Business is booming for the Composting Network, a relatively new company that provides composting services for hotels, restaurants and private residents in New Orleans.
Joe Brock launched the company in 2010 to provide a service that was rare in New Orleans at the time, if it was even offered. Now major clients such as the Hyatt Regency, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, PJ’s Coffee and Company and Folgers have signed on to use the service for their composting programs.
“New Orleans is changing,” Brock said. “People are arriving from all over the country where these programs are already in place. These changes have made it easier for us to implement composting services and attract new business.”
According to tourism operators, a younger population and new customer demands are driving significant changes in how many businesses in New Orleans’ tourism industry operate.
Liz Shepard, chief sustainability officer of LifeCity, LLC, a nonprofit that helps businesses implement environmentally friendly initiatives, said she has seen a rise in the number of local and national businesses operating in New Orleans that have begun to implement eco-friendly business practices.
“The tourism industry is rapidly changing to keep up with demand being driven by what customers are used to seeing in their hometowns,” she said. “People have come to expect these services that have been so slow to become the norm in New Orleans.”
This includes hotels and restaurants as well as the operations of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
In order to attract large meetings such as the U.S. Green Building Council, Microsoft, and the American Wind Energy Association, the convention center was required to upgrade some of its programs in order to meet these organizations.
Paul O’Connell, the convention center’s director of technology services, explained this required implementing a full recycling program, composting services and energy efficient lighting.
When the USGBC committed to hold its annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo at the Convention Center last October, the organization requested the building conform to certain sustainability requirements including the composting and full-recycling program. The convention center was required to meet a 65 percent waste diversion rate, which is the measure of how much waste material is diverted from disposal to recycling. The facility exceeded this by 13 percent.
“We need to attract as much business as we can. U.S. Wind Energy and the USGBC wouldn’t have come if we didn’t meet these standards,” O’Connell said.
Bookings at the convention center have increased by almost 100,000 people when comparing the first half of last year to the same time this year. It is an increase O’Connell partly attributes to the energy saving upgrades the center has implemented in recent years. Its combined energy-saving measures have reduced the center’s monthly electric bill from $600,000 to $300,000, or approximately $3.6 million in savings a year.
The immediate investment so far on lighting has been approximately $750,000 and they expect to get a return on investment in three years, according to O’Connell.
There are also several national hotel chains that have had to implement these upgrades as part of their long-term cost-saving measures, including Starwood Hotels, which owns the Sheraton New Orleans.
The Hyatt Regency is another one of the Composting Networks’ large local clients. Additionally, the hotel, which re-opened in October 2011, has added features such as tinting its windows to reduce the cost of cooling the building. It also instituted a single-stream recycling program and a large composting program for all of its food and beverage outlets.
Philip Hymanson, director of engineering for the Hyatt Regency, said that although some of these programs require upfront planning and investment, ultimately the hotel is already seeing savings.
For example, by replacing their light bulbs with energy efficient fixtures, they have cut down on energy costs from $81,000 a year to $16,000. Their composting services have helped them reduce waste. Executive Chef Eric Damidot said the hotel averages approximately 2,000 pounds a month in composting scraps.
“It’s the right thing to do. But we are also seeing that it is benefiting our bottom line. We can take the money we are saving and use it to improve guest services,” Hymanson said.