”