Is green business good business?

Is green business good business?

Six leading hotels in Siem Reap respond to a Post survey of their commitment to low-impact eco-friendly operations to gauge whether going green can be responsible and profitable.

Photo by: Kyle Sherer/photo supplied
Pierre Carron (down), general manager of Angkor Village Resort and Spa, in front of a reed bed used for water recycling. Above, poolside at the Angkor Village Resort and Spa.

Siem Reap
THE trend for large hotels and resorts to develop an environmental conscience and go green has been on the increase. As public opinion sways towards eco-friendly business models, hotels that used to trumpet their grandeur now have to tread lightly around the issue of carbon footprints.

But hotels go green not only for save-the-earth high-mindedness, but also for down-to-earth bottom-line considerations - going green can mean a better return on the green folding stuff.

In Siem Reap, six prominent hotels told the Post that they plan to expand their environmentally friendly programs, in response to an ecological survey sent out by this newspaper last week.

Shinta Mani, Angkor Village Hotel, the FCC, Le Meridien, Sofitel and Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor all claimed their green initiatives make their hotels more attractive to guests.

But many of the reasons given for turning green were motivated by reasoning more logical than ecological.
The high price of electricity in Siem Reap means that cutting down unnecessary power use is as healthy for the budget as it is for the planet.

The FCC, Raffles, Sofitel and Le Meridien report they have installed presence sensors that automatically disable lights and air conditioning when nobody is around.

When it comes to decreasing the wasting of water, five hotels reported the presence of an "opt out" system, where guests can elect not to have towels or sheets cleaned. To further cut down on water use, Le Meridien has installed a rainwater harvesting system, which pipes rainwater into a moat around the hotel that can be reused for garden irrigation, while Angkor Village Hotel uses several reed beds to recycle water for the gardens.

Less popular among the surveyed hotels were slightly more obscure considerations that may take time and effort to implement but would decrease costs in the long run, such as LED globes and compact fluorescent tubes that use less energy than their counterparts and window films that decrease the need for air conditioning.

Only Shinta Mani and Sofitel have made use of compact fluorescent tubes, with the latter also adopting LED globes "in some areas". Raffles, while aware of the benefits of LEDs, has rejected them for not fitting with "the look of the hotel".

Though recycling programs for food scraps and paper waste don't necessarily save money, they require a relatively small amount of effort, making them popular with all six hotels who responded to the survey.

Raffles reports that "all leftover food from the buffet is distributed to orphanages in Siem Reap, while used cooking oil is donated to a nonprofit charity organisation". Sofitel personnel also retain their cooking oil, using it as fuel for torches in their garden. Le Meridien chefs recycle food ingredients if possible "without causing any hygiene risk whatsoever", and the other hotels opt to package their waste and send it to recycling plants.

Water-soluble and biodegradable products proved popular, with five hotels purchasing environmentally friendly soap, shampoo, toilet paper, napkins, laundry cleaner and pool treatment. Le Meridien reported that "only biodegradable products are used at the hotel", and the FCC has implemented a "100 percent natural" mandate for its products.

Angkor Village leads by example
But if the true test of a company's dedication to the environment is their willingness to implement policies that extend beyond cost-saving measures, simple changes in behaviour or purchasing environmentally friendly products, then the Angkor Village Hotel is the Siem Reap industry leader. The hotel is alone in installing solar panels, a bold move that, depending on its success, could either encourage competitors to step up to the plate, or persuade them to stick with the lighting sensors. Le Meridien has expressed interest in "studying" solar power, but it's likely the managers will be looking more closely at Angkor Village Hotel than at New Scientist.

While no other hotel announced plans to install solar panels, Sofitel is implementing another of Angkor Village Hotel's initiatives by installing a gas-fired boiler, (which emits less emission than petrol-fired boilers), later this month.

The six hotels responding to the survey were unanimous in the belief that environmental friendliness impresses their guests. But to compel businesses industry-wide to adopt green measures, customers will have to do more than "notice" environmentally responsible companies.

And whether customers will be willing to reward environmentally friendly hotels over the cheaper competition is a hypothetical that many businesses seem unwilling to put to the test.