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South Carolina Hotels Going Green to Save Green

By Jake Spring, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 28, 2010--Call it sustainability, conservation or just plain green -- becoming environmentally friendly has long been billed as the right thing for companies to do.

But a growing number of Myrtle Beach hotels and restaurants are betting that going green makes as much sense monetarily as it does morally. These businesses are part of a national trend of sustainability, fueled by influence of consumers and the market.

Savings was a central topic at a seminar March 15 in Myrtle Beach hosted by the Hospitality Association of South Carolina. The seminar is part of a five-city tour that ends in Hilton Head Island on Monday and promotes the S.C. Green Hospitality Alliance, a program that certifies hotels and restaurants practicing sustainability. The association partnered with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to launch the alliance in October.

Kenneth Harwood, a senior manager at Procter & Gamble, described how simply instructing housekeepers in how to use chemicals could save money and the environment.

"If you want to cut your chemical use, the bathroom is where you go," Harwood said.

Using fewer sprays to clean a bathroom may only save a few ounces per cleaning, but applied to nearly 30,000 hotel rooms in Myrtle Beach over the course of the year it could save more than 100,000 gallons of chemicals, he said.

Hotels and restaurants can tally up efforts such as chemical savings in their efforts to be certified with the alliance. A certain number of points will earn the businesses a one-, two- or three-palmetto ranking. Although hotels and restaurants must be a member of the hospitality association to qualify, nearly 90 percent in Myrtle Beach already are, said Douglas OFlaherty, the association's director of operations.

Three hotels and six restaurants have already been certified in the first year of the program.

Before the 2000s, sustainability efforts existed but businesses did not have the same economic incentive to adopt them, said John Crotts, a professor of hospitality management at the College of Charleston.

Crotts promoted sustainability to hotels and restaurants in the 1990s as part of an extension program with University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. Hospitality businesses were not as concerned with sustainability because fuel prices were low.

"Energy efficiency becomes in vogue when energy costs go up and becomes less in vogue when energy costs go down," he said.

A hotel typically spends 5 percent to 7 percent of its budget on energy, he said. Because energy costsmoney, becoming more efficient is good for a hotel's bottom line. When fuel costs rose sharply in the mid-2000s, it especially made sense for businesses to cut costs.

Consumer demand has also driven change. Customers who recycled at home began influencing hotels to recycle in the early 2000s, Crotts said.

Although some efforts may cost money upfront, hotels and restaurants will save money in the long run, Crotts said.

The upfront investment means sustainability efforts will first spread to large hotels, taking longer to catch on with mom-and-pop lodging, said Robertico Croes, a professor of hospitality management at the University of Central Florida. Chain hotels simply have more resources to invest, he said. But the independent hotels will likely have to catch up to their corporate competitors eventually.

Sustainability is becoming especially important for attracting corporate conventions and meetings and is becoming a requirement, he said.

Hilton Hotels have created a brochure to market their green facilities to corporate groups, said Bob Barenberg, managing director of the Hilton Hotels in Myrtle Beach, which has two of the Grand Strand's three Green Alliance certified hotels. Those hotels also have a software provided by Hilton corporate that allows groups to analyze and reduce the environmental impact of their meetings, including the dinnerware used at banquets, he said.

Danna Lilly, head of group sales at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, also has more event organizers and corporations asking about green facilities for their events, she said. Many companies are adding it to their bylaws, she said. The Convention Industry Council, a trade association representing meeting planners, is also drafting its own green standards.

Sustainability will probably catch on in hospitality gradually like quality measurements in other industry, said Brad Dean, chamber president and chief executive.

"You've seen in the manufacturing sector the initial efforts to push quality material started as measurements, became certifications and then ... became standards," he said.

Contact JAKE SPRING at 626-0310.

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