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“Greening” Florida’s Hotel Rooms Saves Money, Helps Environment

GAINESVILLE—Tourist-dependent Florida could save precious natural resources and money, and attract consumers, by “greening” its hotel rooms, a study by University of Florida energy experts suggests.

By investing in minor improvements to the environmental aspects of a hotel room — its shower heads, air conditioning, lamps and even toilets — the average yearly utility costs would drop by about 45 percent, according to research by UF’s Energy Extension Service.

“Hotel companies are becoming more active in attracting “green” consumers and ecotourists,” said Mike West, an extension scientist at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “We think a hotel’s environmental stance will be a major marketing factor over the next several years. We already see the environmental movement making a significant impact on the hotel and motel industry. They see that saving the environment also saves them money in the long run.”

West and his colleagues surveyed hotel rooms at nine locations around the state, from Destin to Key West. The rooms in the study, which West called EnviroRoom Demonstration Guest Rooms, were outfitted with resource-efficient equipment–air-conditioning energy-management systems, high efficiency dehumidifier air-conditioning equipment, bacteriostatic air filters, compact fluorescent lamps, high efficiency tube fluorescent lamps, automatic light switches and water efficient shower heads, toilets and faucet aerators.

The EnviroRoom and a standard hotel room on each property were monitored for water and energy use, occupancy, air comfort and guest behavior over a 15-week period. Guests’ comments and maintenance requests also were logged.

The UF scientists found that the average per-year utility cost for each EnviroRoom fell from $779 to $363. Although costs to equip each room came to $696, that amount was recovered in less than two years at most properties and in less than a year in the Florida Keys, where utility costs are much higher, West said. In addition, each EnviroRoom saved 9,860 gallons of water, 5.9 cubic feet of natural gas and 5.9 tons of coal on average per year.

While the initial cost to “green” each hotel room may be significant, studies by the U.S. Travel Data Center in Washington, D.C., show that travelers would spend 8.5 percent more, on average, for travel services and products provided by environmentally responsible suppliers.

West said several major hotel corporations have increased their environmental awareness in recent years. ITT Sheraton, Ramada, Marriott and Hilton have instituted environmentally friendly corporate policies and incentive programs.

At Gainesville’s Cabot Lodge, general manager Bart Johnson said it did not take much convincing to participate in the UF research. “We were interested in saving money for one thing and also to help the environment as well,” Johnson said.

Although only one room was outfitted at the Cabot Lodge for the UF study, Johnson said the results were noticeable. The dehumidifying air-conditioning systems, for example, helped prevent mildew, and he also liked the energy- saving fluorescent lights. Money savings also were so apparent that future marketing plans may center around the environment, and future hotels may have all rooms equipped to be environmentally friendly, he said.