Sustainability steadily becoming part of lodging industry DNA


Many hotels are adopting green design, practices, equipment and technologies.


Some are green certified or rated, some are not, but the list of U.S. lodging establishments worthy of having their sustainability stories told is in the thousands. The properties range from the largest casino hotels in Las Vegas to the smallest “mom and pop” B&Bs. What drives owners to “go green” varies but most share a passion for saving money, increasing profitability, reducing their environmental footprint, and making a positive impact in their communities.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Assn. (AHLA), there are 54,200 hotel properties in the United States. Ryan Dillon, brand marketing for TripAdvisor, says there are now more than 5,800 GreenLeader properties in the United States – almost 11 percent of all U.S. hotels. The TripAdvisor green property recognition program, launched in early 2013, is easily the largest such recognition program in the United States. Lodging establishments qualify by completing an application that touches on best practices ranging from recycling to the use of occupancy sensors.

Certain green practices have become pervasive throughout the U.S. hotel industry. According to the 2016 Lodging Survey, an AHLA, STR and American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation production and the most recent one available, 94 percent of U.S. hotels now offer a linen/towel reuse program. Similarly, 90 percent now use LED lighting. Still rare in U.S. hotels according to the survey: shampoo/conditioner dispensers in the shower. Independents are most likely to have them, but only 14 percent said they did. Also still unusual in the United States: official green certification. According to the 2016 Lodging Survey, just 16 percent of U.S. hotels have obtained a green certification such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or certification through Green Key Global or other similar organizations.


What is common among green hotels is owners and managers passionate about implementing green design, practices, equipment and technologies. Employee participation is also key. According to the Green Lodging Trends Report 2016, a Green Lodging News and Greenview production, 69 percent of survey participants said they have on-property green teams; 64 percent said they have on-property green champions.

One owner who is certainly passionate about sustainability is Raakesh Patel. In 2009, his Super 8 Ukiah in Ukiah, Calif., was struggling. “The only way to survive was to save money,” he says. “I called the utility companies, and they provided a lot of suggestions. I started conserving energy and performing property maintenance. I took advantage of rebates, incentives and tax credits.

Patel invested in a 49.5 kW solar photovoltaic system. “I always wanted to do solar,” he says. “That saves 60 to 65 percent of the electricity.” A solar thermal system heats all of the water for the hotel. In the summer, it also heats the swimming pool. Laundry equipment is very efficient and an ozone system cuts back on chemicals and energy typically needed. Laundry greywater is filtered and used for irrigation.

The Super 8 Ukiah offers electric vehicle charging stations to guests. Breakfast features 100 percent organic coffee and teas, biodegradable tableware and energy efficient lighting.

“Our mission at Super 8 Ukiah is to combine high-quality service with eco-friendly initiatives that reinforce the balance of nature,” Patel says. “I was born and raised in India, and we did not have many resources. I came to the U.S. with nothing. Business was going great, and then it started going down. I am reducing my carbon footprint. Wyndham has helped me so much. Everyone around me has been helping me so much.”

The Super 8 Ukiah has been an Energy Star Hotel for the last six years, has reached GreenLeader Gold level with TripAdvisor and has been Certified Green by the State of California. The hotel is a recipient of the Spirit of Super 8 Award, Champion of Green Award, and the Business of the Year Award by the Ukiah Chamber of Commerce.

Patel says that with everything he has done, “Sometimes people think you are crazy. It is OK. I know how much difference it has made in our own lives. We are saving so much money, and our staff really appreciates it.”


One of the biggest green hotel stories in the past year has been the opening and growth of Barry Sternlicht’s 1 Hotels. Sternlicht, CEO and chairman of the brand, made sure that each hotel – in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Miami Beach – was designed with nature in mind. Natural, local materials are emphasized and wherever possible energy, water and waste is minimized. 1 Hotel South Beach opened in early 2015, followed by 1 Hotel Central Park later that year, and then 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge earlier this year.

“Nature is in everything we do,” says Amanda DeSantis, vice president of sustainability for 1 Hotels. “Welcoming you into our space hits every sense – from the fragrance to the sights to the sounds – our spaces are thoughtfully designed to ensure those infinite number of interactions with nature. Guests are provided a key token made of recycled wood, and once in their room, there is filtered water (no plastic water bottles), a chalkboard to write on (no paper), a hemp blended mattress with 100 percent organic cotton sheets, and to explore the local community, a Tesla. It is all of these and more mindful touches that matter.”

“Each hotel reflects the local community, from the makers we partner with for the furnishings and products, to the passion of the employees that donate their time to improve the environment and lives of people,” DeSantis adds. “At 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, the floor to ceiling sliding windows that open up to the stunning outdoor view of Manhattan, the cozy refuge feel at 1 Hotel Central Park provided by the window benches, and at 1 Hotel South Beach, the exterior green wall with about 12,000 plants (…and if I may, I’ll throw in Plnthouse, with a plant-based menu that I go to for nearly every meal when I’m visiting).”


The lobby of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge opens to a dramatic 25-foot green wall, featuring steel grating covered in hand-placed plants and creeping vines that will evolve over time, created by landscape architecture firm, Harrison Green. A two-story industrial spiral staircase is punctuated by a sculpture of obsidian rock boulders wrapped in hand-dyed rope by Rachel Weiss.

The 10-story hotel occupies Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre beautification project that stretches 1.3 miles along the East River waterfront. The hotel project originally began in late 2011, however when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012, 1 Hotel’s architectural drawings for the Brooklyn Bridge property had just been completed. Due to the damage and destruction, the team was informed the waterfront zoning had changed, requiring 1 Hotels to raise the building by 3 feet along with other code changes, such as relocating mechanical equipment to the roof. Meanwhile, they could not raise the overall height of the building, which triggered a massive redesign effort.

Rather than whitewashing the delay and changes caused by Sandy, the 1 Hotels team opted to honor the force of nature by tapping Olivié Ponce, an artist and creator in Bushwick, Brooklyn, to paint a watermark in remembrance of Hurricane Sandy along the walls of the corner suites.

Committed to sustainability and preserving the environment, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge was built under LEED guidelines. The design of the hotel features more than 50 percent regional and reclaimed materials, including original heart pine beams from the former Domino Sugar Factory, walnut from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and pine flooring from the Old Crow Distillery in Kentucky. The hotel will eventually boast a LEED Dynamic Plaque, which will measure and display the building’s eco-conscious practices in real time. 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge operates a rainwater reclamation system that will reduce storm water runoff into neighboring water streams by more than 50 percent prior to the site development. The water collected will irrigate the park during summer months.

The property uses 100 percent wind power energy. The hotel features low-energy light bulbs, a Triple Clear water purification system, in-room recycling bins and fresh dining offerings. 1 Hotels has committed to donating a percentage of sales from in-room dining and goodthings (the hotel’s mini bar) to Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization that takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. The hotel features a nature-driven art collection, including a textured rubber sculpture, “All OVEREACHOTHER,” created by Jarrod Beck from massive rubber pieces of roofing that were stripped from a big box retailer’s roof during a tornado that touched down unexpectedly in Utica (Upstate New York) in the summer of 2014.

Other room amenities include on-demand meditation content by Biet Simkin, meditation leader for 1 Hotels; marble rain showers with a 5-minute, hour-glass timer to remind guests to conserve water; living plants and trees by leading landscape team Harrison Green; and in-room yoga mats.


Also in the last year, Nashville saw the opening of The Westin Nashville. The 453-room property, located just a few blocks from Ryman Auditorium, is one of 391 LEED-certified hotels in the United States. Managed by Castlerock Hospitality Management, the hotel features low-flow water fixtures, low- or zero-VOC paint, 100 percent LED lighting, and the sectioning of heating systems throughout the property in order to reduce energy consumption.

“The owners were very passionate about doing everything as sustainable as possible,” says Lukus Kindlesparker, The Westin Nashville’s General Manager. “They consulted with LEED specialists. We have a building energy management system that monitors demand and manages when we run our systems. When demand increases it automatically adjusts flow of refrigerants.”

The hotel has a recycling program and consistently works with waste management on waste reduction issues. Local and organic food items are used in the hotel’s restaurants and these help create more memorable experiences for guests – what Kindlesparker called “cool stories to tell.”

Having a more sustainable hotel is good for business, Kindlesparker says, adding that, “Over the last 10 years sustainability has become a ‘check the box’ question during the RFP process. Across the board, businesses are much more socially responsible.”


Within the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, the highest achievement level is Platinum. In September 2016, the LEED Platinum The Hotel at Oberlin opened in Oberlin, Ohio. The 70-room property is owned by Oberlin College, developed by SMART Hotels and managed by The Olympia Companies. The Hotel at Oberlin is the first hotel in the United States to incorporate solar, geothermal, and radiant heating and cooling.

The Hotel at Oberlin was designed by the Chicago-based architectural firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB); the creative process was led by SCB Principal Jim Curtin, AIA. The Gettys Group are the interior designers of The Hotel at Oberlin and sought to blur the line between outdoors and inside, tapping into the natural surroundings for both inspiration and design elements. Reclaimed wood from a historic farm building became paneling for the bar area, a satellite view of Oberlin’s pastoral setting was transformed into an intriguing abstract mural for the dining area, and a color palette of cool browns mated with warm red reflects the ever-changing hues of the landscape. Sustainability plays a key role in The Gettys Group’s design and procurement services, with carpet tiles made of recycled materials used in the guestrooms and hallways.

The innovative HVAC system relies on a geothermal well field and utilizes radiant heating and cooling ceiling panels and flooring, as well as ceiling fans. A large portion of the hotel’s power is supplied by a 10-acre photovoltaic array on campus. The hotel has many other sustainable features, including an onsite bio retention basin to filter storm water, rainwater harvesting for landscape irrigation and exterior automated solar shading devices to reduce heat gain. Fifty percent of the building materials were sourced from within 500 miles. The primary exterior material is Öko Skin, a highly sustainable cement slat wall panel that was chosen because “the scale and coloration of the material is compatible with the brick and stone of nearby older buildings,” says Curtin.  ■

Glenn Hasek is publisher and editor of Green Lodging News. He can be reached at [email protected]. To subscribe to the Green Lodging News enewsletter, go to



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