The city of Birmingham has become an ideal destination for a terrific vacation. With no shortage of hotels, the Magic City and surrounding area caters to a wide spectrum of vacationers-all with varying budgets and different expectations. Yet, with an endless selection of hotels, we’ve discovered one that truly stands out for its commitment to environmental responsibility.
Located in the heart of downtown on Richard Arrington Jr Boulevard, are both The Sheraton Birmingham Hotel and The Westin Birmingham, both of which offer guests the comfort they expect, along with many pleasant little extras they might not. Yet, what stands out to us more than anything, is the dedication that goes into to bringing hotel guests the best in sustainability practices. In fact, as the first hotel in Alabama to use a natural gas shuttle for transportation, the downtown Sheraton serves as a pioneer of sorts, explains Susan Womack, a sales manager with the hotel.
Most impressive are the hotel’s three primary environmental focuses: Energy and Water Conservation, Waste Minimization and Enhanced Indoor Environmental Quality. The Sheraton Birmingham has implemented numerous efficiency measures to help ensure their commitment to environmental stewardship. Every guest room utilizes occupancy sensors to help reduce energy use and comes equipped with its own recycling bin. They’ve also installed high efficiency hot water heaters for guest rooms and kitchens to lower the use of natural gas, and installed monitoring software on their dumpsters that contacts Waste Management for a pick up only when it’s full. Using only Green Seal approved chemicals for housekeeping, and VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, coatings and adhesives, the Sheraton’s efforts keep their emissions lower than actually required by law. The hotel also utilizes an environmentally friendly pest management program that minimizes the use of toxic chemicals.
As part of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the 757 room Sheraton Birmingham was selected as one of a few pilot hotels in March of 2009 to take part in the company’s new green initiatives. The hotel was among the first of more than 400 Sheratons worldwide to invite guests to participate in Starwood’s Make A Green Choice program, which offers incentives to those who decline daily housekeeping services. Through the Make A Green Choice program, participants are rewarded with a $5 voucher at participating food and beverage outlets, or 500 Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints®. Since the program’s launch, 18% of guests staying at the Sheraton Birmingham have chosen to take part in the program, says Womack.
To put the Make A Green Choice program into perspective, the Sheraton explains that each guest who declines daily housekeeping services saves approximately 37.2 Gallons of water, which equals about 596 cups (about 2 cups per day for a year). Each participating guest also saves about 0.19 kWh (kiloWatt per hour)-enough to run an Energy Star-rated laptop for 10 hours. In addition, the Make A Green Choice program also aims to lessen the amount of toxic chemicals used daily for hotel housekeeping purposes, which helps decrease our community’s overall level of environmental toxicity.
“We currently have very strong corporate support for any green initiatives that we do, but the Sheraton Birmingham originally implemented changes in order to be more fiscally responsible and to help promote environmental awareness with our associates and in our community,” explains Womack.
Raising environmental awareness among guests is key, but Womack says the Sheraton’s environmental practices is also encouraging staff members and associates to take what they’ve learned and use it at home. “From participation in Earth Hour to recycling to reducing water and energy use, we have given our associates the tools to take green methods used at the Sheraton Birmingham and implement them in their own lives.” Womack talks about one staff member in particular, an administrative assistant with the Sheraton, who has incorporated many of the hotel’s sustainability practices into her own home life. “She now unplugs the microwave and coffee maker when they are not in use and has purchased energy efficient light bulbs and even Energy Star qualified appliances for her house.”
Another program incorporated into the Sheraton Birmingham’s green initiatives is the 30/20/20, which challenges all Starwood hotels to reduce energy consumption by 30% and water consumption by 20% by the year 2020. This program is based on a per room basis, and is highly dependent on the overall water and energy consumption used by the guests in each room.
The Westin Birmingham, which is LEED certified, officially opened in February of 2013, and it too, offers guests the Make a Green Choice program, says Womack. “Additionally, The Westin also follows our 30/20/20 initiatives, and features a Superfoods menu with a focus on allowing our guests to stay healthy while they travel.”
Written by Kate Agliata