HEI Hotels Masters Energy Management

HEI's Marriott property in Boca Raton, FL

HEI Hotels & Resorts is serious about conserving energy, protecting the environment and, most importantly, saving money. Due to an aggressive, consistent and well-thought-out energy management strategy, the Connecticut-based owner/operator of full-scale upper upscale and luxury properties has been able to cut its energy consumption by more than 20 percent over the past four years. In that time, the firm reduced its carbon footprint by seven percent, or 7,000 metric tons of CO2, and saved $1.2 million annually throughout its portfolio of properties. The goal for 2010 is an additional 3.5-percent reduction in energy usage.

In addition to the cost savings, the program has yielded awards and kudos for the firm: the 2010 Energy Star Partner of the Year Award and a Corporate Energy Management Award from the Association of Energy Engineers.

“We’ve looked at our food costs and our procurement procedures, but there are only so many steps a company can take to save money,” says Glenn Tuckman, senior vice president, operations & asset management. “But it takes a number of things to create a successful energy management program. First is senior management support. It doesn’t work if they’re not as interested or passionate as you are. It also takes innovation and creativity to get the associates excited about the program. Finally, you need a passionate leader who lives and breathes this stuff.”

For HEI, that passionate leader is Bob Holesko, vice president of facilities and a certified energy manager, who launched the initiative in 2005 by conducting energy audits, upgrading lighting and other steps he calls “the low-hanging fruit.” Within a couple of years, HEI had developed a robust standard energy management protocol that was rolled-out systemwide. All properties got lighting upgrades and motion detection systems, while most received programmable guestroom thermostats, HVAC controls and software upgrades and variable-frequency drives.

“We chose technologies that are proven to work, are brand approved and have returns on investment of three years or less,” says Holesko. “And we were able to garner about $600,000 in various rebates, which made the paybacks even sweeter.”

An important next step was the development of a proprietary measurement tool to accurately quantify energy usages and savings at the property level. Dan Walworth, the Yale-educated math major who’s HEI’s director of operational planning, created the Energy Looking Glass, a software package that enables properties to monitor in real time how their operational behaviors translate into energy usage.

“With the tool, we can adjust for a number of different factors that have an impact on energy usage: the number of people in the building, the weather, the capital improvements made in the property and other unique characteristics of each hotel,” says Walworth. “Now we’re able to strip away these layer of outside factors to determine what is in the control of the property and its management.”

Also on the property level, the company organized committees to build awareness of the importance of energy control and to generate ideas for further savings. Prizes and other incentives are offered for the best ideas that lead to savings.

“The mentality we try to instill about energy management is to do what you do at home,” says Holesko. “We ask associates if when they leave the house are the lights on, the refrigerator door open or the air conditioner cranking? It’s the same at the property, and it usually hits home with them.”

The employees and energy marshals have been able to develop a number of best practices they’ve put into effect across the company. Food thawing in a cooler rather than in water is one. Housekeepers are encouraged to limit the number of times they flush toilets and be sure drapes are closed when they finish a room. In the banquet department, employees use set-up lighting rather than chandeliers when arranging a room. Since the company collectively has one million watts of chandelier lighting, the best practice is to turn them on 10 minutes before the event.

HEI is also looking to the industry’s future. It partnered with the Cornell University hotel school to create the Global Sustainable Enterprise Practicum, a class in which Cornell students research, design and develop green practices applicable to the hotel industry. The first class developed a social responsibility program that HEI adopted, and this year’s class is tackling the topic of waste management.

“Steve and Gary Mendell (HEI’s founders) are both Cornell alumni, and the partnership with the school was their idea,” says Tuckman. “While they’re both good businessmen, they also want to give back in a socially responsible way.”

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