A study by Stefani Svaren, a student at the School of Hospitality Business Management, Pullman, Wash., found that major chain hotels such as Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, and others are far ahead of independent hotels when it comes to adopting green and sustainable operating practices.

Svaren's study, which was published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Hospitality Management, found that chains are more likely to use energy-efficient lightbulbs and water-saving bathroom fixtures, as well as environmentally preferable cleaning products. The study concluded that independent hotels are so far behind chains that they may lose their competitive advantage in drawing customers.

"This is because on both a corporate level and a personal level, if costs and features are competitive, more travelers prefer to stay in a green hotel," says Mike Sawchuk, vice president of Enviro-Solutions.

Hotels first started taking steps to be greener and more sustainable in the 1990s, and some of the larger chains soon realized it could be a cost savings as well as a powerful marketing strategy.

"Some independent hotels, for instance, are reluctant to switch to energy-efficient lightbulbs because it can take years for them to see a return on their investment," explains Sawchuk. "However, a large chain may discover cost savings almost immediately."

The use of green cleaning chemicals is also quite common in the larger chains, according to Sawchuk. "And many of the [chains] we work with are quick to add this fact to their marketing material. [They find] consumers believe a green hotel is also a better operated hotel."