Here’s another good reason for meeting facilities to get serious about their carbon and energy efficiency. Travel managers and other customers are watching, and thanks to a new database developed by Vermont-based Brighter Planet, they’re going to be looking for solid performance data.

“With U.S. hotels using more than $6 billion worth of energy every year and generating 35 million metric tons of CO2 in the process, a trend toward sustainability is nontrivial,” wrote Brighter Planet CEO Patti Prairie in a May 2 Huffington Post article. But according to the company’s study of hotel carbon and energy efficiency:

  • There is more than a tenfold variation in energy use and carbon emissions per room night across U.S. hotels.
  • The dirtiest one-quarter of hotels account for more than half of the sector’s carbon emissions.
  • Dramatic differences in energy and carbon performance exist within chains, and among facilities in specific destinations.
  • Newer hotels tend to be more energy efficient per square foot, but those gains are offset by larger rooms, more amenities, and a shift to more carbon-intensive fuel sources.

“Properties built in the 2000s use more than twice as much energy per room night as properties built from 1965 to 1975, and emit almost 2.5 times as much carbon,” the report states.

Glenn Hasek, crusading editor of the online weekly Green Lodging News, took issue with Brighter Planet’s modeling approach, which factors in a facility’s local climate, year of construction, guest room size, and number of guest rooms, among other criteria, but doesn’t consider property-level sustainability efforts. “They looked at data on 46,000 U.S. hotels but did not consider any efforts at the individual property level to improve energy or carbon efficiency,” Hasek wrote.

Brighter Planet Science Analyst Matt Kling told me the company would gladly include property performance data. But “by and large, hotels are not making the information available,” he said. ”There are a lot of qualitative claims in the lodging industry. We would love to include real energy use data, but we can only take claims that are quantifiable.”

The Brighter Planet analysis holds important lessons for property managers. Although it’s worthwhile to make day-to-day operations more sustainable, Kling said the most important decisions take place when a facility is planned and built, or goes through a major renovation.

Hotels are drawn to “sexier” sustainability measures, says Kling, ones that “they can market and let their customers know about,” but may not bring the greatest environmental improvements or cost savings. Guests will notice if a hotel turns down the pool thermostat or puts linen reuse signs in guest rooms, and “those are great things to share with your customers. But will they have the same impact as changing out your boiler? Definitely not.”

Kling said the conversation about sustainability measurement can help create demand in the market, “so that it’s easier for hotels to take these steps.” Getting there will be easier said than done, but it helps to have facts and figures to put alongside the more tactical improvements that we hear about in the industry every day.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.