When the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel became the first hotel in Texas to achieve Green Seal certification, Jay Bush, hotel director of Food & Beverage, said simply: "Going green is here to stay and it is the right thing to do."

The city's largest hotel, which connects to the George R. Brown Convention Center, demonstrated its commitment to environmental leadership by greening operations and purchasing in 2009. The end result reduced the hotel's environmental impact and improved its sustainability.

Today the 1,200-guest room hotel, with its 91,500 square feet of meeting space, two restaurants, lobby bar, coffee emporium, and full-service spa and health club, complies with the environmental and performance requirements of the Green Seal Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties — Silver.

With the certification, the AAA Four Diamond hotel joined four other Hilton family properties that have achieved this distinction. The changes resulted in a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions and waste output, and reduced water consumption by 10 percent.

Capitalizing On Recycling

Hilton Americas-Houston's initiative to obtain Green Seal certification required an extensive greening effort from the housekeeping department and included sustainable practices in waste minimization, reuse and recycling; energy efficiency, conservation and management; management of freshwater resources; wastewater management; sustainability purchasing programs; and hazardous substance management.

Hotel officials comment that one of the most successful efforts has been its facility-wide recycling program. Receptacles placed throughout public areas encourage the recycling of paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, florescent light bulbs and other metals. The hotel also recycles toner cartridges and batteries, and donates leftover food to local shelters. Guest rooms are not overlooked either, with one receptacle for recyclables and one for trash.

The department's efforts to reduce waste paid off rather quickly. Just four months after putting the recycling program in place, the hotel diverted 56 tons of cardboard and more than 96,000 gallons each of paper, mixed plastic and metal cans from landfills. But the work hasn't been without challenges.

"The biggest challenge is to keep our staff motivated and willing to help the environment by participating in the recycling program at their own workstations," says Keith Bottom, assistant director of housekeeping.

Director of Housekeeping Jose Cervantes agrees, stating that an emphasis on training keeps everyone recycling.

"New housekeeping team members are trained for two weeks on the hotel's brand standards and recycling standards," he says. "Upon completion of the training, we follow up with daily inspections."

Housekeepers are taught to collect recycled material on their carts and deliver it to the loading dock where the items are emptied into 96-gallon containers. Waste Management then removes the recycled materials three times a week.

Buying Into Green

In addition to their successes with recycling, the housekeeping department has successfully implemented a strong sustainable purchasing program.

Today the hotel follows an environmental purchasing policy that requires the housekeeping department to procure nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products. Often, managers will tap into vendors to identify these environmentally preferred products. This includes evaluating the life cycle of products and services, and using available information from manufacturers or product certifications as a guide.

According to hotel officials, the chemicals used are Green Seal approved, biodegradable, non-phosphate and non-chlorine products.

When it comes to paper purchases, the hotel utilizes consumable paper products made from recycled fibers with the following minimum post-consumer content: Toilet tissue - 20 percent, facial tissue - 10 percent, and napkins and paper towels - 40 percent. Printing and writing paper must contain a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer content as well.

Cleaning equipment is also scrutinized prior to purchasing. For instance, if replacements for vacuums or floor scrubbers are necessary, housekeeping officials work with vendors to identify green options that have little impact on the environment and building occupants, and are energy efficient.

To encourage greater sustainability beyond their facility, hotel officials also set high expectations for their jan/san suppliers. When housekeeping purchases are made, preference is given to suppliers or vendors who also provide recyclable packaging or take back reusable packaging and shipping pallets for reuse.  

Focus On Food Waste

To further reduce their environmental impact, housekeeping executives joined forces with the food services department to place an emphasis on food composting.  

Chefs at the hotel now collect food scraps, which the housekeeping staff removes from the kitchen for collection in a food compactor. Waste Management then picks up the waste and delivers it to Nature's Way Resources, an organic waste disposal company based in Conroe, Texas.

Since the hotel introduced food-composting in April 2008, more than 154 tons of food waste has been composted.

In 2009, the hotel went even greener by converting to biodiesel as an alternative fuel. In one year, the hotel recycled 14,000 pounds of kitchen oil, diverting seven tons of oil-based fuel waste from the landfill for conversion into biofuels.

The food service areas of the hotel also replaced disposable food service items with biodegradable versions — cutlery is now made from potatoes, drink cups and dish containers are made from corn starch and food boxes are made from 100 percent renewable resources. Chefs also alter recipes to include foods purchased from local and regional farmers and fishermen. Lastly, restaurants only serve water upon request, rather than having it go to waste.

Save Water And Energy

Although there are myriad benefits to green and sustainable initiatives, the greatest financial advantages often come from water and energy. Reducing consumption and waste of both water and energy are important to housekeeping management.

As part of its Green Seal certification efforts, the hotel added low water consumption toilets that use 1.6 gallons of water per flush and installed showerheads that release 2.5 gallons of water per minute. By comparison, standard fixtures can consume up to 3 and 7 gallons, respectively.

This focus on water savings also extends to laundry. Besides giving guests the option of reusing their linens, the hotel added a water recycling system, which covers 27,000 square feet and washes and dries more than 675,000 pounds of linens each month.

Two massive tunnel washers launder 100 pounds of linens every 2.5 minutes, with a maximum capacity of 5,550 pounds of linens per hour. The system captures 80 percent of the water dumped after the washers' final rinse cycle, then processes and cleans it before it is reused.

By adding the water recycling system, the hotel reduced its water usage of 630,000 gallons per month by 75 percent. To fully understand the impact of this measure, the hotel reports that this system saves more than 5.5 million gallons of drinking water per year. To date the hotel has recycled 21.8 million gallons of water.

Energy savings were also realized with the new system, hotel officials report. Water returned to the washers through the system maintains its temperature at 120 degrees, eliminating the need to heat cold water to the required wash temperatures. The hotel reports it saves money but also diverts more than 260 metric tons of greenhouse gases in the form of CO2 from the atmosphere.

This high-volume facility processes nine million pounds of laundry per year, not only for the hotel but also for the convention center and seven other area hotels.  

Reap The Benefits

The efforts of the housekeeping department have resulted in tremendous benefits. Besides reducing the hotel's carbon footprint, operating costs have been reduced and the push has attracted environmentally conscious consumers and events to the facility.

Hilton Americas-Houston has even had its efforts receive prominent recognition.
• Keep Houston Beautiful honored the hotel with a Mayor's Proud Partner Award,  
• The American Hotel & Lodging Association Green Guidelines Challenge named the hotel as its winner in 2009, and
• An iStayGreen Audit nabbed it a three Green Eco-Leaf rating.

Hilton Americas-Houston has clearly discovered there are benefits to doing the right thing, and the housekeeping department is helping lead the charge with green and sustainable initiatives.  


For more information and a photographic tour of the hotel, click here.

RONNIE GARRETT is a frequent contributor to Housekeeping Solutions.