The “What’s Different?” Series: Mark Spencer Hotel, Portland

Meeting with the Sales Director at the Mark Spencer Hotel in Portland, Oregon was an eye opener, yet again, to Portland’s general commendability as a city. During our discussion he obliged my interest in the green aspects of the hotel, which are excellent, but he also conveyed a sense that “this is just how things are done here.” Portland’s strong culture of sustainable thinking and environmental awareness are reflected in the mores of the community and business climate. This was an interesting take-away from my visit with the Mark Spencer Hotel: since the hotel’s commitments to operating sustainably are practically the norm in such a progressive city as Portland, they didn’t seem so different. Furthermore, the city, with its wealth of expertise, familiarity and expectations with regards to ‘green living,’ lends itself to a highly integrated approach to sustainable business, proving to be quite comprehensive and genuine in the example of the Mark Spencer Hotel.

In the area of supply chain management, the Mark Spencer Hotel practices efficiency and environmental responsibility by purchasing bulk amenities from local purveyors, as well as eco-friendly cleaning supplies. Used products that can be reused are donated to a local charity called the Union Gospel Mission Portland. The hotel uses biodegradable supplies where possible, such as biodegradable key cards and garment holders for guest use, called Garmento Bags.

The Mark Spencer made major strides in reducing its carbon footprint in 2009 when it revamped its HVAC system as well as its laundry machines, resulting in an energy savings of roughly 50%! It also provides free parking for hybrid vehicles and hosts “green meetings” for business clients, where efforts are made to use local materials, reduce paper use, and replace plastic bottled water with filtered water.

As I began to learn during my visit to the Delta Vancouver Suites, business clients are currently driving the market for sustainable tourism because firms (in any industry) that have their own policies of sustainability and corporate social responsibility make it a point to patronize hotels with the same commitments. In the case of the Mark Spencer Hotel, its Green Seal certification earns it a great deal of corporate clients. Several companies’ requests for proposal ask explicitly about sustainability initiatives and seek certification of some kind. The Green Seal certification is a multi-tier certification, earned through a self-reporting and third-party auditing system. The Mark Spencer Hotel holds a Silver Green Seal certification for its many initiatives, some of which I discuss here from what I learned in the meeting, and others which can be found on the hotel’s website.

The Mark Spencer Hotel also makes efforts to reduce its use of resources by printing double-sided, and as little as possible. They also have a recycling program, with recycle bins in guest rooms, as well as sorting of recycling in the housekeeping department for additional items like batteries and light bulbs.

The building’s long history in Portland’s Pearl district is a differentiator for this local family-owned hotel. In a previous life, there was an alley between two buildings of the hotel property, which has since been cleverly reclaimed and built into a dining area with a sky-lit roof and red brick walls that maintain the building’s heritage. Hotels often have the opportunity to partake in the preservation of an historical landmark or structure – a great way to contribute to conservation in the context of urban hospitality.

The hotel’s heritage was cited as one of its main motivations for committing to sustainable business. The Sales Director also explained that this day in age, it’s just the “right thing to do,” and also explained that benevolent company-wide initiatives help to create a greater sense of community among its stakeholders. To exemplify this sense of community, the hotel holds frequent employee events, such as clothing drives and food bank volunteerism.

The programs and initiatives in place at the Mark Spencer Hotel in Portland are eclectic and touch almost every area of its core business operations. The opposite of green-washing, this hotel’s commitments are thoroughly relevant, effective and sincere. This hotel may not differ drastically from many of its local competitors, but for the hospitality industry in general, it is a shining example of how to approach sustainable hotel operations in pertinent and impactful ways.

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