LEED-certified warehouse facilities pose unique challenges.

By Dan Marcec 

The technologies for saving water have come a long way in the past few years, and though implementing full-scale water conservation programs may not be something that can be done overnight, the fact is that implementing efficient fixtures is a relatively simple task. Though traditionally the payback and the ability to satisfy guests with the comfort they need had been difficult to prove for some of these amenities, the increasing need for global water solutions and the continued development of sustainable practices for commercial properties has led to a much wider array of viable options from which hoteliers can choose that meets their concerns.

But beyond just “doing the right thing” or even saving money, water management is becoming a necessity as local governments implement regulations and hotel brands bring their standards up to code, literally. As a result, understanding how water-saving systems work is crucial to balancing the best way to get a return and meet guest satisfaction. By looking at the past, present and future of water conservation amenities, hotel owners and operators can better understand how to keep their property up to speed with the trends that are occurring in the industry.
One of the most difficult issues to balance when it comes to conserving water in a hotel operation is making sure that a low-flow fixture still has enough power to meet guest satisfaction.
Even though energy retrofits are more complicated, there traditionally haven’t been a lot of similar efforts for water,” says Tommy Linstroth, founder and principal of Trident Sustainability Group, and the founder of Rehydrate US, a program that aims to save 1 billion gallons of water through education on the replacement of inefficient toilets, shower heads, and faucets. “But anyone with a screwdriver and a caulk gun can replace their inefficient fixtures, and with hundreds of toilets and showers per hotel property, there are vast opportunities to cut water use through a quick, easy fix.”

One of the reasons that water conservation specifically has lagged behind some of the other energy management measures was a sort of false start when it came to low-flow toilets as recently as 15 years ago.

“In the early 1990s, a mandate for low-flow toilets was implemented in the U.S., and the limit was diminished from 3.5 gallons per flush to 1.6 without a lot of testing and understanding,” says Derek Kirkpatrick, North American General Manager of Caroma. “As a result, now under current standards we’ve put a lot of pressure on and put new products under the microscope to make sure they’re performing.”

Linstroth agrees, and likens low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucet aerators to CFL lightbulbs, which had similar concerns about effectiveness and now have provided a proven payback. As a result, they’ve been implemented everywhere.

“There were valid concerns about low-flow fixtures 15 years ago, but now off they shelf they cut water usage by 40 percent over the old standard,” Linstroth says. “There’s always the up-front cost concern and it’s hard to define a measured payback, but combining water savings, energy consumption and guest experience by having new, styled fixtures, it’s more compelling.”

No Time Like the Present to Plan

First movers on new technology always run the risk of getting burned and having to buy again when the second wave comes through after the kinks are worked out, but in terms of high-efficiency products, those clogs are in the past.

“It’s risky to try and slide in and have to change only when change is required, because who knows what’s going to happen?” says Kirkpatrick. “We like the term ‘future-proofing’ when it comes to adopting high-efficiency measures. If you push boundaries, you ensure performance and style and you have a longer run as opposed to dictating where the line ends.”

It’s counterintuitive just to have a toilet that flushes less water if it has to be flushed twice. High-efficiency goes well beyond the fixture, as it ties into the entire plumbing system and a hotel’s energy consumption as well, and beyond.

“When you look at how many toilets you have by flush volume, you can show that it’s not only water, it’s energy, it’s carbon footprint, and it’s about more than just a reduced water bill that contributes to the ROI,” says Kirkpatrick. “That’s what people really want to know. They are getting a net benefit every time they push the button. And the impact on the treatment facility has a positive impact and goes all the way to the financial side of a city or a town. Without water, there’s no economic development to bring people to the community. The issue runs deep.”
Detail of a waterless urinal, which individually can save up to 40,000 galons a year.
As the economy continues to recover, it’s not that difficult to convince people to implement conservation efforts and cut costs. And on top of that, guests are increasingly looking for hotels to make these changes.

“Water conservation is a growing trend across all market segments, whether facilities are looking to be more sustainable or simply lower operating costs,” says Brian Heun, product manager of washroom solutions for Rubbermaid Commercial Products. “Especially hotels with convention centers can implement automated faucets and waterless urinals in public restrooms, and when visitors and patrons walk in and see these and see a hotel is doing their part, it resonates well

Aside from the in-room low-flow fixtures that are being widely implemented, the waterless urinals, for example, are another area where hotels can save water by literally using none. These units save on average 40,000 gallons a year, so they lower operating expenses in addition to labor intensity, as they have a self-cleaning enzyme tablet, allowing them to be maintenanced with a simple spray and wipe on a regular basis.

Down the Drain

So while there are people on both sides of the equation — the first movers and the people who are resistant to change, as with any product analysis it comes down to a numbers game. How can you capitalize cost per occupied room and what good will it do to go beyond the standards? How far is far enough, and how much is not enough?

“We’ve become known as an energy activist, and we get dozens of calls from companies wanting to try things because they know I’m always looking for the better mousetrap,” says Bob Holesko, vice president, facilities for HEI Hotels. “But you have to understand what trying something new entails — does my hotel have the capabilities, do I need a permit, and how is this going impact my operation? Someone says they can save you 30 percent? You have to listen and see what’s next, but also what works.”

Looking forward, the equation is usually added up according economics, and oftentimes at that through the narrow lens of up-front cost. But the ramifications of how products actually perform have to be taken in context with the larger picture, which affects the economic climate as a whole, beyond just what’s happening at one hotel. On top of that, the solutions that are out there right now are here to stay.

“I am not concerned with the state of technologies, because the strategies in place today are proven off the shelf, and the fact that they’re installed in thousands of thousands of properties should alleviate any of those fears that the systems today will be outdated tomorrow,” says Linstroth.

“A drop of water has a massive impact on the whole economic structure, and we are thinking about this impact on a larger level,” adds Kirkpatrick. “If products are performing better, they’re utilizing less water and creating less downstream issues.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of HOTEL INDUSTRY.  ©2011 France Publications, Inc.