Second Nature

Changing the culture from disposable to sustainable is critical for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, a Toronto-based pioneer in all things green. It might seem odd for a luxury hotel chain to craft so diligent an environmental program, but it makes sense politically and economically, particularly at a time when the costs of energy are on everybody's mind. An apt symbol is Fairmont's use of linens, rather than paper napkins, at its Eco Cuisine meals, which strive to feature organic, local foods. Linen has long been synonymous with luxury.

Fairmont shows how linen, a symbol of elitism like the china on which Fairmont serves its food, can be politically correct — and environmentally responsible.

Founded in 1884, Fairmont has grown to encompass 55 hotels and resorts in 15 countries. Among its signature U.S. hotels are the Fairmont San Jose, a California property distinguished by its cogeneration program, and the Fairmont Washington DC, a trailblazer in lighting retrofits. For Fairmont, environmental responsibility isn't a property-by-property matter. It bespeaks a company-wide culture. And it spreads beyond the hotel itself.

“I think hotels, by their nature, influence communities,” says Chris Cahill, Fairmont president and chief operating officer. “Because our program is cultural, because it's a part of our DNA, it tends to make inroads.”

That isn't always easy, particularly in developing countries like China, where environmental controls are by no means the norm, and Mexico, where Fairmont had to lay the groundwork for environmental awareness when it began to implement green practices there 10 years ago. Still, Cahill suggests, environmental awareness is not only possible everywhere, it's contagious.

“We went to Acapulco in 1998 and there was no environmental program at all, no recycling program,” Cahill says during a recent interview at the Royal York, Fairmont's Toronto flagship and a very grand hotel. “We had been counseled by people in the marketplace, don't waste your time because there's not a lot of facilities available to assist in recycling even if you did start to recycle.”

Fairmont went ahead anyway. “We introduced the program and we had phenomenal response at the colleague level, (with employees) wanting to embark on the program. In doing so, they actually created a lot of momentum around environmental practices in the community.”

Such practices needn't be dramatic, suggests Michelle White, Fairmont's director of environmental affairs. In an interview last fall, White said that particularly in older properties — Fairmont is known for its grand, legacy hotels — executives should look for “low-hanging fruit.” That might include installing hinge-activated lighting in housekeeping closets and placing vinyl curtains on walk-in coolers and freezers.

Energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems, more efficient windows and passive energy systems are Fairmont hallmarks, she says. Maximize the amount of natural light you can get from your building, inventory the hotel and do a department-by-department audit of energy use.

THE RANGE OF GREEN

In Pittsburgh, Fairmont is building a 185-room hotel that will occupy parts of the top 10 floors of the $178-million, 23-story Three PNC Plaza, a downtown office-residential-parking complex. Twenty-eight condos, aka The Residences at Fairmont, will occupy parts of the upper floors; the lobby and entrance will be on the first floor, a 6,000-square-foot ballroom on the second. The Fairmont Pittsburgh is to open in summer 2009.

In California, Fairmont plans to develop the Fairmont Avanterra, Palm Desert as the heart of a $2.5-billion master-planned community. The Coachella Valley complex is to break ground in summer 2009 and open in 2011. Initially, the hotel will offer 300 rooms and 125 Fairmont Residences; a later phase will feature Fairmont Heritage Place fractional residence club homes.

Both the Pennsylvania and California projects will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified. Says Cahill: “We've adjusted all of our design standards to take into consideration LEED certification, so as we renovate hotels or plan new projects, we work with developers, builders and owners” toward that goal.

Does Fairmont encounter resistance from developers regarding LEED certification requirements? “It depends on the project,” Cahill says, “and I think that because of our reputation, we as a company have pushed the envelope on that, working with partners.”

Are there economic challenges in going green? “I don't think that's an issue now in terms of construction projects for hotels” he says. “It's understanding the capital costs associated with greening a hotel, but also the ongoing savings associated with having a more energy-efficient property. I would say that given the current environment in the U.S., whether a hotel will be LEED-certified or not is not going to impact whether the project is going to be done.”

“Everyone needs to conserve water, everyone needs to conserve energy, everyone needs to minimize their waste,” says White, Fairmont's environmental guru. “Any hotel company or hotel can implement a green program. A lot of people get caught up in the fact that they may need to invest a lot of money up front; that's not the case.”

In many cases, “going green” starts with reviewing hotel operations and identifying areas where green principles can be applied, she suggests. “It can be starting small, in donating your partially used amenities to a local charity; that's what the Green Partnership Program does really well. It identifies a lot of low-hanging fruit.”

Such fruit includes replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. Brian Mosher, director of engineering for the Royal York, says such replacement is relatively easy for light bulbs in lamps and guestroom ceiling fixtures, but it can be problematic in decorative lighting like wall sconces and chandeliers. The province of Ontario has mandated incandescents be off the market by 2012, so designers and manufacturers will have to meet the letter of the law, he says.

THE PRACTICE OF GREEN

Fairmont puts its money where its mouth is — and where golfers go. At the Royal York, for example, Executive Chef David Garcelon uses organically grown and locally cultivated products whenever possible, forging bonds with Ontario farmers and simultaneously serving fresh, native products to guests.

Meanwhile, golfers can take comfort in Greening the Greens, a part of the Green Partnership Program that allies Fairmont with Audubon International. Seven Fairmont courses, mostly in Canada, have achieved certification in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, guaranteeing a reduction in pesticide use and maximizing use of golf course green space as a wildlife habitat.

Fairmont also has instituted Eco-Meet, designed to make meetings and conferences more environmentally friendly. Among its components:

  • Eco-Cuisine f&b featuring sustainable seafood and vegetarian options

  • Bulk servings of milk and cream

  • The composting of kitchen organic waste

  • Electronic paperless check-in/out

  • Use of whiteboards instead of paper flip charts

  • Offsetting of emissions an event generates through purchase of renewable energy certificates, or green tags

  • E-mail contracts to be used whenever possible.

On a broader scale, Fairmont recently allied with World Wildlife Fund, a global conservation organization, to combat climate change. Fairmont and WWF plan to measure the hotel group's carbon footprint over the next few months so that by June, Fairmont can join WWF's Climate Savers program and develop a brand-wide emission reduction plan.

“I think we gained a reputation because it's always been part of us,” says Chris Cahill. “It's cultural, not something we hold out as a program. Because of that, we've gotten a lot of very positive press, a lot of positive business and feedback from customers. But we've never said we're the ‘green’ company; you can overstate your position. We just do our best in looking for ways and initiatives to drive our energy efficiency on a day-to-day basis.”

To some degree, practicality drives the green philosophy at Fairmont, Cahill suggests. It's engrained in its “corporate approach to business; social responsibility is part and parcel of our brand, and because the colleagues in our hotels are so embracing, they tend to drive a lot of initiatives. They're the ones who come up with ideas that you can share; it's almost self-perpetuating.

“If you have to push it top-down, it's a program,” says Cahill, who absorbed Fairmont's environmental code by osmosis when he joined the brand in 1990. “If it's bottom-up, where the associates are driving initiatives, it's cultural.”

THE BIG IDEAS

Pick the low-hanging fruit

Start greening your hotel small: inventory your electronics, change the bulbs to compact fluorescent, install low-flow showerheads.

Market your environmentalism

Stress your environmental friendliness in generating meetings and corporate business. Get your guests to buy into the program — and spread the word.

Set an example

A hospitality thought leader like Fairmont can be an environmental role model for the greater community.

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