We continue our look into sustainability across hospitality this week, in anticipation of Earth Day, with a conversation with Bancroft Hotel owner Daryl Ross. The Refinishing Touch has a great working relationship with the Bancroft, who has a proven track record towards the commitment of being green.
We’re pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Daryl, who is an alumni of University of California at Berkeley. Along with the Bancroft Hotel, he also owns five eateries close to his alma mater. All are extremely popular with students, faculty and staff for their combination of low-key ambience and carefully prepared, mostly organic food at reasonable prices.
How involved is the Bancroft Hotel in promoting sustainability? Are there specific goals it has for becoming more green?
I would say our primary goal was to not participate in “greenwashing”. It’s very difficult because so many companies have realized that calling their product green will promote sales. There is no law or standard that controls how people use the word “green” or “eco-friendly”. When you are trying to figure out what to buy and what move to make, you just have to do your homework. That took a very long time for us. We kept asking ourselves “Is this product really green? Does it really do what is says it does? Did it really get made the way they said?” Traceability is really difficult with many products. For example, we have bamboo towels. Bamboo is promoted as a green fiber, but in reality it takes a great deal of energy to turn the plant into viscose, or the fiber that is then woven into towels. We decided to go this route because it was made at a wind turbine-driven mill and that somewhat negated the energy use. We also wanted to showcase many different products and bamboo is one of them.
This is another important goal for us: Showcasing different green products. Our rooms are made up of a selection of green products such as curtains made from soda bottles, recycled carpet tiles, organic linens, non VOC paint, on-site refurbishing of our armoires into desks, etc.
How would you describe the general attitude toward the environment and climate change in your hotel?
We take it very seriously and educate our employees about it. Most of our employees are made up of Cal students, as UC Berkeley is across the street from the hotel, so that already gives us a head start. It’s easy to get these smart kids to understand what we are doing. And many times they already know more than we do about the most recent developments on climate change.
Where do you see the climate change initiative in the next 10 years?
I hope that it will gather strength and depth. We need to move beyond the initial efforts that are being made right now to substantive efforts that will really make a difference.
What do you think hotels can (or *should*) do to improve the environmental awareness and action of its guests and employees?
It’s all about education. No one likes to do this because somehow it’s perceived as negative or pedantic. If every guest that stayed in every hotel room learned something about saving resources during their stay that they could apply to their lives, then we would really be making a difference.
If you had to give a grade for the work done within hospitality towards improving and implementing environmental practices, what would it be? Why?
Unfortunately I would not give a very good grade here. I think lip service is paid to environmental practices, but only as far as there is an immediate payoff or potential marketing fodder. The issue has been reduced from being efforts that can be made for a global problem to how much can be allocated to this piece of our marketing.
What kinds of out-of-the ordinary practices does the Bancroft do to conserve energy?
As a baseline we are a “Green Certified Business”. This was done sometime ago and brought us up to date with CFLs, energy star appliances, water reducing showerheads, etc. But this is only a start and often all that many hotels do to call themselves green. We looked beyond these things to make all of our FF and E (Furnishings, Fixtures and Equipment) eco-friendly. All fabrics contain recycled materials, all paints and sealants have low or no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), even the wood of our picture frames are FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council). As for our systems, we already have hydronic heating, which is quite efficient. And we are phasing a multi-pronged approach: We will be installing a triangle tube, ultra-high efficiency furnace, solar thermal panels to pre-heat water using solar energy and fuel cells, which convert natural gas into electricity with a by-product of heat. These systems will all compliment each other and will also showcase these technologies. Hopefully other hotels can look at us—a small boutique hotel with only 22 rooms—and see that it can be done and that it is the right thing to do.
What can the hospitality industry learn from other industries such as universities and government with regards to environmental practices/policies?
The government and Universities are very good at making policies. These are essential starters for any environmental action plan. Most businesses don’t want to spend the time to outline their long-term plans for becoming more energy efficient, maybe they don’t even have a plan. But they should work with someone who knows what areas will give the most leverage and create a plan that phases in things they should do over the next 10 years. Even if the technology changes, they will at least have goals to aspire to.
We thank Daryl for his time, candid thoughts and of course the deep involvement he, and by extension, the Bancroft Hotel has in sustainability. Next week we’ll take an in-depth look at the work universities are doing before during and after Earth Day.