The International Network of Hospitality Consulting Professionals

The Challenges Restaurants Face in Going Green and What to Do

In the fast changing dynamics of the restaurant industry today, the mission of food service entrepreneurs is going through a significant transformation.  Not only is there more pressure than ever to deliver a high quality consistent product in a hospitable and attentive atmosphere, operators have begun to realize they have a greater responsibility to give back to their local community and in particular become proactive stewards of our precious environment.

Over the past decade, the call to adopt restaurant sustainable practices has continued to grow.  These practices in many cases have become integral parts of the restaurants vision and contribution to their community.  In particular, there’s been a significant increase in an understanding of strategies restaurants could utilize in the areas of energy and water efficiency, the use of low or non-toxic cleaning and pest control products and the utilization of waste management practices to counter the enormous waste that occurs in restaurant operations. These strategies have often proven to also be a profit bonus to operators who use them intelligently.

Innovative technologies in the area of monitoring waste have become as easy to use as pressing a few buttons on a smart phone. Chefs have become more motivated to come up with creative uses for once thrown away product.  Local governments and utility companies have provided financial and equipment incentives to restaurant operators who agree to install energy or water efficient equipment or incorporate other sustainable practices.  Surveys have shown that the consumer looks more favorably upon restaurants who promote green practices.  (Effects of Restaurant Green Practices, Jeong and Jang, 2010).

In addition it has been found, that a business that adopts sustainable practices is more likely to retain staff and have staff operate at a higher level of productivity.  So with all this positive reinforcement to go green, why is it that restaurants have been so slow as an industry to more fully incorporate green practices in their day to day operations?

There are several key reasons for restaurants resisting restaurant sustainable practices.  For one, most small independent restaurant operators are overwhelmed with the day to day pressures of running their businesses.  To them, the impact of an overdue produce bill, a sudden drop in brunch business or a sump pump seizing up and dying are all problems that appear much more tangible and immediate.

Those challenges are much easier to grasp than the impact of buying energy efficient equipment and seeing savings over time or noticing the impact of non-toxic cleaning chemicals or good waste management practices over time.  Most operators tend to think in terms of short term solutions to short term problems.  Cash flow is invariably a constant daily issue that influences what an operator thinks about as they go through their day.

Secondly, there is a common misconception that restaurant sustainable practices cost more.  This is often due to a lack of understanding.  Again, that understanding takes time which most operators never seem to have and the tangible results from that understanding are not as immediate as the other issues they face.

Thirdly, sustainable practices don’t appear to be what their core restaurant business is supposed to be about which to many of them is just serving good consistent food in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere.

So given the above scenario, how do green organizations looking to make significant inroads into the restaurant sustainable practices break through these challenges?  For the past 5 years, the Green Hospitality Initiative (GHI), a project funded by the EPA to the New York State Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, has faced this issue in attempting to educate and train operators in sustainable green practices.  Here are three conclusions that have been reached as potential roadmaps to achieving success:

  1. The owner and driving force behind the business needs to believe that green practices are a key part of the business model and purpose of the restaurant and not just a side project. They need to see the value and importance of operating sustainably and commit to it over the long term.  Education, consumer demand and the growing awareness of green practices can help support that change in operator thinking.
  2. If the belief is there on the part of the operator, they need to have the ability and commitment to instill that belief throughout the culture of the restaurant. Through educating and training staff and hiring people who already have beliefs in sustainable practices, the culture and actions of the restaurant will begin to reflect these values.
  3. There needs to be a go to green advocate in the restaurant who essentially has green practices as part of their job description. It would be up to them to continually show how green strategies could be used for the benefit of the restaurant and introduce new techniques and technology to the operation.  They would be the catalyst to helping overcome the daily challenges mentioned above that press upon all restaurant operators.

The transformation of the restaurant business model to incorporate sustainable practices has not and will not be an easy one.  Momentum has been building over this past decade but it is clear much more needs to happen.  It is up to committed green organizations and forward thinking restaurant operators to lead the way and demonstrate that it is possible and highly beneficial to the restaurant and community to adopt a more sustainable way of operating a food business.

About the Author:

Alan SomeckAlan is a 30 year operator of high volume restaurants, in which he has managed all facets of the business. His experience and expertise has led to him develop a well regarded expert witness practice. In his consulting practice, he has worked with many clients to create and establish their concepts. In addition, Alan has worked on assignments to develop food products for market such as protein bars, cookies and brownies. He has also directed 7 EPA grants to train operators in Green sustainable practices. He has created an extensive network of industry professional who he works with on a regular basis. Throughout his career, Alan has supported the success of entrepreneurs through executive coaching and training. For the past 10 years, Alan also has taught at the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC and at NYIT where he has taught all aspects of the restaurant business. His students have opened fast casual restaurants, cafes, bakeries and fine dining operations.


The Relationship Between LEED Hotel Design and Guest Satisfaction

An approach of environmental design in LEED hotels by comparing visual and verbal experiences.

A study in emotional design and its relationship to LEED certified hotel design and guest experience.

For: Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University. 3423 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Ithaca, New York


The goal of this paper is to highlight those actions that can change the experience of the customer during their stay by the design in the guestroom. The research carried out choice hotels located in the United States and Europe in order to find out and compare strategies of each one.

The research covered ten case studies, which were chosen by obtaining LEED certification. Once we obtained their design actions developed for getting indoor air quality, the research compared which of them were influential on the customer experiences during their stay by reviewing TripAdvisor reviews and pictures of customers.

The results show us how the LEED certified hotels have a relation between the design action of LEED and the customer’s experience in rooms. In addition, the paper reveals a group of emotional codes in terms of comfort, relaxing and visual relations between built and natural environments.


The hotel’s rooms represent almost 70% of the total built surface of the hotel (Forster Associate, 1993). This percentage may change depending of the type of hotel (skyscraper, hotel of 4-7 floors or tourist resorts). 10% of customer purchases are driven by guestroom design (Dubé L. & Renaghan L.M., 1999) and 9% were driven by the following attributes: HVCA, aesthetics, overall size, cleanliness, comfort, kitchenette, work equipment and entertainment. In Dubè`s research, the customer gave their opinion during the stay or at the point of purchase decision. That means that the experience was not finished, leaving the possibility to change their opinion during the rest of stay. In any case, some of the attributes defined in 1999 by Dubè continue to be useful for defending the hypothesis that emotional guestroom design is more important than functional guestroom design, such as, size, comfort and entertainment.

During the last decades, architects and interior designers have been studying the guestroom through functional design features (Rutes, W.A., Penner R.H., &, Adams, L., 2001). The relation between optimal dimension, amenities and room types is the goal for architects to design a guestroom. Technical and constructive aspects are important too for designing, interchangeably the type and room’s dimension (Rutes W.A., FAIA, & Penner R., 1985).

On this line of spatial and technical aspects, U.S. Green Building Council organization is promoting sustainable actions to offer professionals a guideline, in order to get a sustainable certification for the building. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the title of the certificate and is becoming a kind of marketing brand in the hospitality industry. We still do not know how the LEED certificate may impact on the business benefits (Walsman M., Verma R. & Muthulingam S., 2014). However, LEED certification continues to be the most proper certificate for sustainable designing in the U.S. hospitality industry. Some of the most important chain hotels in the world, such as, Marriott, are promoting the LEED certification in their hotel by creating the first LEED Volume Program. So far, this company has thirty hotels with awards and has introduced the first LEED green Hotel Prototype.

LEED certification is based in point schedule by six categories (sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, material & resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation. In this research, we will put the focus on the indoor environmental quality aspect because by studying its parameters of design, the researcher can understand that this is the more related category regarding the design and customer’s experience inside the guest room. These parameters are increasing ventilation, thermal comfort-design, and daylight and views, among others.

If LEED certification gives us the benefit and certainty during and after the hotel’s construction for being a sustainable hotel, that benefit is opening new lines of research for knowing the customer’s experience in a LEED certification hotel. Could a LEED hotel increase the customer experience? Or does a green hotel not always mean a successful experience for the customer? Professionals in the hospitality industry are convinced that the most important thing is the customer experience. Three of the head officers of the most important chain hotel in the world defended that idea during the lecture series in the fall semester of 2014 at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. Mr. Ronald T. Harrison said, “the most important for Marritot is people; Mr. Kevin Jacobs said during his lecture, “we are passionate about delivering the best experience to our guest; and Samantha Sugarman showed the goals for facilities and design analysis in Four Seasons hotels, which are “specific style of design, don’t dictate a style, every hotel has their style and want great experience.” All of them considered the customer experience as the principal concern in the hospitality industry.

So far, we know that LEED certification has become a metric for sustainable hotels in the U.S. and the chain hotels are focusing on the customer experience for improving their benefits. The scientific researchers conducted studies about the customer experience and its impact in the hospitality industry; in addition they applied different methodological approaches.

The volume of customer reviews on the TripAdvisor website for the final purchasing decision, represents an important tool for potential customers (Melián González S., Bulchand Gidumal J., & López Valcárcel B., 2014). The electronic word-of-mouth called eWOM (Cantallops A.S., Salvi F., 2014) is more effective than communication marketing in the hotel sector (Litvin S.W., Goldsmith R.E., & Pam B., 2008; Gretzel, U., & Kyung Hyan Y., 2008).

The eWOM can be manipulated for anyone, and the authenticity of the comments can be false (Mayzlin D., Dover Y., & Chevarlier J., 2012). The impact of the TripAdvisor reviews directly affects the reputation of the hotel and changes the booking of hotels (Anderson K., 2012). Due the possibility for false reviews and a decrease in the percentage of real reviews, the researcher applied a methodology for increasing the indicator about the truthfulness of costumer’s reviews. Thus, the study continues using the impact of reviews on TripAdvisor as a source.

TripAdvisor gives the customer the possibility to insert their reviews and upload pictures of their travel before or after their stay at the hotel. The pictures taken inside the guestroom become irrevocable proof that the customer stayed at the hotel and give us information of their behaviors and memories (Harper D., 2002). In addition, it is a form of evidence that the reviews were written after the stay. Pictures in the form of postcards have been used in tourism for representing an ideological discourse in modern tourism (Albers P.C., & W.R. James, 1988) representing icons, customs or landscapes of the places to visit. The new technologic trends in smartphones and cameras give the customer the possibility to capture any moment during the stay. Often, customers use photography to spark strong memories, among others reasons (Pullman M., & Robson S., 2007). Thus, the researcher studied the pictures taken inside the room, knowing that the pictures uploaded represent positive or negative memories from the customer’s experience. Regarding what kind of pictures the customer takes during the stay, the research concluded those highlight important design elements. In other research where a photographic approach was applied through websites, researchers discovered the subject of the pictures reflecting the customer’s behavior (Donaire J.A., Camprubí R., & Galí N., 2014; Chalfen R.M., 1979). This research is focused on what they captured and not how they were made.

The current research is carrying out a new approach based on emotive design for the hospitality industry, putting in evidence the customer’s comments and pictures as the new approach for the hospitality design. Often, architects and interior designers are able to design hotels without any background knowledge about the customer’s experience. The hospitality industry, based in the guest experience, must focus more on the emotive design in hotels and public spaces (Lo K.P.Y., 2009, 2011; Masoudi A., Cudney E., and Paryani K., 2013; Pullman M., & Robson S., 2007; Jüttner U., Windler K., Schaffner D., and Maklan S., 2013).

The emotional design in guest rooms means working on designing for emotive status, such as, functional, satisfactory or memorable experience (Lo K.P.Y., 2007). Each status is defined by different emphases on its design (Barsky J., & Nash, L., 2002). It is, therefore, how we can achieve a memorable experience in LEED hotels. LEED certificate represents the top level for sustainable actions for buildings in U.S. That means that the hotel or chain of hotels wants to communicate a clear message to its guests. Having a message or theme is one of the conditions to achieve a memorable experience.

The research analyzed those designs that the customers emphasized through comments and pictures on TripAdvisor’s website. Using this approach we will be able to recognize positive or negative design aspects in LEED hotels.

The emotional design has been studied and put into practice by other disciplines that use object or symbols (Norman D.A., 2002, 2004; kim H., & Lee w., 2014). The hospitality industry is becoming a trend sector for applying new methodologies in interaction with the human behaviors. Recently, researchers are searching new approaches for understanding the customers’ behaviors using eye tracking (Robson S., & Noone B., 2014).

This research highlights the opportunity for using the emotional design in the hospitality industry because it is a sector based in human experiences. The success of guestroom design must be understood as those spaces are able to offer many experiences to the customers. The idea of designing many rooms within a room (Siguaw A.J., & Enz C.A., 1999) is the basis for thinking that a guestroom is not only a functional space or a satisfactory experience. The real loyalty of customers in a guestroom of a hotel is when the expectation of the room design is exceeded and memorable experiences are reached through it (Skogland, I., & Siguaw, J. A. 2004). If that emotional guest room is applied in LEED hotels improving its commitment with the environment and energy, we can break old concepts in the hospitality industry and add value to guestroom experience in hotels.

Material and methods

In order to obtain results that can be used or put into practices by professionals in the hospitality industry, the material and methods applied were collected directly from resources used by professionals or real customers.

The stages used to obtain material and the methodologies applied in this study were mainly based in two phases. In every one of them, the goals were different, which means each phase used different methodologies. The first stage of the study was representative, collecting data from different sources. The second stage focused on creating groups of emotional design codes in LEED hotels.

Discerning visual design codes.

All the photographs in bathrooms and bedrooms were codified according to the parameters of tangible or intangible elements and their spatial relation (visual and physical). The total of elements coded in bathrooms and bedrooms were 32.

According to this study of the customers’ visual impact, we could identify three types of user experiences. Those experiences are based on the tangible element of bed as a “sleeping” experience, the bathtub jet/shower sauna as a “relaxing /spa” experience, and the physical space of living room as a “living / welcoming” experience.

If we think in experiences (sleeping, relaxing/spa and living) and not just in spaces or elements distributed in a functional way, we are actually changing the traditional concept of hotels. A hotel room design geared towards an emotional design would improve the current strategies of many hotels that only use technology (free wifi or tv flat screen) as added value in rooms. (Gilmore J. H., & Pine II B. J., 2002).

The research highlighted the importance of getting a memorable experience while the sleeping, relaxing in the living area and taking a shower.

Verbal codes in memorable experiences.

The next phase was to figure out which customer’s comments made reference to those elements identified as keys to getting a memorable experience in the previous step, and which comments represented a positive emotion.

We studied the comments of 217 TripAdvisor users, obtaining a total of 291 codes between bathrooms and bedrooms. These codes gave us more information about the elements studied previously by the visual impact, and others features which were not photographed. In order to discover how positive the experience was, the study was able to detect those memorable experiences by identifying related adjectives with the elements studied.

If we compare the results between the elements of visual impact method and customers’ comments, we can conclude that the bathtub or soaking tub and the views to outside are the elements to consider in the design of the bathroom that will most likely result in a memorable customer experience.

A visual connection between the bathtub and the bed, an outdoor bathtub, a flat shower separated from the bathtub, or a vanity with two sinks are some of the elements in bathrooms that increase positive emotions (see table 9).

Comparatively, the elements in the bedrooms were beds, views to the outside, furniture and the living room area. The artificial light and natural light were not analyzed due the low percentage of customers’ comments. Nevertheless, the results of the elements studied were high enough to find out how customers achieve memorable experiences in bedrooms.

In the living area of bedrooms, the fireplace element was the most commented by customers with 5.5% of customer’s positive emotions, using adjectives like excellent, fantastic or lovely. 5% of customers appreciated décor or a modern style as a way to make them feel like they were far away or made them feel at home.


The study analyzed LEED hotels in Europe and in the U.S. to figure out if the design of sustainable actions and customer’s satisfaction had a relation between them. The room was the space chosen to study the correspondence between sustainable design and satisfaction. Using a method based on the photographs taken by real customers we coded all the elements with a visual impact in bathrooms and bedrooms. Once we categorized them, we could find out which of them had higher visual impacts. In the bathrooms, the bathtub or jetted tub, the mirror and the vanity, which had 14.6 %, 14.6% and 14% respectively, were the elements highlighted by customers.

In addition, the design of the bathroom with a bathtub beside a window facing the outside with a wonderful landscape, garden, or urban scene was considered by customer as a positive emotion, making it a memorable experience in almost 20% of clients. In bedrooms, high visual impact was mainly concentrated on four elements: the bed, furniture, natural light and views with 13.7%, 20.3%, 20.4% and 15.65% respectively. A comfortable bed and an attractive view to the outside were the most rated by customers.  All these elements were coded in order to identify and categorize them according their own features, such as, tangibility, intangibility, visual relation, physical relation or technology.

Once the results were studied, we discovered that there was a correspondence between sustainable design criteria and customer satisfaction. The data suggested than a customer’s experience may change in the hotel if some of these criteria are not present. The natural light and views are those two essential elements for obtaining a LEED certificate in IEQ category with high visual impact.  The views to the outside in bathrooms represented 9.1% and natural light represented 9.7%. These percentages in bedrooms are higher, in which the view was 15.65% and natural light was 20.4% of customers. The IEQ category in LEED certification establishes two criteria regarding views and natural light, which are EQc8.1 Daylight and views – daylight 75% of spaces and EQc8.2 Daylight and views – views for 90% of spaces. Both criteria provide building occupants with a connection between indoors spaces and the outdoors through the introduction of daylight and views.

If the photographs show what elements have a visual impact to the customers in the guestroom during their stay, the second aim was to find out if a sustainable design has the ability to make customers feel positive emotions in rooms. The research suggested that design in rooms could produce positive emotions in customers. In addition, according the study, the customers could get a memorable experience through the design (Lo, K.P.Y., 2007).

To get information about the positive customer emotion and design, we studied all comments posted on TripAdvisor website. All comments with positive adjectives were classified and put in relation with the design’s elements studied previously. A main outcome of this method was that customers experienced most of the positive emotions and memorable experiences in three different elements of the room (one in bathroom and two in the bedroom). These elements were the bathtub, bed and fireplace.

However, the study also discovered that without comfort and views to outside, the customers did not achieve a memorable experience. 19.6% of customers described their experiences in the bathtub with views to outside as an amazing moment. More than 45% of customers thought that the size and comfort of the bed was very important to get a memorable experience. This percentage increased when the room offered views to the landscape, representing 38.6% of positive emotion in bedrooms and 19.6% in bathrooms .

The strong correspondence between the customer rating in rooms of LEED hotels on TripAdvisor website reinforces the hypothesis that sustainable actions are related to customer satisfaction. This result and the outcomes previously shown highlight the possibility of considering a new indicator of sustainable design that is able to measure positive emotion in hotels.

Moreover, this study shows a code series that compares elements of design and the emotional charge of customers in hotels. The challenge of this research is discovering all emotional codes through the design in hotels, in order to build an indicator and emotional guidelines of design able to predict the customer’s experience. In this study, we focused on visual impact and comments codes of design and customer experience. Nevertheless, we realized during the process that a code series related with human well-being, physical perception of spaces and use of technology also existed., It would be interesting to study these elements as well, in order to be able to predict memorable experiences in hotels by using an emotional design.

To view the paper in its entirety, including illustrations, tables and references, please click below .


This paper originally appeared in ARA Journal of Tourism Research 6-1, (2016).

About the Author:

Ivan Alvarez Leon is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants

Case Study: Hotel Energy Management at the Ritz Carlton – Naples, Florida

pdf-icon Click here to download a PDF version of this case study, complete with graphic analyses.


The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company embarked on a three year program centered on reducing energy consumption. The purpose of the program was not only to reduce the portfolio’s energy consumption and cost, but also to raise the awareness of the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton as to their personal responsibilities pertaining to energy and the environment.

The Ritz-Carlton program was a resounding success by any measure. On a portfolio basis, energy consumption was reduced by over 13% from the baseline year which gave rise to a substantial decrease in energy spend.

One of the primary success factors in The Ritz-Carlton’s ability to drive down energy use was the more than 400 energy projects and retro-commissioning measures completed during the Program. The energy projects coupled with the increased focus placed on energy conservation yielded outstanding results, as the portfolio far surpassed the 9% stated energy reduction goal at the outset of this program. In fact, the portfolio energy reduction was 47% over this energy reduction goal relative to the collective Energy Baselines of all the properties.



Operationally each property (a total of 32 at program end) was visited to review energy performance and assess overall building operation. Using energy auditing and retro-commissioning tools, a snapshot of the hotel’s current operation was generated along with a road map of how to reach greater levels of energy efficiency. This was followed by regular communication with the Director of Engineering as a method of placing constant emphasis on the importance of energy reduction.

The key performance indicator for energy consumption used throughout the program was British Thermal Units per square foot (BTU/SF). This is the preferred measure of consumption that best reflects how efficiently a hotel operates. While not a perfect metric, BTU/SF produces a better comparison between properties. Other metrics based on occupied or available rooms can become skewed when comparing hotels with large differences in room count.

Each property reported its energy consumption by energy type on a monthly basis throughout the program duration. Those inputs (kWh, therms, gallons, etc.) were converted to BTUs and subsequently to BTU/SF for each property. Three scorecards were created and posted monthly:

  • A year-over-year performance report
  • A report indicating progress toward 3-year property goals
  • A monthly energy consumption report

The first two reports were based on adjusted energy consumption (see Adjustments section below), and show the final property standings.  The monthly energy report provided the properties with their raw, unadjusted energy use, and, for Ritz Corporate, it documented summaries of energy use and utility costs for all properties.

The second primary measurement tool used during the program was the Energy Reduction Summary Report shown at right.  The data contained here presented the Directors of Engineering with their updated energy reduction requirements necessary to achieve their Program goals in both BTU/SF and in percent.


Energy consumption in any Ritz-Carlton hotel is largely determined by three factors: the overall attitude of the hotel staff as it relates to energy efficiency; the existing infrastructure, and the ability to change and upgrade existing systems.

The commitment of the entire hotel staff to the goal of energy efficiency cannot be overstated. The process begins with the Engineering group, but they must have the support of the entire hotel team in order to achieve lasting energy reductions. The key individuals are the Director of Engineering and the General Manager. The DOE must put forward a plan of attack, and the GM must put his or her position behind it. Lack of commitment by either will produce few results, but an enthusiastic embrace by both can achieve significant savings.

The Ritz-Carlton portfolio participating in the program is diverse with several located in tropical climates, others in cold weather areas, and still others in dry or desert conditions. Location alone will begin to define a hotel’s energy profile. But more importantly, the hotel’s existing systems will dictate where it stands on a BTU/SF metric. A property with a full service laundry will consume more energy per square foot than a similar property that has none. A hotel serving a half million food covers per year will consume more than one serving only 100,000, all other things being equal. Hotels with aging and inefficient lighting or HVAC equipment will also consume more energy.

Therefore, the ability to modify or change existing systems, or change the way in which these systems operate becomes an extremely important process in moving toward greater energy efficiency. Replacing inefficient equipment requires capital expenditures, some of which have attractive returns on investment. These changes and upgrades are identified by doing a comprehensive energy audit on the facility. Modifying the method of operation of certain systems like HVAC can also achieve positive results. This process is called retro-commissioning. Each EMS property had both an energy audit and retro-commissioning done during the Program.

During the course of the Program, through both energy audits and retro-commissioning at each of the hotels, almost 800 separate energy projects were identified. Some of these involved capital expenditures while the rest did not. More than half of the total energy conservation measures (ECMs) were reported completed. Statistics on the savings generated by these ECMs across the portfolio are shown below.

These savings were generated over the course of the program and became valid as each ECM was completed. Some of these projects were done in year one while others were completed in years two and three. But the total energy saved by the completion of these 433 projects is enough to power over 1,300 average sized homes for a year.



One of the key documents reported throughout the course of the program was a usage reduction report. This report outlined the overall energy usage reduction for each property on a monthly basis as it related to its Energy Baseline. A similar report is presented below summarizing the entire portfolio’s Program performance versus the overall goal.

The adjusted Energy Baseline for The Ritz-Carlton portfolio was 175,893 BTU/SF. The baseline was adjusted to account for hotel openings, closings, large variations in occupancy, and other events that resulted in major changes in energy usage and/or baseline year. The Energy Baseline in conjunction with the 3% annual goal was used to outline annual reduction goals for each program year. All baseline adjustments have been incorporated in this table.

The usage reduction report also showed a comparative annual BTU/SF graph indicating the portfolio’s annual performance since the base year. Last, the report contained a table listing the top ten energy conservation measures recommended for implementation at all of the properties. The method of selection of these measures was determined by: (1) the frequency in which they were recommended; (2) the effectiveness of the measure in BTU/SF savings; and (3) its financial viability in terms of payback. All numbers presented are averages from the actual projects recommended. Two of the measures are classified as no-cost, low-cost opportunities generated in the retro-commissioning process; the others are categorized as capital projects.

During the course of the program, the Ritz-Carlton portfolio reduced its overall energy consumption by 13.2% relative to the collective Energy Baselines of all the properties. That is 47% over the stated goal of a 9% reduction

A timeline was generated for each property in order to better grasp visually the effect of their efforts to reduce energy consumption.  Two timelines for the portfolio were developed indicating only major hotel events such as openings, closings, etc.  The first showed raw, unadjusted consumption in millions of BTUs, the second presented consumption adjusted for occupancy and other changes in BTU per square foot.


The quarterly Performance Report updated the hotels on their historic (unadjusted) performance by utility type. These inputs were then translated into carbon emissions to create a carbon footprint for each specific property. The tracking of carbon emissions became more important as the program progressed, especially for marketing purposes at the property level.

The carbon footprint was calculated by converting both electric energy consumption and natural gas (or propane, fuel oil, etc.) usage into carbon emissions. Electric energy consumption creates indirect carbon emissions (direct emissions associated with this usage comes at the power plant); the burning of natural gas or other fuels on site in boilers or stoves creates direct emissions.  Emissions resulting from on-site combustion are a known fixed quantity per unit of fuel burned; therefore the calculation of direct emissions is simply the product of the usage times the CO2 rate per unit.  To calculate indirect emissions conversion factors obtained from the EPA in their Energy Star program are used by geographic region to translate electric usage into metric tons of CO2.   The portfolio’s carbon footprint over the duration of the program was shown in a separate graphic along with each property’s footprint in kilograms per available room and kilograms per square foot.


As a part of the engineering service, each hotel had an energy profile calculated to give a better indication of how well that property was performing. The profile took into account the type of building, the existing HVAC systems in operation, operational parameters, occupancy, food covers, and hotel location. The result of this process was a BTU/SF value that was regarded as a norm and not a goal. The property’s energy index was generated by comparing this value against the property’s actual energy consumption. Hence a value below 1.0 represents a hotel whose operation is better than the norm and has less room for improvement. A hotel with a value above 1.0 is one whose operation should be able to be improved.

The chart below shows the energy indices for each property calculated after the base year and the current indices. In most cases, the current indices had decreased indicating better overall performance since the program inception. San Francisco had its index increase dramatically due to the start- up of a co-generation plant. San Francisco consumed significantly more energy on site once the co-gen plant came on line due to natural gas usage for the micro-turbines, but because of the nature of a co-gen system, San Francisco lowered its overall energy cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.


As previously discussed, The Ritz-Carlton energy program was tremendously successful. On a portfolio basis, energy consumption was reduced by over 13% from the 2005 baseline which gave rise to a substantial decrease in energy spend as outline in the table below.

These gains in energy efficiency are all the more remarkable considering the extremely high standards set by The Ritz-Carlton Hotels to create its ultra-luxury brand. Standards in guest comfort and overall guest experience precluded the use of certain energy saving devices, such as compact fluorescent lamps. As such, energy conservation measures were recommended in order to not compromise brand standards. If additional compact fluorescent lighting projects and other miscellaneous measures had been incorporated into the list of energy savings projects, the savings would have been even more dramatic.

One of the two primary success factors in The Ritz-Carlton’s ability to drive down energy use were the more than 400 energy projects undertaken during the program. As noted above properties that completed energy conservation measures saved more than those that did not. And ECMs tend to have a lasting effect. Once a measure is put in place, it will typically continue to produce energy savings.

The second primary source of success of the Program was the ability of management to change the attitudes of entire hotel staffs regarding the use of energy. This is a key factor because large energy savings are often the result of many small initiatives, ones that the Ladies and Gentlemen are likely to make if they have been well schooled in the value of saving energy. This paradigm change is a testament to the skillful leadership at The Ritz-Carlton and their continued focus on energy conservation.

Energy Management 101

Start discussing a technical topic and watch as people’s eyes glaze over, even if those people are fully aware that it’s something they should be paying attention to. Embarking on a path toward a more sustainable and energy efficient hotel operation qualifies as one of these ‘glazed’ subjects, so to eliminate any possibility of eyelid fatigue, let’s talk about this extremely important issue in terms of something just a bit more fun –golf.

A Golf Analogy
Tired of listening to your old college buddies boast about how well they’re scoring on the course, you finally decide to up your game. All indications are that they’re tearing it up every time they play, so the first thing you must do is to find out just how good your friends actually are. Establishing their handicaps in the range of 15 to 23, this still doesn’t give you – the sans-handicap learner – an accurate barometer for whether they are better than you or not. Maybe before buying that new $1,400 set of clubs everyone said you had to have, it might be smart to wait and see where you stand.

So, you go out and establish your handicap over the next several weeks. Lo and behold, yours turns out to be a 21! Certainly not the best of the group, but not the worst either. Now, though, you’re wondering how you can lower that handicap so you become the best of your peers.

You could just go out and play more, but that hasn’t proven effective for the last two decades, so why would it work now? No, you need to think this through and have a plan. That’s the only sure way to make this happen. Thus, you opt for lessons to help improve your approach.

After finding the right golf professional, you meet him on the driving range. Driving, long irons, chipping and putting – he looks over your whole repertoire. Then he suggests five ways to improve your game substantially such as changing your stance, bigger hip turns, higher follow-through, new grips for your irons and purchasing one of those rescue/hybrid clubs. Pretty simple stuff, and it won’t cost you a fortune either.

Armed with these new tools, you start playing with your new hybrid club, irons with new grips, and your newly revamped swing. Things just feel better on the course, and your scores begin to drop! Moreover, as you report these scores, your handicap also falls. Before you know it, you’ve improved your handicap to a 14, and it didn’t take a $400 driver or a $1,000 set of new irons to get there!

Ultimately, you possess the lowest handicap among your friends, and the sweet smell of success only makes you want more. Alas, it’s time to reassess. You go back to your golf pro with a new goal – a single digit handicap. From there, you begin the whole process anew.

Applying Golf To Energy Management
Going through this process of golfing improvement is the exact same methodology used in every successful energy management plan. Call it Energy Management 101. It all starts by establishing your handicap – your energy benchmark. By comparing your hotel’s performance against a known quantity or previously established average, you can tell how well or how poorly your hotel is performing. That benchmark could be last year’s energy consumption of sister hotels or it could be the EPA’s Energy Star system of measure. Both enable you to generate a true plan of attack because you now know the severity of the problem.

The plan can be simple – I need to get some professional help – or complex depending on your needs. Either way, it should include specific, handicap-lowering goals so that you and others can refer back to it over time. Choosing a professional for energy management consultation isn’t much different than choosing who can help you best with your golf game. You can select a vendor but that’s like asking the salesman at Golfsmith to help you with your handicap. Every solution he’ll propose will involve the purchase of his stuff.

Like the selection of golf pro, it’s usually best to go with someone whose only business is helping you achieve a better energy score by whatever means necessary. That would be your professional energy engineer or an external consultant. He or she is the one who will be able to assess your hotel’s performance and suggest changes to your overall stance – that is, your approach – to energy management, changes in your swing – your operations – changes in maintenance practices and recommendations for new equipment.

Then you can put all of that in practice and watch as your energy score improves while your energy spend simultaneously decreases. Then, after reaping the rewards of a successful energy season, it’s time to reassess. Do you want to go for more? If so, you just start this process all over again. It’s that easy!


Energy Management Step By Step
This above diagram succinctly illustrates this energy saving process, and each step is expanded below.

  1. Measure current situation. Before embarking on any plan of attack, take time to understand what your current situation is. It may be better or worse than you think. Only when you are confident of your current status can you begin to assemble a plan to improve it. Benchmarking current operations is typically the best way to start.
  2. Create a master plan. Once a basic picture emerges of how the facilities are performing, a plan can be put in place to establish energy policy, realistic goals and targets, and key performance indicators.
  3. Building assessment. With a plan in place and agreed upon by all stakeholders, it can thus move forward. Building assessments bring to light action items with the best financial outcomes.
  4. Implement action items. Energy conservation measures (ECMs) gleaned from the assessments should now be ranked and implemented according to the master plan.
  5. Measure results. After implementation, it’s time to measure success. Determine how well the energy conservation measures that were put in place worked to save energy.
  6. Reassess improved position. Unless the original plan specified solutions to all deficiencies, there probably is still some work left to be done. Review where the facility is after upgrades and where the improvements left you relative to your goals. Then, go back to the plan, revise as necessary and begin the next phase of energy efficiency measures.

Putting It In Practice
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company followed this plan with outstanding results. Several years ago, Ritz-Carlton management decided that even a super luxury hotel chain could rein in its ever-expanding energy budget. They had already benchmarked each property’s energy use, but they had never gotten serious about doing anything aside from small one-off projects. So, they sat down and came up with a plan that set a goal of 9% energy savings over a three-year period.

The plan would lead to energy assessments of all 32 North American properties, resulting in 790 potential energy conservation measures (ECMs) of which 433 were implemented. Then, Ritz-Carlton began measuring their results. Over the life of the three-year program, they achieved a 13% energy reduction and saved over $11 million in energy costs.

All told, this strategy and execution is nothing more than Energy Management 101. The process works and you can apply it today for remarkable long-term benefits.

About the Author

Jim Gieselman is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.

Ten Warnings On Hotel Energy Savings

Sustainability and energy efficiency technologies are not just about saving our planet. Whatever the validity is behind vendors’ claims that their particular product or service is the ‘best energy saver of all time’, the fact remains that overall they will help reduce utility costs in the long run. In the short-term, however, managing the associated upfront costs can make implementation especially difficult. In other words, with cash flow a constant issue, you will always have to pick and choose which upgrades to authorize and which ones aren’t worth the price tag.

Having worked in this niche space for nearly two decades, and helping owners and operators with their efficiency goals, I’ve developed a list of ten observations on various products and services that together form a broad guideline to follow when getting underway with an energy savings plan.

1. Power factor correction capacitors. This one has been around for a long time but still rears its ugly head occasionally. Without going into a very esoteric discussion of power factor, let’s get one thing straight. These devices do not save energy (kilowatt-hours). Any demonstration to that effect, however convincing, is not what it appears! Capacitors can and do help your energy bill in one regard, though. They will eliminate any charges for reactive power (rkva). If you don’t see a charge for this on your bill, these are a waste of time and money.

2. Window film. I know you’re saying to yourself, “This stuff works.” So why am I trashing it? Actually, I’m not. Many types of window film do in fact cut down on solar loads. And in some instances, it’s absolutely required. But unless you have one of those truly hot spots with no other means of rectifying the problem, solar film rarely has an economic payback. It’s an expensive material that is to be used as a long-term last resort rather than as a quick fix energy conservation measure.

3. Variable frequency drives (VFD) for all motors. VFDs have been hailed as instant energy savers – a sort of miracle drug for your mechanical plant. And when applied correctly, they become just that. As you might have already guessed, ‘applied correctly’ is the operative clause. Just because you have an electric motor running some device doesn’t mean a VFD will make it run better or more efficiently. The driven device – be it a fan, a pump or other piece of gear – must be able to run effectively at slower speeds because it operates as part of a larger system. That is not the case with a large percentage of your motors. Beware of anyone telling you that every motor needs a VFD.

4. Variable frequency drives for my chillers. I single this out from the item above because it requires such a tremendous investment. A VFD for even a mid-sized chiller can easily cost over $30,000 USD. While any number of smart people may tell you that you’ll see paybacks in under three years, here’s what they’re actually saying. A VFD for your chiller may in fact be just the thing your plant needs, but then again maybe not. This project requires a competent engineer to first analyze your chiller’s loading history to determine whether a VFD is an appropriate and economical fit. Unfortunately, most people selling these don’t go to that trouble.

5. LED lighting everywhere. The question here isn’t whether LED lamps will save you energy dollars – of course they will! When it comes to this ‘panacea of lighting technology’, the devil is in the details. So many people have jumped onto the LED wagon without doing the appropriate due diligence, and the result is often a lighting nightmare. LEDs are curious animals with very different characteristics from more conventional forms of lighting. Color, brightness, light spread, fixture type and other factors all need to be taken into account in an LED retrofit, as any of these can greatly affect the outcome of the upgrade.

6. Energy audits from the electric utility. I hear this often, “I don’t need an energy audit; I just had one done by XYZ Power Company and it was free!” You should know by now that you get what you pay for it. Some electric utilities have auditors that know a thing or two about lighting. But beyond that, the utility companies simply can’t afford to employ experienced engineers who understand all the complex HVAC systems and give away their highly specialized work for free.

7. New product that will trim 40% off your energy bill. No doubt you’ve heard this titillating statement before in one form or another – a product or a system that will cut an amazing amount off your utility bill. There is virtually no one single device out there that can lower your building’s energy cost by that much on its own. If you have an old lighting system, then LEDs could cut your lighting energy bill by 40% or more. But that’s a far cry from lowering your entire energy spend by that same percentage. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

8. New software will save you thousands. This is such a huge category because there are so many new offerings coming out virtually every week. In general, I’m all in favor of using automation of some sort to help manage your building’s energy use. But take heed, don’t buy any software that you aren’t prepared to get fully engaged in or have someone else operate for you. Automated software alone will not solve your problems or lower your energy bills. The people that operate it will.

9. If you turn this one dial up, you’ll save money. It never fails; every time I walk into a hotel, I see setpoints that are way beyond where they should be. I’m not just talking about a guestroom thermostat being at 68oF during summer. In most large hotels, there are scores of setpoints from chilled water temperatures to static pressure or differential pressure settings. All are designed with a certain range in mind. They get out of spec when the people adjusting them haven’t been properly schooled on the overall system operation.

10. Your engineering team has everything running as efficiently as possible. In my years of auditing hotels, I would say that most engineering teams are doing the best they can to make their properties run as smoothly as possible. But whether we want to admit it or not, hoteliers can no longer afford to have as big or as educated a staff as they require. Junior engineers these days lack the proper training to be able to keep up with all the complex systems they have to deal with. I haven’t been in a hotel yet that has had ‘everything running as efficiently as possible’. It’s a constant struggle, and sometimes you’ll need external help to fully grasp where else you can save.

I am all about energy efficiency, but it drives me crazy to see people succumb to a smooth-talking salesman. It’s even worse when hoteliers end up purchasing something that they don’t necessarily need, won’t perform as claimed or just flat out doesn’t work.

Hopefully these ten above mentioned warnings have helped you rethink how you approach energy savings. And if you’d like to know more, I’m here to help!

(Article by Jim Gieselman, published in eHotelier on July 26, 2016)

About the Author

Jim Gieselman is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.


It’s Not Easy Being Green

Kermit the frog gets quoted quite often for this famous line. And although there really is no other way than being green, I do sometimes identify with him quite strongly. Running sustainable lodging operations in remote destinations can be quite challenging.

In 2013, Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality will celebrate its 10th birthday as a hospitality management company managing upscale hotels, resorts and lodges in Central America, all with a strong focus on sustainability. It has been 10 very fulfilling years, filled with challenges and drawbacks. When we started, we had one client and now our portfolio boasts nine projects in Costa Rica and Nicaragua (with several new ones on the drawing board). So business is good, but often at a high cost and wearing our owners and managers at a stronger pace than normal.

While our way of operating is not that different from typical hospitality management companies, there are some differences that make the work a lot more fun and rewarding, but at the same time a lot more difficult and complex. My first job out of Cornell was to open a Hampton Inn Airport hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica. Wow, that was easy. Full set of operating manuals, GM training in Memphis, standardized rooms – cookie cutter is the word!

This is very different from our current reality. Our smallest hotel has six rooms and the largest has 40. Average daily rates range between $135 and $400 and staffing levels range from 12 to 90 employees. Yearly sales range from $350,000 to $5 Million. Some properties are located in the middle of tropical rainforest or on remote islands; others are more resort-like on a beach, or urban hotels with air conditioning and a fine dining restaurant. Some of our owners are pure philanthropists and others look very much at the bottom line results. Standardization is hard to achieve with so many differences.

As often in hospitality, the food and beverage operation is the most difficult, especially from an economic viewpoint. Running a restaurant for a six- or nine-room hotel without being able to draw on customers from the outside is hard. Doing this in a remote location where you have to bring things in on damaged dirt roads or by boat is even more of a challenge. Training the local staff and maintaining quality levels consistently over time has been one of our biggest headaches. We did it, but again, what was the price that we paid for in terms of managerial wear and tear?

We have a very strong commitment to hire predominantly local staff. Due to strong educational and local cultural challenges, this has been a real test of patience. But we have also seen that, in the long term, this strategy pays off. Bringing in expats from abroad might get the job done, but it is not sustainable and has not proven to work in the long term, especially in the more remote locations. One the most rewarding experiences is to see a young woman start out as a receptionist and move her way up to General Manager. Or a housekeeper who formerly survived from hunting wildlife and came full circle to become a nature guide and understand the delicate balance of nature. Our hotels are full of success stories where local men and women with minimal formal education have risen to serve the most demanding guests. Their authenticity and genuine way of sharing their culture is what our guests most positively comment on.

I often get asked if it is cheaper to run a sustainable hotel or if costs are actually higher. I think it is about the same, with a small tendency to be a bit of a higher cost structure. While in some cases not offering air conditioning or TVs in the rooms may represent savings, the use of biodegradable and organic cleaning and cosmetic products is much more expensive. We buy locally and try not to import food. But often to support local farmers and pay for organic products might be more expensive. In some cases we produce our own biogas, but at the same time buy biodiesel instead of fossil fuel.

Global warming and climate change have dramatically changed things. We have been faced with an increased amount of natural disasters in the past years, which is mostly due to the remote and “highly immersed in nature” aspect of some of our hotels. During the rains of hurricane Katrina, a landslide almost took down the restaurant and lobby of one lodge, flooding in Lake Nicaragua threatened the infrastructure on the island eco lodge, increased lightning during storms heavily damaged infrastructure at a beach resort, and small tornados devastated the forests around some lodges and resorts. On top of this, we often deal with being cut off from the outside world, having to cross rivers with harnesses and pull vehicles out of ditches. While this might be “the adventure of a lifetime” for some of our guests (believe it or not, they love this stuff), it is a big strain on the operation.

So, while it is not easy being green, there really is no other way. Please don’t get me wrong, I am NOT complaining. I could not go back to the traditional hospitality industry anymore. Sustainability is no longer a trend. It is a way of life. We have been involved in sustainable hospitality for almost 20 years now and while many were belittling us before, we are now getting a lot of recognition. In 2010 and 2012 Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality won the Conde Nast World Saver Awards and we were invited to speak at the Distinguished Dean’s Lecture Series this fall (2012) at the Cornell Hotel School. Many of our hotels have won not only sustainability awards, but have gained recognition as the best hotel, resort or lodge in its region.

Despite the economic crisis of the past few years, our hotels, resorts and lodges continue to outperform the local competition by a wide margin and we have been able to attract the best local talent for our hotel operations and corporate positions. In a recent visit to Costa Rica, Cornell Hotel School Professor Jan Katz pointed out the apparent relationship between high levels of guest satisfaction and the pride instilled in employees of being part of a sustainable business. We agreed to do further research on this matter in the months to come.

One thing is for sure: Without the total commitment of our managers at the hotels and our corporate Cayuga team, running sustainable lodging operations at the highest level of client expectations would not be possible. A special thank you to all the young men and women who believe in the model and inspire others in their foot tracks to make the world of hospitality help make a more sustainable world – although it is not easy. But that is okay. We don’t need easy. Kermit has been around for many years and continues to leave his mark.

About the Author

Hans Pfister is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.