CSR usually boils down to looking good by doing good – there are countless examples of hotels doing great work in their communities, and giving their reputation a boost at the same time. However, there is another motivating factor behind some CSR projects, especially those focusing on the environment. Put simply, going green can save you money as well as saving the world.

Hotelintel recently had the chance to chat with Geoffrey Fordham, Senior Vice President for Engineering, Safety & Security at Onyx Hospitality Group, to learn more about some of the latest innovations which are finding their way into the Thai marketplace.

The first of these was the intelligent occupancy-based energy management system. For years we’ve seen hotels using systems where the key card has to be placed in the slot so that the lights and air-conditioning will work, but guests have always stayed one step ahead, leaving one card in the slot while taking another with them when they leave the room. The alternative was a system based on motion sensors, which could keep the power on as long as there appeared to be activity in the room. That doesn’t work when guests fall asleep and stop moving. Now, however, the solution is to combine the motion sensors with a door sensor and a simple logic algorithm, so that movement is only tracked after the door opens, to check that someone has entered the room. The power stays on until the door opens again as the occupant leaves, at which point the sensors check once again for movement in the room. If there is no sign of activity, the system assumes the room is empty and turns everything off.

According to Geoffrey, the system, which can be networked or standalone, costs around 1,000 USD per room to install, but offers savings of 20-30% on the energy costs. While the exact figures would obviously depend on the property and its occupancy rates, the payback period could be as little as six months, although 1.2 years is a more conservative estimate. Of course, there are other benefits to the system which don’t necessarily show up in the energy savings; if you know that a guest is in their room you can streamline functions such as making up rooms or delivering laundry, and in the event of an emergency, knowing which rooms are occupied can save lives. Further savings have already been made using automatic voltage regulators. Thailand has a rather unstable electricity supply, and often produces far higher voltages than are necessary, so the regulator smoothes the flow to the lowest voltage required. The Amari at Don Muang Airport saved around 17% and the project paid for itself in 18 months, although the fluctuations in power supply are not so pronounced in the middle of Bangkok, where savings of 8% would result in a 3-year payback period.

One problem for any hotel operator wishing to install such technology is the capital expenditure involved, but for ONYX the solution has been to work with Climate Change Solutions, a Thai-based company which covers the cost of the installation, and thenshare the savings at a pre-agree ratio over a set period until the costs are paid off, at which point the equipment is the property of the hotel. In one property, a package comprising solar panels, LED light bulbs, and hybrid air-conditioning was installed by Climate Change Solutions at a cost of 12 million baht, with a 5-year saving share agreement in place. As Geoffrey pointed out, “it might cost slightly more than it’s worth this way, but it’s not our money. We meet the cost out of the savings, so we benefit, the investors benefit, and the only loser is the electricity company.”

The next challenge for ONYX is in Phuket, where a new hotel is in the pipeline.The problem in Phuket is water scarcity, with local authorities able to guarantee only 50,000 litres per day when the hotel might normally require 250,000. Recycling could cut this to 150,000, which would still be too much, so once again, necessity leads to a new approach. The idea is to construct large tanks which can provide ten days’ water supply – although these have to be included at the initial design stage. Then, a system of air vapour water generators is being considered, to cool the humid, tropical air, and wring out the moisture. This is cheaper than desalination, and would be sufficient to meet the hotel’s needs. One reason why it hasn’t become more widespread already, however, is that in Thailand water is simply too cheap, meaning that if mains water is available there is no need to look elsewhere.

To make the most of recycling, the hotel’s entire piping system needs to be restructured in the design phase. For example, water from showers and baths can be reused to flush the toilets, but only if the piping is set up to facilitate this. The construction costs are higher, but over the longer term, the hotel’s green credentials should pay off.

This idea of constructing hotels to incorporate energy efficiency from the design stage is also seen in the plans for the new laundry system. While outsourcing laundry might appear to be the best way to control costs, this exposes the hotelier to the risk associated with over-reliance upon suppliers, so the secret for ONYX in Phuket will be to build a system which utilizes the steam which is needed for pressing laundry to heat the water used for washing. Laundry is done at around 60˚C so there is no need to heat the water beyond this point, as long as the piping is first set up to avoid energy wastage.

All of these approaches are environmentally appealing, and the underlying philosophy has also resulted in ONYX achieving considerable recognition and coverage in the Thai media for its achievements in reducing water usage, cutting back on chemicals, and introducing energy efficient lighting and air-conditioning. With green strategies also leading to significant cost savings, this kind of CSR appears to have a very bright future.