Bennett Thomas, Vice President of Finance & Sustainability with Hersha Hospitality (NYSE: HT), joined REIT.com for a video interview at NAREIT’s 2013 Leader in the Light Working Forum in La Quinta, Calif.
Hersha won a 2012 Leader in the Light Award in the lodging category. Thomas discussed the evolution of the company’s sustainability program over the years.
“We developed a program called EarthView, which is used by the portfolio hotels at Hersha, as well as other owners,” he said. “For us, sustainability and EarthView are synonymous, but it’s equally as much about strategy. We focus on bringing a financial rigor and sensibility to how we evaluate returns, be they financial returns or social and environmental returns.”
Thomas also discussed how the company measures the success of its sustainability initiatives and what type of results it has seen.
“We measure the success of our initiatives on three different dimensions,” he said. “On the financial perspective, our program has generated [internal rates of return] north of 30 percent , so very significant financial savings and returns. On the environmental perspective, we’ve reduced carbon emissions by 10 percent, water usage by 7 percent, and waste sent to landfills by 40 percent. On the social perspective, we’ve donated approximately 5,000 community service hours across our portfolio.”
Thomas also talked about the challenges of implementing a sustainability program as a hotel operator, as opposed to other property types.
“For us, we have a lot of guests who stay for one or two nights,” he said. “To continually educate these guests is a hard thing to do versus what you can do on the operations side at a commercial office space. So, we try to implement sustainability that is almost invisible to the guests. For example, we are implementing occupancy sensors across our portfolio, which detect whether or not a guest is in the room.”
Thomas said that the next stage or evolution of sustainability practices is “transparency.”
“There is a growing list of cities that are now fully disclosing building and energy data,” he said.