Xanterra Keeps its Resorts Clean and Green

Xanterra Keeps its Resorts Clean and Green

Managing facilities in some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S., hospitality giant Xanterra Parks & Resorts has plenty of good reasons to keep its operations clean and green. Chris Lane, Xanterra’s director of environmental affairs, talked to GreenBiz.com’s Emily Rabin about the company’s strong commitment to environmental stewardship -- and how effective environmental management is simply a better way of doing business.

Emily Rabin: What inspires Xanterra's environmental philosophy?

Chris Lane:
Last year, we had Hunter Lovins (co-author of “Natural Capitalism”) come speak to our senior management team about “natural capitalism.” This concept, which espouses radical resource efficiency and a switch from material flows to service flows, fits well into how we operate. With this philosophy we try to conserve energy and water and reduce waste generation in our operations without sacrificing superior customer service with our guests. Whether we provide comfortable rooms through efficient lighting and heating systems, operate a clean-burning transportation system, or serve food that does not deplete ocean fisheries, we know that we can meet guest expectations in a most environmentally sustainable fashion.

Environmental management is simply a better way of doing business. It’s simply better management. I take a system, practice, or standard, and try to find a better way to do it.

ER: What specific environmental initiatives have you undertaken to green your operations?

One of our biggest pushes is energy efficiency. It offers a return on investment and a return for the environment as well. Lighting retrofits are a great example. We’ve replaced many of our incandescent bulbs with super-efficient compact fluorescent lamps, which are basically miniature versions of fluorescent lamps. In the past five years these bulbs have begun to be produced in all shapes and sizes at lower costs. They give better light and last a lot longer. We’re talking 10,000 to 15,000 hours versus 700 to 900 hours. So you aren’t replacing them as often and you’re also saving on maintenance costs: When you’ve got thousands of bulbs, you’ve got your maintenance staff changing bulbs every day. Fluorescent bulbs also generate less heat. That translates into real-dollar savings in air conditioning. Lighting retrofits are now standard for us.

Recycling is also fundamental to our operations. We recycle close to two million pounds of solid waste a year throughout our operations. At our Grand Canyon and Yellowstone resorts, we offer recycling inside each hotel room. At Grand Canyon, we put environmental tips on plastic key cards: “Turn off the electricity,” “Don’t feed the wildlife,” and of course, “Recycle.” Yellowstone alone recycles 650,000 pounds a year. In fact, in places where we don’t recycle, we get feedback from customers wondering why. Our guests want a clean, green operation because they appreciate the natural beauty of the settings in which we operate.

Procurement is another big issue. It’s a constant battle looking for a better deal both economically and environmentally. From an economic standpoint, it’s usually a little more expensive to purchase recycled-content products. Things are slowly changing, however. When it comes to recycled paper, for example, the prices are dropping and the post-consumer content is increasing. With a little due diligence, you can often find an equally good product with more post-consumer content. We recently changed all of our office paper (except copy paper) to New Leaf paper. We didn’t think we could do it, but we did -- and as a matter of fact, we did it for less.

ER: What have you done to green your food-service operations?

We’re also really big on waste-reduction strategies. We use reusable flatware whenever possible. And you know those little packets of ketchup? At Xanterra we dispense most of our condiments in bulk. These are examples of relatively small things that have big environmental returns.

Also, all of our paper products are processed chlorine-free and contain 40% to 100% post-consumer content. Our napkins, for example, contain 100% post-consumer content. Our paper plates are 90% reclaimed fiber.

ER: What, if any, environmental concerns would you consider specific to food service?

Many people don’t realize how much energy is wasted in food service. A facility can save up to 10% in electricity costs to run a particular freezer by simply replacing leaky gaskets. Clean, de-carbonized burners heat food faster and therefore require less energy to get the job done. Keep your oven-hood fans in good working order and you don’t need as much energy to cool the kitchen. You can also save energy by making sure the coils on your chillers are clean.

Another easy measure is educating staff on when to turn things on and off -- burners, mixers, equipment, cash registers, coffeemakers, etc. In a lot of places the first person in the restaurant turns on everything from the ovens to the dining-room lights -- even if customers won’t be arriving for a few more hours. Currently, we’re testing a pilot program for energy management at three food-service locations to help employees identify energy waste in kitchens and restaurants. We use color-coded stickers to indicate which lights and equipment should be on and when. We also place informational posters throughout kitchen areas. We’re training the managers, who will then go back to their facilities and train their employees. It varies according to location, but the general themes are education, awareness, and maintenance.

ER: What about the food served at your facilities?

The food we serve always gets the most attention. We’ve started using bird-friendly, fair trade, organic coffee at three of our locations. We train our staff on the coffee issue. There’s often initial resistance, but once everyone really understands what’s at stake, they feel like they can make a difference by sharing the information with our customers. We’ve also banned certain fish species, such as swordfish, blue-fin tuna and Chilean sea bass, as these species, among others, are threatened, or catching them can have a negative environmental impact. We post our “fish policy” in our restaurants. Finally, at our Yellowstone facility we serve “Conservation Beef,” which is endorsed by the Nature Conservancy. Information on our beef is printed on the menu.

ER: In general, what resistance have you encountered toward environmental initiatives?

The most typical resistance to environmental programs is cost. In my mind, people can’t afford not to implement environmental initiatives. At Xanterra we look for payback -- the amount of time it will take for an environmental initiative to pay for itself. For example, if we retrofit our existing fuel-oil boilers with propane boilers we reduce emissions by 60%, but we’ve also increased boiler efficiency by 30%. How long will it take for us to recoup our investment? Environmental managers need to be economists, too.

Another hurdle is educating various team members within a company: accountants, marketing people, human-resources managers. How does environment fit into each department? It does; we just have to find out how. Environmental management isn’t its own department -- it’s integrated into everything else.

ER: What kind of feedback have your received from customers?

The national parks should be the cleanest places on Earth. This gives us a strong impetus to be the cleanest, greenest company we possibly can. People expect it. But while image is important, we really care about protecting the natural resources of the areas in which we operate, and being as close to sustainable as possible. We believe people will visit our properties because this is recognized.

ER: How do you measure success?

Are we sustainable? No. Will we ever be completely sustainable? Probably not. But what we will do is improve each and every day. We measure success by continuous improvement in three areas: environmental, financial, and social. Environmentally, we have a baseline resource-tracking system that calculates each separate resource we use -- energy, water, waste, etc. You can’t conserve anything you can’t measure. If you measure it, you know where your success is. That brings us to the financial issue. We calculate resource savings on a per-project basis. Every retrofit, every energy initiative gets its own spreadsheet calculating our savings for that project.

The social aspect is important, too. We have a culture committee at our corporate office that addresses social issues within the company, such as time off to take care of personal issues. We also have an EPIQ (Every Person Impacts Quality) award to recognize employees that make the workplace better. Happy, motivated employees make better employees. Some properties have environmental awards for staff.

November 2002