Hersha Executive Says Sustainability Program Integrated Throughout REIT

Bennett Thomas, vice president of finance and sustainability at Hersha Hospitality Trust (NYSE: HT), joined REIT.com for a video interview at NAREIT’s 2015 Leader in the Light Working Forum in Reston, Va.

Hersha is a lodging REIT that owns and operates upscale hotels in urban gateway markets.

Thomas provided an overview of Hersha’s Earthview sustainability platform, which the company initiated in 2010. He noted that the platform has both a strategic and entrepreneurial aspect.

On the strategic side, “we thought that by doing social and environmental good we could also do financial good for the company and the shareholders,” Thomas observed. In 2010, many of the hotel brands operating under the Hersha umbrella had varying sustainability programs, according to Thomas.

“We looked at Earthview as a single program that we could implement across the portfolio,” he said.

With regard to the entrepreneurial aspect of Earthview, Thomas explained that Hersha started the program with a small subset of hotels “to figure out the right way to implement sustainability across a portfolio.” Today, he said the program is implemented in 100 hotels owned by Hersha and private equity players such as Starwood Capital Group and The Blackstone Group.

“The program has evolved from not just being about operations to being woven between the finance, acquisitions, management and development teams. It’s just a part of what we do now,” he said.

Thomas pointed out that Earthview will add $50 million to the company’s portfolio value.

In terms of sustainability projects for 2015, Thomas said Hersha is looking at installing LED retrofits across the majority of its properties. Meanwhile, the company has also made sustainability investments in Miami. They include the completion of a new LEED-certified oceanfront tower at the Courtyard Cadillac Miami Beach. The new design will reduce energy consumption by 15 percent and water consumption by 30 percent, Thomas said. Hersha has also installed 400 solar panels at the Residence Inn Coconut Grove.

In terms of new trends in the sustainability sector, Thomas said the adoption of initiatives such as TripAdvisor’s GreenLeaders program, which showcases a variety of eco-friendly hotels and bed-and-breakfast operators, is forcing lodging providers to align sustainability claims made on their websites with what is actually provided in their guest rooms.