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Nov 022009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

If you’ve been taking your home green, you know how ideas can feed off each other. Someone gets picky about paper recycling; someone else becomes the food waste arbiter; pretty soon everyone has their eco-role and the household’s carbon footprint is shrinking.

Hotel Triton Lobby (Photo: Markham Johnson)

Hotel Triton Lobby (Photo: Markham Johnson)

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants realized early on that green grows like that.  The hospitality chain, with roots in San Francisco, has a history of putting eco-friendly ideas in place. Even before green hotel or green restaurant designations were developed, Kimpton was experimenting with eco-friendly practices at its San Francisco properties, such as the Hotel Triton, where motion sensors turn off lights and 60 percent of the waste gets recycled.

Non-toxic products, green cleaners, low VOC paints, low-flow faucets – all these turned up in Kimpton Hotels while other hotels were still on the highway of high-consumption. In addition, Kimpton has restored several historic buildings, supporting pedestrian-friendly urban areas. Stay at a Kimpton and you may find yourself ensconced on an eco-friendly mattress, drinking organic coffee and munching on a Clif bar.

Still, as the Kimpton chain grew greener, it had to figure out how to roll out the plan to all of its properties, including those outside of the Bay Area where environmental practices were not as well understood.

By 2005, the luxury hotel group had decided to standardize its green practices, requiring all Kimptons to adhere to an “Earth Care” program. But it didn’t want to impose a rigid top-down program. The solution: Kimpton named “eco-champions” at each of its hotels and encouraged them to form green teams and let ideas bubble up.

“You’ve got to get people on the front lines, who are doing the work, whose job you’re changing, a voice…and they’re right there, they see where the waste is,” said Niki Leondakis , chief operation officer for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants.

The Kimpton leadership, which currently oversees 48 hotels in cities from New England to California, learned the importance of buy-in earlier. In 2003, when Kimpton decided guests could opt out of having their sheets and towels washed every day, management was surprised that many housekeepers were reluctant to make the change. “The housekeepers couldn’t grasp the idea that they were doing a good job by not changing the towels. They needed training that if the towels were on towel bar, the guest wanted to save water and soap…and it was OK,” Leondakis said.

Today, the staff is more likely to get it, though the hospitality group still treads carefully in determining what clients will tolerate – and remain satisfied customers. That has left several green issues still on the table, such as whether a hotel can reduce plastic water bottles when guests on-the-go seem to expect that perk, or whether guests will accept room amenities in bulk dispensers (foregoing that little souvenir of the trip).

“We were initially, like, ‘We’re going to get rid of bottled water entirely.’ And we’d offer filtered tap water in reusable containers both in the restaurants, and our vision was to create a reusable container almost like a flask that people paid a nominal fee for and then they’d refill it at a water cooler. But the consumer does not seem to be ready for that,” Leondakis said.

Look for the green teams and “eco-champions” to find a solution. So far, the local crews are forging viable new ways on various fronts.

In DC, Chef Robert Weland at the Post Modern Barasserie in D.C. was the driving force behind an herb garden. He not only uses it in his dishes, but gives tours.

In Portland, at the Hotel Monaco, someone decided the facility could get along without those paper-wasting phone books. Now all Kimptons get by without guest room phone books.

Hotel Monaco Chicago

Hotel Monaco Chicago (Photo: David Phelps)

In Chicago, the cities’ three Kimpton Hotels, the Monaco, Burnham and Allegro became leaders in the Green Seal green cleaner certification program, prompted by a mayor’s green initiative. Now the three are among just 50 Green Seal certified hotels nationwide.

The 20-year-old program requires the use of green cleaners, energy efficiency and recycling. (For details, see this listing.)

Using green cleaners prevents water pollution, provides for healthier interior air and curbs carbon emissions. The typical silver-ranked Green Seal hotel saves 400 tons of CO2 emissions every year, said Charlotte Teyraud, a spokeswoman for the non-profit Green Seal.

The Chicago hotels also  advocated for a commercial recycling program, that was eventually put into place with the help of city hall, says Nabil Moubayed, manager of the 192-room Hotel Monaco Chicago along the city’s Magnificent Mile:

Now in the “5th phase” of instituting the Kimpton “Earth Care” program, Moubayed says the Hotel Monaco has found that going green is working on many levels:

  • About 60-70 percent of the hotel’s customers use the opt-out linen/towel program, saving money and water.
  • The Green Seal-approved cleaners, which the hotel buys in bulk, concentrated form, are saving the hotel about $25,000 a year. The non-toxic cleaners are healthier for staff and guests and biodegradable. (As for that outdated worry about green cleaners not working – Moubayad says surveys burst that myth. “When we look at guest comments. We have the highest score in the company for clean bathrooms and guest rooms.”)
  • The hotel recycles about half of its trash, which also saves money because sending out the garbage costs more in trash fees than sending out recyclables, even in this down-market for recyclable material.
Hotel Monaco room overlooking Chicago River

Hotel Monaco room overlooking Chicago River

Green ways are catching on among staff, he says. When Monaco’s valet crew discovered that the dry cleaners they were using was discarding hangers after one use, they were aghast. They went to work to find a solution. Now the hangers are reused.

Guests, too, are contracting the green bug. While they remain a diverse group that’s not easily gauged, Moubayed says surveys show that the majority of people stay at Kimpton because of the hotels’ greener rep.

“We’ve seen a pretty high percentage of guests choosing use because we have a strong Green Care program.” he  said. “We don’t want them to feel like everything we doing is in their face. The (guest room) recycling bin for instance is bronze not bright blue. And the low flow shower heads, we don’t’ necessarily want them to notice that, but it  is helping the environment.”

Moubayad had no special sustainability training before coming to the Hotel Monaco, but he has built on what he has learned through Kimpton.

“I found I had a passion for it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do., not just from the consumer point of view, but as a human, for the future generations. It’s the right thing to do.”

(Another key way that hotels across the US are greening their profile is by building, retrofitting or tailoring operations to meet standards set by the US Green Building Council. For more on these green hotels, see our recent story: A green wave coming, hundreds of hotels finalizing their LEED certification.)

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