I had not given sustainable living much thought growing up in South Florida in the 1970s. To me, life was about surfing in my beautiful ocean and having year-round sunshine…. As a kid growing up, fresh milk was delivered to your door in a glass bottle, diapers were made out of washable cotton, and the average home size was 1,200 square feet. People ate real food, and freshly washed clothes were hung on a line in the backyard with wooden clothes pins, drying with the breeze.
Sustainability just didn’t seem to be an issue.
As I started traveling internationally some years back, I noticed that other countries throughout Europe really seemed to be ahead of the curve with environmental choices that made sense. Their motivation could have been that their resources were limited and expensive, or they may have made a conscious choice, maybe both. On one of my first visits to Berlin, I remember the lights turning on automatically as I walked through a hotel hallway, as there were motion sensors installed to conserve energy in the common areas.
The real game changer was when I moved from Florida to Portland, Ore. It was there that I began to appreciate a different way of thinking and living. Using plastic bags in grocery stores is but a memory there, as they have been banned. Walking, biking and hopping on the streetcar or train is safe, convenient and affordable. I had moved to a place where hybrid cars and bike commuters are the norm, not the exception. When I arrived, I decided to leave my car in Florida so I could experience the city as a native. What I realized during the first six months was that I had moved to a city where I did not really need a car at all. I had many transportation choices between walking, using my Zipcar membership, my bike and the streetcar.
In contrast to my previous experience, driving was recreational rather than a necessity. My first apartment was in a platinum LEED-certified mixed-use building in town. It was designed with low flow, low voltage, wind turbines, high-efficiency glass, solar panels, eco-roof terraces, rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling and other environmental features.
What I discovered was that being green, sustainable and living an environmentally friendly lifestyle requires both a personal and a social consciousness and awareness. Fortunately, many others now also have this mindset and they have already started to go “full steam and green.” It is a great time for everyone to get on board!
But what does sustainability even mean? Sustainability is not just about CFLs (compact fluorescent lights); it is about designing, living and working in spaces with more natural light. Sustainability is not just about driving a hybrid car. Sustainability is more about designing communities around alternative transit and walkable options, so people have viable choices to drive less, and connect with their community more. It is more about making environmentally smart decisions.
What Does Sustainability Mean to Hoteliers?
Collectively, hotels by nature are resource intensive. Hotels generally consume excessive amounts of energy to keep guests warm in winter and cool in summer. They consume large amounts of water for the comfort of their guests (bathrooms, food and beverages, laundry, swimming pools and other water features, etc.), and for the back of the house (HVAC, landscaping irrigation, cleaning and maintenance). And, of course, then there is the food and package waste.
It has become easier today to go green with technology options and new innovative solutions. There are more companies coming up with solutions that are not only sustainable and operationally more efficient, but some can also improve the guest experience.