The 2006 movie “An Inconvenient Truth” made many people want to go green. But those newbies were only catching up to the eco-friendly operations of San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Founded in 1981, the company began its eco-efforts in 1985 when it included a rooftop urban park at its Galleria Park Hotel in San Francisco. In 2005, Kimpton launched its EarthCare program — a menu of more than 40 eco-friendly daily practices now in place at all 42 properties in the U.S. and Canada. Here, chief operating officer Niki Leondakis shares how green practices make for good business.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: Does going green cost more, or can it be cost-effective?
NIKI LEONDAKIS: Eco-friendly practices do not necessarily cost more; however, some require upfront costs. Profitability is always our chief concern, which is why we have used a phase-in approach to implementing EarthCare practices. This allows us to thoroughly test and evaluate efficiency and cost before broad implementation. Over time, we have seen many of these changes result in savings, specifically with regard to energy and water usage. For example, replacing guest room and bathroom lighting with CFLs [compact fluorescent lights] at the Hotel Marlowe in Boston resulted in an annual savings of $55,000. After implementing a comprehensive recycling program that includes cans, paper, bottles and cardboard at Kimpton's 70 Park Avenue Hotel in New York, the hotel saw a savings of $6,000 per year. After installing low-flow aerators in guest rooms and bathrooms at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, the hotel began saving $3,300 per year.
SPECIAL EVENTS: How does Kimpton identify the green moves it can make? Have you tried to do something green that just didn't work out?
LEONDAKIS: We are constantly working behind the scenes on how to minimize our environmental impact. Over the years, there have certainly been challenges and successes along the path. For example, when we made the change to nontoxic cleaning products, we had to do extensive training with housekeeping to explain that the new products were just as effective even though they didn't foam up like the products they'd been used to. We really had to work to gain their trust and buy-in. Once we had it, everyone was happy with the new products. This was a success story for us, but it might not have been had we not responded to the initial resistance from our staff with deeper training. Today, Kimpton has passionate “Eco Champions” at each hotel, who are dedicated to researching and implementing practices that increase our sustainable efforts. Our Eco Champs help spot opportunities, pilot new practices and share feedback among hotels about how current practices are working. With the help of these Eco Champs, we're able to test new ideas to make sure they're feasible before we roll them out across all hotels.
SPECIAL EVENTS: How do clients react to Kimpton's green efforts? Are brides and bar/bat mitzvah parents concerned about going green?
LEONDAKIS: Clients are often surprised and happy to learn that eco-friendly choices do not sacrifice quality, style or comfort. In fact, we've seen a tremendous increase in the amount of requests for green events. Our customers often tell us they choose Kimpton because of our commitment to sustainability and our flexible event options. A bride, for example, may request that our restaurant source local or organic foods, or enlist our event planners in creative eco themes to incorporate into her special event.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Today many hotels are bashed for “greenwashing,” that is, claiming to be more eco-friendly than they truly are. Do you think this is fair?
LEONDAKIS: As all things eco-friendly have become increasingly part of the public consciousness, I think a certain amount of skepticism is healthy and probably warranted. We encourage our employees and guests to become as educated as possible on the subject so they are armed with the ability to know the difference between companies that are serious about reducing their impact on the planet and those that overstate the results of their efforts.
To learn more about Kimpton's EarthCare program, visit www.kimptonhotels.com.