The Alt Ottawa is a 148-room no-frills-chic boutique hotel located in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. Part of the growing Groupe Germain chain of 15 hotels located in major urban centres across Canada, the Alt Ottawa will be joined by a sister hotel opening in Ottawa in 2018 among three other new properties in Calgary, Montréal and Saskatoon. Family owned and operated, Groupe Germain owners Christiane and Jean Yves Germain remain integrally involved in the day-to-day operations of their hotels, including the Alt Ottawa.
Since before the hotel’s opening day in 2016, sustainability, innovation, thinking and acting locally have been part of the Alt Ottawa’s building design and culture of “doing the right thing”. But the hotel had no structure for managing their green initiatives for continuous improvement or for measuring whether their sustainability activities were really making a difference.
The ability to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) was an essential attribute in management’s view, required to set the Alt apart from other more established hotels and to make inroads with local businesses in a sustainability-savvy city like Ottawa. “There was no way to provide proof of our sustainability philosophy and share this with the community,” said Jean Philip Dupre, General Manager of the Alt Ottawa Hotel. “It was a paradox because we were ahead in terms of our environmental practices, but we were behind in terms of certification compared to others.”
But the perception of pursuing green certification in the fast-paced hotel industry was that it was time consuming, onerous and expensive to implement in day-to-day operations. “Not knowing how much of an impact certification would have on operations prevented us from doing this in the past,” Dupre said.
Dupre knew about the Green Key Global (GKG) Eco-Rating and Green Meetings Programs from a previous job as an employee in another hotel. He brought this knowledge to the Alt Ottawa. “My first reflex as general manager was to think of where we can showcase the fact that we already have a sustainability program and what the best vehicle for this is,” he said. With a straightforward self-audit process, clear rating system and opportunities for promotion, choosing GKG, Dupre said, was a “no-brainer”.
After a walk-through of the hotel with GKG staff, Dupre completed the self-audit easily together with the management team and department heads. “It was not as tedious and energy consuming as I thought it would be,” said Dupre. Immediately after submitting the assessment, GKG helped fine-tune the results to more accurately reflect the hotel’s green practices, which boosted their rating from 3 to 4 Green Keys. “It’s part of the GKG philosophy to reach out and help their clients,” said Dupre.
“Choosing Green Key Global was a no brainer,”
Jean Philip Dupre
General Manager, Alt Ottawa Hotel
Return on Investment:
“Our goal is to be an example for many other properties in Canada and the world,”
Jean Philip Dupre
General Manager, Alt Ottawa Hotel
Through the GKG assessment, the Alt Ottawa was able to identify gaps in operations and solutions to better follow through on sustainability initiatives. The hotel has had recycle bins in guest rooms for a long time, but they had no way for staff to separate recycling and trash streams. “This is a great example of an idea we had but no process behind it,” said Dupre. Since the audit, the Alt has installed recycling and waste bins in all housekeeping service areas and provided training to staff, reducing the hotel’s waste stream by 20%.
Because the Alt Ottawa uses subcontractors for housekeeping and laundry services, the hotel’s commitments to sustainability and GKG certification is transforming their supply chain and increasing demand for environmentally conscious suppliers and service providers in the hotel industry.
Right from the start, the Alt Ottawa chose to partner with Produits Sany Inc. in Québec, which uses ECOLOGO certified products for cleaning guest rooms and public spaces. And to support reporting efforts, the hotel asked their laundry contractor to install water consumption tracking devices and establish maximum load targets to minimize water consumption per load. “They were very open to the idea,” Dupre said, “and we have noticed a decrease by 10% since we installed the devices.”
Achieving their Green Key ratings and being able to promote them through the Alt’s channels, such as email message footers, supplier contracts, and their website, as well as via the GKG program, has brought the Alt Ottawa new business and access to new business networks. “Being visible through our platforms and through partners allowed us to shine in the community and gave us business that we wouldn’t have had before we measured our sustainability initiatives,” said Dupre.
The Alt’s 5000 square feet of certified meeting space attracted the attention of Ottawa-based non-profit, EnviroCentre, which hosted their Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Alt Ottawa. The AGM used most of the hotel’s meeting space and introduced 90% of participants to the hotel for the first time.
Greater visibility has also enabled the Alt to partner with Foodsharing Ottawa, which takes care of donating the hotel’s excess banquet food to local charities and non-profits. “They pick up the food daily,” said Dupre, “and with this new partnership we have a target to reduce our banquet waste by 25%.”
GKG’s approach stood out for Dupre. “It would have been easy for them to be prescriptive,” he said, “but GKG’s approach encourages open conversation, which leads to greater participation.” Hotel staff is “all-in” participating in the Alt Ottawa’s sustainability initiatives, including through a Green Committee established in 2017. The committee helps ensure the hotel stays in line with sustainability objectives and brainstorms new innovative ideas and projects.
Sustainability programs that encourage guest participation are creating memorable connections and boosting guest loyalty. Providing a bike storage system to encourage visitors to cycle instead of drive is an example of an initiative that resonates with guests. “People love this program,” said Dupre, “and they talk about it with friends and family when they go home.”
Building on their successful 4 Green Key rating, the Alt Ottawa is working incrementally towards boosting their score to five. Dupre wants to see the Alt Ottawa’s experience with GKG programs replicated in other Groupe Germain hotels. Thanks to Dupre’s efforts, pursuing GKG certification is hardwired into the plans for the Groupe’s next Ottawa hotel, and other properties are actively looking into GKG’s programs.
However, Dupre’s mission doesn’t end with Groupe Germain. “Our goal is to be an example for many other properties in Canada and the world,” he said. “GKG certification is not something that needs to turn your hotel upside-down to achieve. We want to make sure all hotels know the benefits and that it’s not expensive.”