From its vantage point on the bank of the Fraser River in Richmond, British Columbia, the Pacific Gateway Hotel at Vancouver Airport offers sweeping views of the Coast Mountains and Mount Baker in Washington within a stone’s throw of Canada’s second busiest international airport.
Formerly the Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel, the pet-friendly independently owned hotel’s 388 rooms cater to family and business travellers alike. For the outdoors person, the hotel offers pre- and post-fishing trip packages with affiliated west coast lodges, and mariners can take advantage of the hotel’s fully renovated freshwater marina, which offers moorage, marine services and use of the hotel’s amenities to guests.
A founding member of the Vancouver Tourism Facility Managers Association (VTFMA), Pacific Gateway is leading the charge to make Vancouver a global green destination by reducing the collective carbon footprint of Lower Mainland tourism and hospitality facilities.
When BC-based Van-Air Holdings Ltd. opted to become an independent hotel in 2014, it was a step outside of a long-standing safety net that included a solid sustainability program. “When you lose a brand, you are cut off; plug pulled out of the wall,” said Eda Koot, General Manager of Pacific Gateway. “Without requirements mandated from corporate office, we had to recreate everything – sustainability policies, standards, training materials – with the knowledge we had; and we had to find the answers on our own,” she said.
Pacific Gateway’s 40-year-old buildings and aging equipment also created barriers to the owner’s aspirations to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint, particularly in the face of rising energy costs. But with assets including a sustainability-seasoned management team, a sprawling seven acre property, and the mighty Fraser River on their doorstep, Koot said that Pacific Gateway had the essential ingredients that “lend themselves to doing the right thing.”
Dan Morin, Director of Engineering at Pacific Gateway pointed out that the hotel already had a 3 Green Key Eco-rating as a branded hotel. “We decided to stick with Green Key Global (GKG) because it is a well known certification system among our North American customers,” he said.
Having the same experienced management team in place eased the transition to new systems, ensuring that policies met GKG’s criteria. “It was not an easy process to rewrite policies to the letter,” Koot said, but she noted a clear corporate cultural advantage to the undertaking. “It reinforced why we were doing this,” she said, “It was different with the brand – that was someone else’s brainchild. This is really authentic.”
Building envelope studies and an energy audit carried out prior to the ownership transfer identified potential savings and returns on investment – for example, to replace boilers – that helped set Pacific Gateway up for success, said Morin. GKG support throughout the 2-year process to get “ducks in a row” before the third party external audit was also beneficial. “You don’t have to do it all by yourself,” said Morin, “Partners like GKG help move the needle.”
In Pacific Gateway’s case, the needle moved dramatically: from a 3 Green Key Eco-Rating to a 5 Green Key rating. Together with a newly minted 5 Key Rating for Green Meetings, Pacific Gateway’s efforts have earned them several awards, including the Hotel Association of Canada’s prestigious Green Key Environment Award (2019).
“When we fill out the assessment, GKG comes back with recommendations – it’s our action plan for next year.”
Director of Engineering
Pacific Gateway Hotel at Vancouver Airport
“Through the Green Key Global program we’re able to show that we’re actually doing something and making an impact.”
Director of Engineering
Pacific Gateway Hotel at Vancouver Airport
Starting afresh with GKG as an independent hotel primed the pump for Pacific Gateway to tackle their sustainability wish list, which Morin said had been growing since 2010. This included overhauling the hotel’s supply chain. “We went through the whole GKG evaluation process and, based upon the criteria, we looked for new vendors,” said Morin. For example, when the hotel’s waste management vendor would not support mixed recycling and compost, Pacific Gateway made the switch to a vendor that would.
It was a lot of hard work, Koot noted, but independence provided Pacific Gateway the flexibility to make changes that closely aligned with their principles. “Every single contract had to be negotiated,” she said. “We made it clear what our values were and partnered with people who could achieve those goals. We’re doing everything better,” said Koot.
Beyond suppliers, the GKG assessment provided an anchor for Pacific Gateway’s sustainability action plans and investments. “When we fill out the assessment, GKG comes back with recommendations – it’s our action plan for next year,” said Morin, “So next time we do the evaluation, we knock a few more things off.” “The capital plan is largely driven by these initiatives,” Koot added.
Koot appreciated that the assessment was organized how the hotel conducts its business. “GKG allowed us to set goals for each department. It was a good driver,” she said. Now, many things that the hotel was not previously doing – like using water jugs instead of individual glasses in conference rooms, and Bullfrog power for the restaurant – are standard practice.
Morin feels it important to communicate the impacts of the hotel’s sustainability initiatives in real terms through the employee newsletter, PGH Buzz, and in meetings with prospective clients. With annual reductions of gas by 16.6 gigajoules, hydro by 380,000 kwh, water by 7220 cubic metres, and carbon dioxide reductions from 1058 tons in 2013 to 800 tons in 2018, it’s easy to understand why Pacific Gateway’s efforts are garnering enthusiasm and attention from employees, customers and clients alike; especially in light of concurrent cost savings of $50,000 and a 10-point jump in occupancy.
Armed with this knowledge, Morin said that employee engagement on sustainability initiatives is obvious, even to outsiders. Quoting the third party auditor who spoke with staff before the GKG assessment, Morin said, “Let me tell you, I’ve seen employee engagement, and here it’s very high.” The hotel’s sustainability story resonates with prospective employees, too, Koot added, “this helps with recruiting and retention in a tough labour market.”
Potential clients, including for multi year accounts, are also taking an interest in the numbers. “Clients are asking questions about efficiencies of systems and our policies on sustainability. They want to sign with a company practicing these policies,” said Koot. “More clients are looking for responsibility and to spend their dollars with like-minded hotels and restaurants. I’m finding it’s starting to gain us accounts.”
Noting that Pacific Gateway is the lone independent among many brands in Richmond’s competitive market, Koot credited GKG with helping push the envelope on sustainability. “When we were 3 Keys, the list of resources from Green Key Global was really strong and gave us something to strive for,” she said, “Sustainability is not just recycling anymore, and Green Key Global is a progressive program that keeps on advancing, improving and allowing us to progress.”
Giving a nod to the GKG assessment that brought up the question of accessibility, Morin agreed, “Sustainability is a much bigger umbrella now;” one that comes with bigger client expectations, but also rewards. Including accessibility and health and safety among their initiatives has earned Pacific Gateway recognition from the Rick Hansen Foundation and Gold level certification with the European Sustainable Tourism scheme. “We sure are getting a lot of awards now,” Morin added.
Still, Morin is quick to point out that it is not about creating hype – it comes back to the numbers. “We need benchmarking and actual results to show that it’s not greenwashing,” said Morin, “Through the Green Key Global program we’re able to show that we’re actually doing something and making an impact.”