Greening The Ritz-Carlton

Last year The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman began a programme of greening its property to cut its huge power costs (it is the single largest consumer of electricity in the Cayman Islands) and promote a sustainable property that would follow an environmentally friendly initiative, thus benefiting the islands as a whole. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull toured the property and spoke with the experts at the Ritz-Carlton to find out how the programme has been implemented and whether it is actually working. Second in a series of articles.

Small changes; big savings

Denise Naguib, corporate director of Environmental Programs at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company confirms that the two main areas that have provided the properties the most actualised savings with little to no capital expense are energy conservation and waste management.  

She states: “Properties are saving tens of thousands of dollars a year simply by recycling, reducing their impact on the landfill, and thereby reducing the number of dumpster pulls they pay for. Additionally, as energy costs increase, especially at our island properties, it is very easy to see major savings from energy through simple processes throughout the hotel. As in the case with Grand Cayman, the property has hired a full-time position just to manage energy and it has more than paid off.”

According to The Ritz-Carlton’s Energy Reduction Manager Eric Mildenberger, conservation has been the key to their environmentally-friendly programme at The Ritz-Carlton.

The energy audit brought to Mildenberger’s attention a variety of relatively small ways in which the property could conserve energy. Light bulbs need to be changed constantly at a property as vast as the Ritz-Carlton so they were a natural first target.

“We replaced all the light bulbs in the public areas of the property with compact fluorescent bulbs that use about four times less energy and therefore have a much longer life (typically 10,000 hours). We also turn lights off near windows in certain areas such as the gym and some walkways during the daytime to conserve energy,” Mildenberger explains.

Solar thermal energy systems have been installed throughout the property to heat hot tubs in the pool area, as well as hot tubs in the Silver Rain Spa. These are backed up with electric systems should a cloudy day occur to keep the temperatures constant.

Used vegetable oil is collected from the restaurants and traded with Cayman Biofuels. Mildenberger estimates that they have traded around 3,000 gallons of used vegetable oil so far.  Laundry at The Ritz-Carlton had been another large drain on energy, so Mildenberger enrolled in ‘laundry school’ in the States for a quick appreciation as to how the property could reduce its costs in that area.

He explains, “I learnt that we needed to purchase more linens so that we always had more than we needed. In this way we would not need to use the washers and dryers if they were only half full, which is a waste of energy. Instead, we only now have full loads and sometimes can even shut the laundry down for short period during low season, which makes a tremendous saving.” He also installed proper lifts that would hoist large laundry baskets up and into the machinery. This meant that staff were not required to lift the loads and also reduced handling, which was sometimes duplicated.

Further changes included running the ironing press at full capacity with all hands on deck, rather than at half capacity at a slow speed.

“We iron bed linens and so on at maximum capacity for eight hours or so and then the ironing press can be switched off. This again greatly saves on energy, both in terms of the electricity used to heat the press and human energy,” Mildenberger adds.

The waste water from the laundry is collected in a cistern and then treated. It is anticipated that this water will soon be used to irrigate the landscape, though at the time of writing this process was not actually taking place as they were waiting for delivery of the chemicals used in the treatment of the water.

Naguib says that heating and cooling takes up the bulk of energy consumption so managing what areas are heated and cooled, at what times throughout the day and keeping an eye on occupancy is very important. She explains that when there is an opportunity to reduce the energy load in one area of the hotel based on occupancy (for example one part of the tower if the rooms aren’t occupied or meeting space when there are no meetings being held) will make a huge difference.  She says: “It doesn’t make sense to cool a room if nobody is in it. There are some great systems (some properties already have them) available that monitor body heat and movement in the room to regulate the room temperature so if nobody is in the room all day, the thermostat goes up and when a guest comes back in the room, it automatically detects that and brings the thermostat down to cool it. A low-tech version of this is pulling the curtains in unoccupied rooms or in rooms that are checking in late (so as to not let the room heat up all day in the sun).”

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman was reliant upon two chillers that were used simultaneously to cool down air conditioning units within the property. Mildenberger says the property now only needs to use one chiller at a time, at least for the cooler winter months, which still cools the property down just as effectively.

Looking ahead
As a result of these implemented changes, Mildenberger says they exceeded their energy reduction targets for 2008 and are on track for exceeding them again for 2009.

“Our year on year energy reduction target is 3 per cent,” he explains. “Last year with just a couple of months into the programme we managed to reduce our energy consumption by 7 per cent. This year we are on track for 17.5 per cent over last year, which is a tremendous saving,” Mildenberger states.

Indeed, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman has scaled the worldwide Ritz-Carlton league tables in terms of its energy saving abilities. Last year the Cayman property sat in the lower end of the table in 21st place; this year it has moved considerably higher and is now four, only behind The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, The Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common, and The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park.

The Ritz-Carlton’s parent company, Marriott, has made the commitment to increase the number of projects that incorporate alternative energy, according to Naguib. Some properties are adding solar hot water since this has a quick return. For large scale projects like solar or wind throughout a property though, Naguib says they need to have ownership support to move forward.  

“Upfront costs for such a project are high and an owner has to be willing to support these costs,” she states. “Since we are a management company, we focus our energy on the conservation side, looking at our operations and how to improve our energy use, more than building solar or wind energy systems. I don’t think it is too far down the road though when implementing sustainable energy projects will be more the norm than the exception to the rule.”



Solar panels