Spokane Journal of Business

Sustainable Stays: Some INW hoteliers focus on green practices

Consumers seek out eco-friendly facilities, contribute to strategies

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Hotel companies are pursuing ways to reduce the environmental impacts of their lodging facilities through property upgrades, energy tracking, and flexible environmental policies that are spurred by consumer demand, and financial and energy savings, some industry representatives here say.

Grant Guinn, who owns Tru by Hilton Spokane Valley with his wife, Elisabeth, says the Hilton brand requires franchised properties to focus on quality, environmental, and energy management.

 “It’s not easy, nor is it cheap. We put a lot of time and effort into it,” says Guinn.

He says the hotel meets sustainability standards set by the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization, which is abbreviated as ISO. He adds some consumers seek out the property for its environmentally friendly amenities.

Guinn says, “A lot of companies work toward ISO certification,” and adds that the hotel is ISO certified in three areas: quality management, tracking environmental impact, and setting goals.

Ed Nelson, general manager of Ramada by Wyndham Spokane Airport, says the Ramada hotel will have Wyndham Green Certification through Wyndham Hotels & Resorts LLC’s certification program by the end of March.

Wyndham’s certification program addresses energy and water conservation, waste diversion, operational efficiency, in addition to guest and employee education and engagement, according to the brand’s website.

A report of environmental, social, and governance initiatives in the hotel industry by Dallas-based commercial real estate services and investment company CBRE Inc. states electricity costs have increased by 10% since May 2021 prompting an acceleration by the hotel industry to focus on sustainability.

The report also states that traveler preferences are shifting toward sustainable tourism and environmentally friendly accommodations.

Guinn says two Hilton programs provide sustainability guidance that align with the brand’s companywide environmental goals. One is Travel with Purpose, an environmental, social, and governance strategy that promotes responsible tourism and travel; the other is Hilton’s LightStay system, which is used to track water, waste, and energy usage.

Guinn says, “LightStay is the tool to help us track, and then we come up with the individual goals and objectives at the hotel. We enter that into the LightStay system … every month and take a measurement at the end of the year to see if we met our goal to reduce certain things.”

The Guinns operate Tru by Hilton Spokane Valley through their company GL8 Hospitality LLC, which will include an additional property in the Mirabeau neighborhood in the future, Guinn says. 

Tru by Hilton Spokane Valley, located at 13509 E. Mansfield, in Spokane Valley, opened in late 2020.

Because the property opened a few months before COVID-19 stay-at-home safety rules altered travel patterns throughout the industry, measurable cost and energy savings won’t be available until the end of this year, allowing time for the hotel to record a baseline of property data outside of pandemic-related data.

He says the hospitality industry in Spokane Valley is gaining stability from unpredictable travel habits during the pandemic.

“Industry in Spokane Valley has bounced back pretty well,” he says. “We’ll probably get to that baseline at the end of this year.”

Guinn says high construction costs prohibited the development from meeting LEED certification standards during construction, although he notes that the building incorporates many energy-efficiency features, such as lighting, insulated windows, six electric vehicle charging stations, and landscaping with native plants and minimal water use.

Nelson says hotel guests have said they appreciate the environmentally friendly policies that are visibly reducing energy and waste, such as the elimination of single-use tableware during breakfast service and switching to toiletry dispensers from single-use products in bathrooms.

Last year, Ramada by Wyndham, located at 8909 W. Airport Drive in west Spokane, upgraded the 53-year-old building’s interior and exterior with energy-efficient LED lighting, that is expected to result in significant energy savings by year-end, says Nelson. 

One of the ways that Guinn says consumers drive demand for sustainable lodging is through the booking process in which guests can filter properties that offer environmentally friendly amenities.

In addition to consumer demand, Guinn says he’s seen technology advance environmentally friendly management policies that have grown and evolved over his 29-year career in the hotel industry.

“When I first started in hotels, (night auditing) was all done via paper,” he says. “You had to print off reports, do the calculations, you create files, you then store boxes of the stuff in storage units.”

With the elimination of paper, the hotel is saving money on supplies and storage, and using technology in innovative ways.

Additional waste-reduction measures include optional digital check-in and room access, which eliminates the need for more paperwork and plastic room keys, and Hilton’s Connected Rooms platform that enables customers to control a room’s thermostat and lighting from their mobile phones.

“Back when we studied that a few years ago, it was over $10,000 worth of savings.”

Hilton’s Connected Room touch-free technology powers on lights and thermostat control after a guest room is unlocked.

“The room is basically smart. It knows when you enter and the thermostats in the room have sensors on them. It’s got a heat sensor and a motion sensor, so it knows when someone is in the room,” he says. “If someone isn’t in the room, it will power down after 10 minutes because it senses the door is locked and there’s no motion in the room. So it will power down the room to a preset temperature that will save on our costs.”

Both Nelson and Guinn say many sustainability efforts hotels employ happen out of guests’ sight, including utility-use tracking and waste management.

Nelson says the Ramada by Wyndham Spokane Airport recently replaced four dryers with energy-efficient machines to help reduce energy consumption.

Prioritizing sustainability will be a continuing trend for the hotel and the Wyndham brand, Nelson says, adding that the goal next year is to add recycle bins alongside trash receptacles in all 160 guest rooms.

Guinn says Tru by Hilton Spokane Valley selects vendors who supply environmental-friendly detergent in recyclable containers.

“We partner with companies like that because they are botanically based and paraben free,” he says. “We track all of that and choose vendors based on those types of requirements.”

Nelson, who has worked in hospitality for about 30 years, says he’s seen the industry slowly embrace environmental stewardship policies, but even as environmentally friendly changes become a higher priority for many hotel brands, sometimes guest comfort trumps sustainability.

Motion-activated thermostats in Ramada’s guest rooms will soon be removed due to customer feedback indicating those systems made the rooms too uncomfortable for guests.

Nelson adds that not all guests are as enthusiastic about new sustainability practices across the hotel industry, but he contends that those measures are still the right thing to do for the environment.

“It’s just a good decision to do as much as you can, but you don’t want to alienate any customers,” Nelson says.

Guinn says, at Tru, “We get our guests involved with being more eco-friendly. Sometimes in the industry you’ll hear, yes, we want things to be greener, but we don’t want to pay anything extra for it. For our situation, we really try to make it seamless and interactive, so guests don’t know that the lights aren’t powered on all the time.”

Erica Bullock
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Reporter Erica Bullock has worked at the Journal since 2019 and covers real estate and construction. She is a craft beer enthusiast, who loves to garden and go camping with friends.

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