The “What’s Different?” Series: Century Plaza, Vancouver

As my first of the trip, I checked into the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa in Vancouver with ears piqued and eyes peeled, self-inducing a sensitivity to visible manifestations of the hotel’s “green” commitment. But nothing about the lobby seemed different from your average hotel: reception, elevator bank, informational television screens, a café, a spa – it all seemed quite deluxe.

Then I arrived in the room. There, I found a few subtle reminders. I instantly noticed that the windows were left a crack open to allow for a breezy room while the air conditioning unit was in the OFF position, where it belonged. There was a blue recycling bin by the garbage pale.

I also took note of the linen program, a Century Green initiative, noting that optional towel and linen change is one of the most common green operations choices that hotels currently make. The bath amenities were organic and the shower and sinks were low flow: a potential sacrifice for guests who prefer to bathe in a deluge.

With an exquisite view and all the comforts of a big hotel, there was certainly no sense of sacrifice for me. In fact, if not for reminders in the guest room and bathroom, one might not even take note of Century Plaza Hotel’s initiatives and commitments to operating in sustainable ways.

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This was the first of my series of visits to green hotels, and despite a perhaps naive astuteness to evidence of green practices, I already found myself learning that the guest need not feel so impacted by a hotel’s sustainable operations. Despite the intelligent resource savings that the hotel is achieving, there is almost no perceptible forfeit on the part of the guest… at least not at this level of ‘green commitment’: In addition to the linen changing program, recycling and low-flow showers, the Century Plaza uses environmentally friendly cleaning products, energy efficient lighting, a filtered water system rather than bottled water, and local and sustainable food products, including participation in the Vancouver Aquariums Ocean Wise program for sustainable seafood.

Sure, the Century Plaza might have gone further with its green priorities by making major retrofits to the property itself, for example, but that could be superfluous. For a hotel in an urban setting, the initiatives mentioned in the paragraph above represent a reasonable, rewarding approach to responsible business. A simple belief in “doing what we can” is often the common element for enacting business processes with positive ripple effects. Express conservation, even on the small-ish level of a 240-room hotel with good resource-efficiency, makes business sense. And business being business, resource efficiency is a clear best-bet for a hotel in a metropolitan context.

So what’s different from the guest perspective? Not much, aside perhaps from a shower that rinses rather than blasts, and a bit more freedom of choice: I could choose how often I wanted my linens or towels changed; I could opt out of using the A/C (unlike hotels where the units were running before I’d even arrived); I was encouraged to recycle… These are small but important choices that do more than just allow the hotel to save in areas like water, waste and energy – they communicate to the guest, if subtly, a sense of responsibility. The perk, as the guest, was feeling like I wasn’t being wasteful or over-indulging in the comforts that the hotel provided. And to a guest like me, that’s a valuable perk.

From this room night, I learned 1) that an inner-city hotel need only make a few impactful changes to call itself green, 2) that, given the basic nature of these changes, a guest of this hotel need not forego their usual comforts for the sake of green operations, and 3) that communicating a sustainable message via sustainable actions is important for the future of responsible tourism.

…All of this from the guest perspective. In my next post, informed by a conversation with hotel personnel, I’ll be able to illuminate the subject from the hotel’s point of view. So stay tuned!

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