Arizona’s lodging and tourism industry is looking a lot greener (and cleaner). And because of that, more Arizona hotels and restaurants are capitalizing on the eco-friendly tourism boom.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association (AzLTA) recently launched a comprehensive update to the Certified Green Lodging Program. Together, with the help of Arizona State University sustainability interns, ADEQ and AzLTA gathered data to expand even more green initiatives in the areas of conservation, waste reduction and overall improvement in sustainability. From application to verification and certification, the process to become a Certified Green Lodging facility typically takes a mere 30 days to complete. And the benefits? There are plenty to be had by all — program members, visitors and residents of Arizona.

“As a locally-owned hotel with owners and employees who are active in the community, it’s important to us that we do our part to protect the natural environment,” says Rita Dorsey Boutwell, director of training and development at Hotel Congress, which has been practicing sustainability and conservation for well over a decade. “Plus, we want to show other hotels how these efforts can benefit their business. By first reducing usage in some areas and creating a sustainability spending account with the savings, we can apply the funds to larger capital projects, which will save even more money over time and continue to reduce our impact on the environment.”

Through the program, hotels, resorts, bed & breakfasts and more can reduce their impact on the environment, while also increasing their ability to attract the growing number of environmentally-friendly travelers.

Az Business magazine talked with Erin Jordan, public information officer for ADEQ, and David Drennon, executive vice President of the AzLTA, to learn more about the exciting additions to the Certified Green Lodging program.

Az Business: Can you share a bit of background on how AzLTA and ADEQ came together to provide expanded Certified Green Lodging program offerings for AzLTA members?

Erin Jordan: In 2015, the Environmental Protection Association awarded ADEQ with a pollution prevention grant to update the Green Lodging Program in partnership with the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. The original program was established in 2010. Students from the ASU Sustainability Internship Program helped to create the collateral for the program, such as the checklist and resource summaries under green lodging and tourism.

David Drennon: In partnership with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the program will be enhanced to allow AzLTA member properties to measure and monitor performance, as well as benefit from a sharing of sustainability best practices. This ultimately results in important operational budget savings. The AzLTA team, several interns and the ADEQ staff worked collaboratively over the past year to reach this milestone. The elements of the program will now be built out and incorporated into an online database. Members can track and chart their progress and receive valuable feedback on budget-friendly, environmental solutions.

AB: How do you feel the relationship between AzLTA and ADEQ is mutually beneficial for both organizations?

EJ: ADEQ’s mission is to protect and enhance public health and the environment of Arizona. Voluntary sustainable efforts adopted by businesses help ADEQ do more mission good.

DD: Our primary goal is to gain a better understanding of what hotels in Arizona are currently doing to be sustainable, eco-friendly and environmentally conscious. Then, we work with AzLTA member properties in the Green Lodging Program to adopt best practices, which ultimately strengthens the bottom line of the business. We really want to emphasize that our work with ADEQ is not intended to be an audit or compliance verification of any kind. They truly want to improve the environment for all Arizonans through this effort.

AB: There are a number of strategies and ideas involving waste reduction and conservation as part of the expanded Certified Green Lodging program offerings. Can you share a few?

EJ: There are quite a few examples on the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association’s Certified Green Program Self-Certification Workbook checklist. Categories include general, kitchen and dining, guest room, and landscape and maintenance waste reduction and diversion strategies. Member properties can implement numerous strategies, from recycling ink and toner cartridges and regularly installing and emptying grease traps to requiring laundry service to use reusable bags or baskets to transport dirty and clean linen to the implementation of “grasscycling” of grass clippings rather than having them disposed.

AB: Hotel Congress in Tucson is one example of a local lodging facility participating in sustainability and conservation measures as part of the Certified Green Lodging program. Are there other local lodging establishments that have taken advantage of the newly expanded offerings or serve as a positive staple of sustainability?

DD: We have a strong list of participating hotels and resorts across Arizona. Hilton Pointe Squaw Peak is one example, serving as a tour site for our interns. During their observation, our interns witnessed several green initiatives and sustainable solutions implemented by the resort. Hilton Pointe Squaw Peak harvests fresh, organic vegetables from a garden that is grown on-site — talk about locally-sourced, sustainable food.

AB: What are some incentives that members can look forward to when becoming part of the Certified Green Lodging Program?

DD: For today’s eco-friendly and environment-focused travelers, we market statewide hotels and resorts which have been Certified Green. A list appears each year in the Arizona Office of Tourism’s annual Visit Arizona Guide which is distributed globally.