Cornell Roundtable: Finding Profitable Approaches to Sustainable Hospitality Operation

Dec 07, 2010

Contact:  Jennifer Macera, 607.255.3101,

Cornell Roundtable: Finding Profitable Approaches to Sustainable Hospitality Operation

Ithaca, NY, December 7, 2010 – While guests and other stakeholders make it clear that they expect hotels and restaurants to improve the sustainability of their operations, hospitality managers are grappling with the many aspects of sustainability, including customer demand, cost effectiveness, supplier and stakeholder engagement, global trends, and system-wide implementation. The latest Sustainability Roundtable, held at Proskauer in New York City in November 2010 and produced by the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, brought together corporate management, owners, operators, and suppliers to discuss those issues and myriad other aspects of sustainability.

Chaired by Associate Professor Alex Susskind, of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, the session drew representatives from Marriott International, Wyndham Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), MGM Resorts International, Darden Restaurants, and Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels, along with representatives from Schneider Electric, and several other companies with direct interests in developing sustainability initiatives (as listed in the program),
At the moment, sustainability is a moving target. The hospitality industry has ramped up its sustainability programs, but the issues at hand are rapidly expanding. One important way to improve industry sustainability is for companies to share best practices in general terms, Susskind suggested. "Most companies are willing to share 'general content' about sustainability," he said. "But the small, specific tactics and processes are kept secretive, which is what makes a hotel brand special." Faith Taylor, VP of sustainability and Innovation for Wyndham Worldwide, explained that what sets apart the sustainable hospitality movement is that hoteliers communicate not only with other departments in their own companies but also external stakeholders.

Roundtable participants agreed that hotels and restaurants have made substantial strides toward improving their operational sustainability. However, much of the "low hanging fruit" has been harvested (such as installing fluorescent lamps and low-flow showerheads). To go beyond that, the industry needs research into the best "green" practices, particularly those that contribute to the bottom line. As important as sustainability might be, businesses still must pay attention to profitability, said Dennis Quaintance, of Quaintance-Weaver.  He added: "It's not sustainable to go broke." Quaintance demonstrated that sustainability elements added roughly 10 percent of cost in the design and construction phase of their LEED Platinum hotel and restaurant but they were able to subtract about 7 percent from design and construction costs because their integrated design process also produced construction cost savings, plus they save around 40 percent in utility costs from an operational perspective. "Sustainable programs must be a balance of idealism and pragmatism," Quaintance concluded. "That is what we do."

For restaurants, two of the big challenges are reducing water use and increasing recycling of waste streams. Barry Moullet, SVP of Supply Chain for Darden Restaurants, pointed out that small changes to practices at the unit level can bring big savings of resources and expenditures and a reduction in the company's carbon footprint. One challenge for recycling is the variation in regulations and programs. Some locations have sophisticated recycling regulations, but others have nothing at all.

Hotels are engaged in the challenge of retrofitting buildings, an effort that includes determining what standards to achieve. Corporate executives would prefer to work toward certification, but that is an uncertain target since so many certifications exist. Perhaps the most comprehensive area is sustainability reporting. Eric Ricaurte, principal of Greenview, outlined the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). This is a global organization that provides the world's "most widely used sustainability reporting framework," he said. GRI is accepted because it is not specific to a particular industry or issue, and its framework is providing the base for investment decisions related to corporate sustainability. He added: "It represents the intersection between investment and sustainability that we need."

About CHR Roundtables
CHR roundtables are a meeting place for invited senior-level hospitality industry executives and Cornell faculty members. Each roundtable lasts one day and is divided into four or five sessions. Sessions begin with a short research presentation (by a Cornell faculty member, faculty from another institution, or an industry leader) that lasts five to ten minutes. Immediately following, one or two industry discussants either support or contest the researcher's hypothesis or conclusion. The conversation is then opened up to the entire roundtable for discussion. For more information on roundtables, please visit:

About The Center for Hospitality Research
A unit of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, The Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) sponsors research designed to improve practices in the hospitality industry. Under the lead of the center's 81 corporate affiliates, experienced scholars work closely with business executives to discover new insights into strategic, managerial and operating practices. The center also publishes the award-winning hospitality journal, the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. To learn more about the center and its projects, visit
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Center Partners: Davis & Gilbert LLP, Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, Denihan Hospitality Group, eCornell & Executive Education, Expedia, Inc., Forbes Travel Guide, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Fox Rothschild LLP, French Quarter Holdings, Inc., HVS, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels Group, Jumeirah Group, LRP Publications, Maritz, Marriott International, Inc., Marsh's Hospitality Practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Proskauer, Sabre Hospitality Solutions, Schneider Electric, Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Inc., Thayer Lodging Group, Thompson Hotels, Travelport, and WATG

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