Growing Herbs, Harvesting Honey at the Ultra-Green Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, Canada (Review)

Fairmont Waterfront/Promo image

It's a curious thing to be a tourist in your hometown. It has only been a few months since my family and I moved 400 miles East to Nelson, BC from my home of 15 years in Vancouver. But, it was long enough for me to see the city with fresh eyes, as if I were a first time visitor.

My touristy feelings were no doubt helped along by our decision to stay at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel in the heart of the downtown tourist zone, complete with a spectacular view across Vancouver Harbour to the North Shore.

We chose to stay at the Fairmont Waterfront because of their reputation as an industry leading green property, and the location meant more walking and less driving. (Note for full disclosure: The hotel offered a reduced rate for our stay when I told them I would be reviewing their green policies.)

Certified Green

Green Key, a third-party certification program that rates hotels based on environmental performance, has awarded the Waterfront five green keys.

This rating signifies, "A hotel that exemplifies the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility throughout all areas of operations." It is the highest rating offered by the program. Along with the initiatives outlined below the hotel offers green options for all of their meeting and banquet facilities.

The Front End

The Waterfront has electric vehicle charging stations prominently positioned directly across from the main lobby doors. I didn't see anyone charging their EV during our stay, but the hotel also offers free parking -- normally a $40/day charge - to guests driving EV or hybrid cars.

Currently they see about 25 guests a month taking advantage of this offer and anticipate more guests using the charging stations as electric vehicles become more common. An herb garden supplies in-hotel restaurant Herons West Coast Kitchen + Bar with fresh herbs year-round and was designed to attract native bumblebees for pollination. A separate garden is home to six honeybee hives, housing 500,000 bees from May through September.

Fairmont Waterfront /Promo image

While these public-facing amenities have legitimate green credibility, it's the back-end workings of the hotel that shows that the Waterfront has a real commitment to green practices. To be truly green a hotel needs to appropriately manage energy, water and waste. For a property built in 1991 that means both retrofitting infrastructure and rethinking systems.

Waste Management

Between November 2009 and January 2011 the hotel monitored its waste stream and found that it diverted an average of 74% of solid waste. In early 2011, management hired Keystone Waste to conduct a recycling and waste audit to further improve and refine their systems to meet a goal of 85% diversion rate for 2011-2012.

To help meet this goal the hotel managed a zero-waste replacement of over 300 mattresses this past summer. Forty percent of the mattresses were suitable to be donated to area social housing facilities, with the remaining mattresses being sent to a recycling company where 95% of the materials were separated and recycled.

Then, the wood and steel from the bed frames were sent to a construction recycler and the plastic mattress bags from the replacement mattresses were sent to West Coast Plastics for recycling.

Other waste diversion initiatives include a battery recycling program that includes encouraging staff members to bring spent batteries from home, and off-site composting of all kitchen waste.

Water Conservation

We have covered the Waterfront's commitment to offering filtered tap water over bottled water before. I didn't see evidence of this program during my stay, but since it's a personal choice to drink from the tap or not, and Vancouver's tap water is really, really good, I'm more concerned about how they use water in other areas of the hotel.

All in-room fixtures are low-flow, including installing toilet dams in all rooms and they've converted all publicly accessible sink taps to motion censors. The restaurant has reduced the use of linens resulting in reduced water use for laundry, they sweep sidewalks around the hotel rather than spray, a "bio-enzymatic wash system" saves 75,000 gallons of water annually and they have implemented a bathtub cleaning process that saves almost 100,000 gallons of water per year. I love those low tech solutions.

Energy Conservation

Along with the switch to LED lighting, the hotel has made some upgrades to help reduce energy use. An HVAC system retrofit included included air damper automation to use exterior air for cooling when conditions are right. Hot water temperature is programmed to adjust based on demand, and in seasonal slow times the hotel closes floors to reduce lighting, heating and cooling usage.

Lighting timers and motion sensors have been installed throughout the hotel including laundry chute and linen rooms.

Economic Bottom Line

The Fairmont Waterfront's extensive monitoring of their systems shows that not only do all of these initiatives help with energy, water, and waste reduction, but they also help save money. The hotel says that it saves over $200,000 per year by going green.

If they meet their 85% waste diversion target, management estimates a further $1880 per month savings from current costs. Replacing 400 canopy lights with LEDs is projected to save a further $1200 per year in energy costs.

Even the honey bees help the bottom line. The 600lbs of honey produced for use in the hotel saved $6000 while the herb garden produced an estimated $10,000 worth of product the kitchen would have had to buy elsewhere.

The Final Analysis

The Fairmont Waterfront is a green leader within the chain of Fairmont Resorts & Hotels, which in turn is a green leader in the hotel industry.

On one hand it's easier for a luxury hotel to implement changes to green their infrastructure since they have more money to help them along. That being said, middle of the road and budget properties could certainly learn from the systems implemented by the Waterfront to help reduce their own waste and energy and water use.

On the other hand, the Waterfront doesn't need a green gimmick to entice customers, people will stay there for the location and the view regardless of any green sensibilities.

Along with their green efforts, the service at the Waterfront is impeccable. I commend the hotel's commitment to green and their continued efforts to improve.

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Tags: Canada | Tourism | Waste | Water Conservation

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