NYC and Hotels Team Together for Water Efficiency

By Paul Dowd


Hotels-SmrThe popularity of New York City is evidenced by its throngs of tourists visible at notable landmarks and neighborhoods throughout the city; a number that is expected to rise to more than 55 million annual visitors by 2015. With this projected increase in tourism, the City of New York and the NYC Hotels Association have joined together in a public-private partnership to reduce water consumption at the city’s premier hotels.

Representatives from some of New York City’s most renowned hotels have been meeting at workshops to strategize on maintaining water as a vital and sustainable essential to the NYC visitor experience. Making water efficiency a top priority in their establishments is a key component of the New York City “Hotel Water Conservation Challenge”. The program is a public-private partnership presented by the NYC Hotels Association, City of New York, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and NYC & Company—the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization for the City of New York. The informative workshops feature hotel representatives, members of DEP, and most recently, Mary Ann Dickinson of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, to discuss progress in the water conservation challenge and improving hotel industry water efficiency as a whole.

Initially, the NYC Hotels Association reached out to the City of New York to increase water efficiency within the industry. Subsequently, the hotel industry was chosen for the challenge—which is modeled on Mayor Bloomberg’s 2007 Mayor’s Carbon Challenge—because hotels, and commercial buildings in general, have not been targeted in past conservation efforts, such as the toilet replacement program that centered on residential buildings. The DEP, led by Commissioner Carter Strickland, Jr, states that hotels represent a significant opportunity for water and financial savings due to the large number of bathroom and kitchen fixtures found in each establishment.

The primary aim of the challenge is for these premier hotels to reduce their annual water consumption by 5 percent, saving an annual total of approximately 13 million gallons of water. The challenge—which was implemented on April 22, runs for one year until April 2014 and spans two mayoral administrations—features the participation of 11 premier NYC hotels: The Waldorf-Astoria, The Ritz-Carlton Central Park, The InterContinental New York Times Square, The InterContinental New York Barclay, The Millennium Broadway, TRYP NYC, Sheraton TRiBECA, New Yorker Hotel, Grand Hyatt New York, Holiday Inn Express, and the Carlton Hotel.

Federal initiatives for conserving water in the hospitality industry are underway as well, as the EPA is launching the WaterSense® H2Otel Challenge in January 2014. According to the EPA, the challenge aims to encourage hotels to assess water use, learn about best management practices for reducing water consumption in their facilities, and track the results. The EPA will provide a toolkit to participating hotels to:

  • Assess water use and savings opportunities
  • Change products or processes to incorporate best management practices
  • Track the results of water savings and benchmark achievements.

For the NYC challenge, the incentive for the hotel industry, according to Vlada Kenniff, DEP Managing Director of Projections & GIS Planning & Analysis, is to find cost-efficiency measures in their water usage.

“This challenge is voluntary and enables the hotels to participate in workshops, share expertise, and network ideas,” said Kenniff at an October workshop held at the InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel.

Shared knowledge is a major component of the workshops and water efficiency expert Mary Ann Dickinson addressed the InterContinental Barclay attendees on the business advantages of saving water. Dickinson, President and CEO, Alliance for Water Efficiency, outlined eight steps to achieving a water-efficient hotel:

  • Conduct a water audit
  • Replace inefficient plumbing fixtures
  • Sub-meter large water uses
  • Calculate water in and water out
  • Devise water efficiency solutions
  • Calculate benefit-cost of efficiency improvements
  • Compare benchmarks
  • Educate employees.

Dickinson stressed that in water efficiency, the benefits should always outpace costs. “Reducing water use is good business practice,” Dickinson informed. “Improvements should be cost-effective and can have a strong ROI [return on investment].”

Dickinson added that in addition to the cost savings, water efficiency saves energy, thereby improving an establishment’s carbon footprint, and induces great political benefits, in that customers feel part of a sustainable experience. The Carlton Hotel has already incorporated the customer into its water conservation challenge initiatives in trying to change guest and staff behaviors, by designing a card for each room that alerts guests to the challenge and what they can do to participate.

One of the common ways to increase guest and employee consciousness of water usage is the traditional guest preference for fresh bathroom towels on a daily basis for multi-night stays. Fresh towels are a conspicuous source of water usage for hotels, especially for hotels that have on-site laundering facilities. However, according to Dickinson, toilets are the most water-intensive components in hotels, as well as back-of-the-house operations such as kitchen facilities and HVAC systems.

Dickinson advised that costs in general are increasing with water/wastewater costs rising faster than electricity and natural gas. Exponential rate increases are expected in the near future due to external factors such as infrastructure and resource availability. In fact, it was the future impact of infrastructure stresses and resource availability that provided the impetus to the water conservation challenge.

According to the DEP, the city will be repairing the Delaware Aqueduct, which supplies roughly half of the city’s daily drinking water needs. In late 2013, ground will be broken on two 800-foot deep shafts and a 3-mile bypass tunnel around a portion of the aqueduct that is leaking in Orange County, NY. The project will also include repair work to fix leaks in Ulster County, NY from the inside of the existing tunnel. The bypass tunnel will run east from the Town of Newburgh in Orange County, under the Hudson River, to the Town of Wappinger, in Dutchess County. In order to facilitate these repairs to the aqueduct, the tunnel must be temporarily shut down between 2021 and 2022.

In the meantime, public and private sector interests in NYC want to ensure the continued flow of one of its most valuable resources without wide-scale service interruptions or volatility in cost spikes. One expected outcome for the duration of the challenge is for the individual hotels to conduct and submit water conservation plans. Kenniff noted the water conservation plans should not only document and track water consumption throughout the hotel’s property, but also include how the hotel will implement conservation measures. The initial deadline is October 31 for water conservation plans to be submitted to the DEP. There are two more workshops scheduled for the duration of the challenge, with the next one hosted by the New Yorker Hotel.