Hotel Online  Special Report

Environmental Management
Practices in US Hotels
By Ishmael Mensah
May 2004


Environmental management has become an important issue in the hospitality industry, with a number of hotels adopting sound environmental management practices in response to the growing concerns for sustainable tourism products. Worcester reports that environmental management, which emerged in the 1980s, is a new and important aspect of management and will be adopted by an increasing number of firms by the 1990s. The increasing adoption of environmental management in hotel firms seems to have been sparked off by growing concerns over the impacts of tourism on the environment. The US hotel industry has not been left out of this scourge as a number of initiatives have been undertaken. This paper looks at the forces exerting pressure on U.S hotels to adopt environmental management practices and some environmental initiatives that have changed the nature of environmental management practices in US hotels.

Hotels and the Environment

Hotels are at the hub of the tourism industry and it is one sector of the tourism industry in which activities such as construction of buildings and landscaping, cooking and disposal 

Of waste, use of water and energy tend to affect the environment adversely if not properly managed. Service sector businesses like hotels, resorts and restaurants have some inherent characteristics which exacerbate their impacts on the environment namely; time perishable capacity, heterogeneity, labour intensity and customer involvement in the production process. The size of hotel facility also influences the environmental impact. For instance the impact of a hundred room limited service hotel will be different from a six-hundred room full service hotel.

Forces Exerting Pressure on Hotels to Be Environmental Conscious

The forces exerting pressure on US hotels to be more environmental-conscious could be summarised as government regulation, changing consumer demand, advocacy/initiatives by NGOs and international organisations as well as ethics by professional associations.

Fig 1: Forces Exerting Pressure on Hotels
to be Environmental-Conscious
Globally, the tourism industry is under pressure to adopt more environmentally sound practices. This arose out of concerns that tourism could and often did have negative impacts on the host communities and their environments. 

Increasing environmental awareness on the part of consumers has served as pressure on hotels to adopt sound environmental practices. Tourists are becoming more discerning, seeking activities, arrangements and experiences which depend crucially on a high quality physical and cultural environment. 

Studies conducted by the International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI) and Accor revealed that 90% of hotel guests preferred to stay in a hotel that cared for the environment. 

Corporate bodies are also using environmental considerations in their choice of venues for meetings, as from 1997 to 1998, the number of companies seeking a green hotel for their meetings increased by 10%. Also, in the case of the Saunders Hotels, they were able to attract more than $750,000 in new convention business in 1992 alone due to sound environmental practices. 

Furthermore, regulation of the tourism industry by governments in the form of planning restrictions, mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and laws relating to business practice has exerted pressure on hotels to adopt sustainable environmental practices.

Rowe believes that government restrictions are not limited to EIAs. According to him, in some communities such as Lake Tahoe, the government sets strict visual guidelines that hospitality companies must observe. The developers of the Embassy Suites Resort in Lake Tahoe had to undertake a complex and lengthy planning process. The design of the hotel was 70% dictated by government agencies, including the style of the hotel, scenic thresholds and the selection of exterior colours. Non-compliance with such government restrictions has often not gone unpunished. In Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, such prosecutions can now result in heavy financial penalties, considerable clean-up costs or in worst instances, jail sentences. Commenting on fines imposed on firms, which flout environmental regulations, Zhao and Merna, claim that fines have escalated from $300,000 from 1982, to $11.7 million in 1989. Hotels must therefore comply with environmental regulations to avoid these fines. 

Another force has been exerted by both national and international NGOs and professional organisations. International organisations like the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), World Tourism Organisation (WTO), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) are all actively involved in ensuring environmental improvement in hotels. 

Also, NGOs and other pressure groups such as Tourism Concern, World-wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Equations and Friends of the Earth, among others, have also exerted pressure on hotels to become increasingly concerned about their environments. The case in which Greenpeace won a court suit against Sol Melia Hotels for ecodamage is a case in point. However, the pressure exerted by NGOs has not always been in the form of advocacy and suits but also conservation activities in collaboration with some hotels. Novotel and Hotel Ibis Homebush Bay of Australia are in a unique partnership with the WWF whereby a $1.00 from every room per night sold is donated by the hotels to the latter. 

However, within the hotel industry, cost savings seem to be the prime motivation for the increasing adoption of environmental management practices in hotels.

There are examples of transportation companies, hotels and restaurants haven taken steps to recycle and reduce the consumption of energy, thereby reducing costs, increasing profits and taking some steps towards sustainability. Forte believes that energy-efficient lighting will reduce lighting costs by at least 60%. A survey carried out by the American Hotel and Motel Association (AH&MA) revealed that Hotel managers rated reduction of energy consumption as well as waste management through recycling to be their most important concerns.

Table A: Cost-cutting Environmental Management
Measures by US Hotels

Hotel Practice Initiated Impact
Westin, Seattle Changed incandescent bulbs to energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs and improving control mechanisms Achieved 66 percent reduction in guest room wattage and an annual savings of $400,000.
Apple Farm Inn and Restaurant, California Uses discharged water from washing machines to flush toilets Saving 15,900 liters (4,200 gallons) of water per day and approximately $5,000 per year.
Disney World, Florida Recycles 15.2 million liters (4 million gallons) of wastewater a day for irrigation of landscaping and golf courses. More cost-effective as using municipal treated water would have been much more expensive.
Hotel Bel Air,  Undertook a comprehensive environmental program Saved $10,000 in 10 months plus increased revenue from the sale of cardboards.
Hyatt Regency, Chicago A comprehensive waste reduction and recycling program. Recovered approximately 70% of recyclable materials and cut waste hauling costs in half. Recycling program has resulted in recovery of $120,000 in hotel items.
Inter-Continental, LA Installed a power monitoring system Saved some $12,000 in electricity costs
Intercontinental, Miami Recycling program involving 30 materials.  Diverts 65 percent of the waste stream with annual savings of $31,000
Recycling waste water for watering gardens as well as use of aerators on water outlets Saved over 400 gallons of water per year, amounting to $4,000
Reduced energy consumption by using energy efficient appliances Saved 400,000 kwh of energy annually which amounted to $2,400
Habitat Suites Hotel, Austin, Texas Water conservation programmed such as use of low-flow sink and shower aerators, water-saving toilets and water saving sprinklers. Combined water-saving measures led to savings of $9,000
Use of fluorescent and air-conditioning units Saved over 122,000 kw of energy per year, which equals $10,954
Boston Park Plaza Installed 1,686 thermopane windows at a cost of $1.2 million. Each window saves the hotel $75 per year in energy costs and the guests benefit from quieter rooms

As exemplified by Table A, the thrust of the green campaign in the hospitality sector focused mainly on energy savings as evidenced by the number of hotels engaging in energy-saving measures which range from the use of compact fluorescent bulbs to shutting down unused appliances.

Environmental Initiatives in US Hotels

Environmental Management in US hotels started in the form of initiatives by various associations and activities which begun when the Prince of Wales launched the International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI) in 1993.

This involved 11 international hotel chains accepting a manual spelling out a comprehensive campaign to advance environmental performance in the hotel industry. However, Stipanuk is of the view that US hotels have responded to environmental issues as far back as 1920. In 1994, the Hotel and Catering Institute Management Association participated in Green Globe, an environmental management awareness program initiated by the WTTC. Today, individual hotels Accor, Ramada Renaissance Hotel, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts among others are aggressively pursuing environmental initiatives. 

Today, various types of environmental initiatives exist. However, there are no common standards for hotels, so these initiatives are being carried out by the hotels themselves, NGOs, International Organisations and government agencies. Such initiatives have been in the form of publications, certification, awards, ecolabels and codes of conduct.


Ecolabels have also been used to encourage the development of less-damaging and environmentally friendly hotels as well as to educate the customer. Ecolabelling started in Europe in 1985 with Blue flag however; the concept has been adopted by the tourism and hospitality industry to promote a clean and green image. Today, there are over 100 in the tourism and hospitality industry, operating in several countries, including the US. In the US, ecolabels for hotels include EcoMeet, Green Hotels Association, and Green Hotel in the Mountain State, Green Seal, and Energy Star. A hotel has to be a member of a particular association or go through a certification programme in order to use its logo. Most of the ecolabels therefore provide certification programmes. Green Globe 21 for instance uses an Environmental Management System (EMS) as its ecolabel criteria. It has developed benchmarks specific to hotels. 


Certification which is a process by which a third party gives written assurance to the consumer that a product, process, service or management system conforms to specified requirements. 

Though it originally started in manufacturing industries, it has crept into the tourism and hospitality industry. A number of global and national certification schemes are available for US hotels. The ISO 14000 was developed originally for the manufacturing industry but now covers hotels. It is aimed at standardising environmental management practices, audits, performance evaluation, labelling and life cycle assessments practices around the world.

Green Globe 21 is a global certification programme developed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in 1998 to address sustainable development issues in the tourism industry. Its standards include an environmental code, policy guidance, environmental management systems, and employee information and consumer tips. 

Ecotel is also a global initiative involving international inns, hotels and resorts that define the concept of environmental responsibility in the hospitality industry. Another certification scheme is EcoHotel instituted by HVS International in 1991. It is based on five major criteria: environmental commitment, solid waste management, energy efficiency, and water conservation and employee education/community involvement. The Green Seal a Washington D.C based NGO is also a certification scheme for the hospitality industry. A number of US hotels are also seeking Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED 2.0) certification, which was developed in the late 1990s by the US Green Building Council. However, this certification is only limited to buildings, including hotel buildings. Some states have also instituted certification schemes on the local level. These include Green Hotel designation in the Green Mountain State of Vermont and Green Seal’s alliance with Pennsylvania State, Washington D.C and Virginia. In all these certification schemes, hotels need to apply, and then they will be assessed based on the standards set. Assessment is the process of examining, measuring, testing or otherwise determining conformance with requirements specified in an applicable standard. Hotels which do not meet the standards need to make adjustments before they can be certified, so they can carry a logo. 

Table B: Ecolabels and Certification
Initiatives in US Hotels

Initiative Initiator Jurisdiction Nature
Green Globe 21 World Travel and Tourism Council World Ecolabel/certification
Ecotel   World  Certification
Leed 1.0, 2.0, LEED-EB U.S. Green Building Council US/world Certification
Green seal Green seal  US Ecolabel/certification
Green Hotel in the Mountain State Green Mountain State,  Vermont  Ecolabel/certification
ISO 14000 International Standards Organisation World Certification
Ecohotel HVS World Ecolabel/certification
Green Seal of Approval Green Seal US Ecolabel/certification
EcoMeet Fairmont Hotels North America Ecolabel
Energy Star US Department of Energy, EPA US Ecolabel
Greenpath Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts California Certification 


In an attempt to help hotel managers on sound environmental management practices, various agencies, associations and NGOs have produced several publications including magazines, books, manuals and information packs on responsible environmental practices in hotels. The International Hotels Environmental Initiative (IHEI), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and World Tourism Organisation (WTO) have all produced different publications and other resources aimed at promoting environmental-responsible behaviour in hotels.

Table C: Publications and Resources for US Hotels

Year Publication Authors
1992 An Integrated Approach to Resort Development WTO
1995 Environmental Action Pack for Hotels IHEI, UNEP
1996 Environmental Management for Hotels IHEI
  Environmental Good Practice in Hotels UNEP
  Greening your Property, A Green Seal Guide Green Seal
1998 How the Hotel and Tourism Industry can Protect the Ozone Layer UNEP
1999 The Green Host Effect, an Integrated Approach to Sustainable Tourism and Resort Development Conservation International
2001 Sowing the Seeds of Change, An environmental Teaching Pack for the Hospitality Industry IHRA and International Association of Hotel School Directors
2003 A Practical Guide to Good Practice, Managing Environmental and Social Issues in the Accommodation Sector Tour Operators Initiative and Centre for Environmental Leadership


Awards have also been used by the tourism and hospitality industry, NGOs, governments and trade associations to promote environmental responsible behaviour in hotels. Awards have been used to show recognition for sound environmental management practices by some hotels so as to encourage other hotels to also adopt such practices.

As shown on Table …., though such awards had existed in the past, the practice gained prominence in the US in the 1990s. 

Table D: Prestigious Environmental Awards
received by U.S Hotels

Year Award Hotel/Initiative
1992 President’s Environment and Conservation Challenge Award Saunders Hotel Group
1993  IHA Environmental Award Hotel Intercontinental, Miami
1994 ASTA Environmental Awards  Intercontinental Hotels
1997 Best of the Best Environmental award Bass Hotels and Resorts
1999 ASTA Environmental Awards Kapalua Resort, Hawaii
1999 Green Globe Award Accor Hotels
2001 ASTA Environmental Awards Green Hotels Association
2001 Energy Star Awards Hilton Hotels
2001 Travel Industry Association Odyssey Award in the Environmental Category Amfac Parks and Resorts, Denver CO
2001 Enviro-Management Award Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg, VA
2002 National Parks Service (NPS) Environmental Achievement Award Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts
2003 Ethics in Action Award for Environmental Excellence, Large Enterprise Category Fairmont Hotels and Resorts

A number of US hotels groups or chains like the Saunders Hotel Group, Intercontinental Hotels and Hilton Hotels have received different environmental awards. Some environmental initiatives have also been acknowledged. In 2001, the Association of Travel Agents Environmental Awards went to the Green Hotels Association for its environmental initiatives.

Other Initiatives

There are other environmental initiatives which have influenced environmental management in US hotels. They are in the form of non-profit organisations and collaborations between different organisations. Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) is a coalition of over 80 environmental, investor and advocacy groups working together for a sustainable future. Its initiatives have included the Green hotels Initiative (GHI) which is working to educate hotels clients about what they can ask from lodging operators as well as to provide a mechanism for hotels to communicate their environmental performance. Another initiative is the Green Meetings Initiative, developed and supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide conference planners and suppliers of conference services, easy access to environmentally friendly goals of conference planning. Finally, the Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Centre (PPRC), Hospitality Sector. Created in 1991, it is an NGO that is the northwest’s source of high quality, unbiased pollution prevention information. 


In effect, US hotels are gradually responding to concerns for environmental sustainability on the part of customers, international organisations, NGOs, and governments. However, environmental management practices have often been geared towards saving costs on energy and water. There have been diverse initiatives by hotels, international organisations, NGOs and trade associations in the form of ecolabelling, certification, publications and awards. These initiatives have created greater awareness of environmental management in Hotels in the US. It is therefore imperative for hotels which have not embraced the concept to take a second look since environmental responsibility does not only safeguard the environment on which hotels depend but also insulate them from legal tussles, saves costs, promotes customer loyalty and enhances the reputation of hotels.

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Ishmael Mensah
Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration
Robinson College of Business, MSC 4A0310
Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA 30303

Also See: Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) Resturctures; Reiterates Commitment to Ongoing Environmental Programs / June 2003
The Fairmont Washington, D.C. Buying 6% of its Power Needs from a West Virginia Wind Farm / Aug 2003
Project Planet, Educational Institute of AH&LA Work Together to Offer Green Programs to Hoteliers / February 2004
With 811 Suites, La Cabana the Largest Resort in the Caribbean to be Green Globe Certified / April 2004
Xanterra Parks & Resorts Using Renewable Wind and Geothermal generated Electricity to Power 10% of the Electricity Used in Zion and Crater Lake National Park Lodges / November 2003
Environmental Management: The Key to Successful Operation / Bill Meade and Antonio del Monaco/ May 1999
Teaching Travellers to Be Activists in Preserving the Places They Visit is a Key to Achieving Sustainable Development in the Tourism Industry / April 1999

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