Tucked in a quiet neighbourhood in the historic city square of Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, Green Tiger House has been a welcome haven for weary travellers since 2014. Founded by owners Daniel and Varee Georges, the independent hotel offers 32 spacious, private rooms with contemporary natural decor.
From the fourth floor open-air terrace, guests can partake in sweeping city and sunset views, or start the day with stretches using a complimentary yoga mat provided by the hotel. On the ground floor below, the shaded garden area offers a respite from the hot afternoon sun, and a locally sourced breakfast-through-dinner 100% plant-based menu of Thai and western dishes at the hotel’s Reform Kafé.
From the beginning, the owners of Green Tiger House had been deliberate in taking a sustainable approach to installations and operations. They generated their own solar powered hot water, installed energy-saving LED lighting, and supplied refillable bottles for shampoo and shower gel in the guest bathrooms, among other practices. Even so, their desire was to do more. But they needed a management tool to identify what other parts of their business they could improve, and—as they looked to expanding to other locations—a roadmap to incorporate a full suite of sustainability practices in new ventures.
Philip Beere, MBA, LEED AP and Marketing and Sustainability Consultant, said the owners also wanted to demonstrate their commitment to the environment and sustainability in a tangible way through open and transparent reporting. “If you looked at the business from the outside, we were pretty good at sustainability,” he said. The problem was that many of Green Tiger’s competitors appeared to be good at sustainability, too, when in practice their commitment was only skin-deep. “There are so many organizations around Thailand that advertise green,” said Beere, “It’s very prevalent in our market for a business to claim they are saving the world because they are not using drinking straws.” To avoid the perception of greenwashing, Beere said, “We were on a mission to avoid claims that are unfounded and looking for differentiation by using a reporting tool and certification system that is recognized around the world.”
Beere excluded several leading certification systems, like LEED and WELL Certification, from his evaluation of potential schemes for Green Tiger as many of the mandatory criteria—such as those related to mechanical systems in North American buildings—did not apply to Thailand’s regional context. He also ruled out local green rating programs because they did not have the reputation, recognition or rigour that he was looking for in a system. In the end, Beere said, “As a sustainability professional, I brought what I thought was the best and most reputable program to the owners. Green Key Global (GKG) is much more practical for what we’re doing, and it had a very good reputation that was recognized around the world, with authority.”
Beere said that issues such as responsible sourcing, fair employment, treating people well, reducing waste and greening the supply chain were some of the topics at the heart and soul of Green Tiger they held in common with GKG. “Some of the social side of GKG were hot buttons that attracted us to the rating system,” he said. Moreso, Beere added, “Green Key Global has a reporting platform where we will be held accountable. A third party will be involved in verifying our claims, where in some other schemes you send them fees and they let you in. A very important part of Green Key Global is the scrutiny of third party verification; that really attracted us – that it’s not like a membership.”
Beere spent two months working with the owners from start day to submitting the results of Green Tiger’s assessment and achieving a 4 Green Key rating. The process included a four-hour deep-dive meeting at the outset, to see if there was a good fit between Green Tiger’s philosophy and processes and the GKG reporting tool. After that, they worked with the entire management team to encourage employee buy-in and teach them what the hotel’s newfound sustainability certification meant in terms of changed practices and operations.
“We were on a mission to avoid claims that are unfounded and looking for differentiation by using a reporting tool and certification system that is recognized around the world.”
Philip Beere, MBA
LEED AP and Marketing and Sustainability Consultant
Green Tiger House
“By following the Green Key Global reporting tool, it has improved our business. We are becoming more efficient and becoming more aware of our business. Our expectations were met beyond what we could have imagined.”
Philip Beere, MBA
LEED AP and Marketing and Sustainability Consultant
Green Tiger House
Beere estimated that Green Tiger House was already implementing 95% of the sustainable practices identified in the GKG Eco-rating before they completed the assessment. His eyes—and those of the owners—were on achieving that last 5%.
GKG provided the challenge Green Tiger was looking for to better understand all aspects of their business and to push past their already-high sustainability status quo. “They really forced us to do an audit of what we were doing currently and how we could improve,” said Beere, “It can be painful.” The assessment forced a hard look and deep dive into all aspects of operations, but Beere is glad they did it. “By following the Green Key Global reporting tool, it has improved our business,” he said, “We are becoming more efficient and becoming more aware of our business. Our expectations were met beyond what we could have imagined.”
With a 100% plant-based menu, the hotel’s Reform Kafé prided itself in serving healthy, nutritious food, but after completing their Eco-rating assessment, Green Tiger started questioning their supply chain and scrutinizing the products they served in the restaurant. They discovered that Thai oranges, for example, were laden with pesticides, so they completely pulled them from the menu. Green Tiger also began working directly with a local farm that used organic fertilizer and no pesticides. “We discovered that we can go straight to the farmer to get the produce and have more control over what we serve in the restaurant,” said Beere. “GKG forced us to create a system we would not otherwise have, especially around purchasing.”
Beere is proud of the fact that Green Tiger is eliminating use of plastic water bottles in the hotel. “I think for sure the best thing we’ve done is that we installed a filtered water dispenser where guests are given a very cool reusable bottle when they check in,” he said. The hotel also took down air fresheners and made the switch to green products for cleaning; they make their own vinegar cleaners in house and use baking soda wash to clean fruits and vegetables. “These ideas came from Green Key Global and how we could make our business more healthy,” said Beere.
While guests have taken to TripAdvisor to tell of the “little things they love” about Green Tiger’s commitment to responsibility, the hotel’s approach to communicating their sustainability story had been low key. “We were doing so with humility, rather quietly,” said Beere. Certification with GKG has given them new confidence to move beyond their comfort zone in terms of both communicating the impact of their initiatives and taking more risks. “We’re getting more bold now that we have Green Key Global to support us in some of our values,” said Beere, “And we’re getting more comfortable with new things that might be called ‘crazy’.”
For instance, the owners are considering making the property “no smoking”, which Beere said in the Asian market, could be considered a gamble—even a deathwish. But the risk reflects the depth of Green Tiger’s commitment to health and the environment. “We are saying we need to double down and think of further ways to test the market and make statements about what we believe,” Beere said, “Green Key Global allowed us to feel we could be leaders and pioneers in this area, and maybe transform the market in ways we don’t know yet.”
Beere is hopeful that Green Tiger’s experience with GKG certification will set a positive example for other hotels. “We want to inspire others, influencing properties in Thailand and Asia to go down this path,” he said. Beere believes that much of the greenwashing in the Thai hospitality industry is not intentional, but that it demonstrates a lack of knowledge about appropriate tools that could help. “If they knew that there was a great certification system on the market, they would follow, too,” Beere said.
To boost that awareness, Green Tiger House intends to lead by example. Building on their 4 Green Key Eco-Rating, the hotel is going for GKG Green Meetings certification for the Reform Kafé and a possible four new restaurants. “Our goal is to make Green Key Global part of our business, reporting on sustainability. It’s an ongoing journey, and we want to be very transparent about what we’re good at and where we have to improve.”