By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
It’s a rare hotel these days that doesn’t offer to not wash your sheets, in the interest of conserving water. A handful of hotels go further, touting their bamboo flooring, low-flow faucets and other flourishes.
But get ready traveler, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s an avalanche of green hospitality heading your way as some 700 hotels queue up to complete their LEED certifications with the US Green Building Council over the next year or so, and after their environmental inductions, you can bet they’ll be serving up more than just local greens. In the competitive travel industry, they’ll be angling for eco-kudos, showcasing everything from their fly ash foundations to their roof-top herb gardens.
For the savvy and weary business traveler, as well as the mom-and-pop tourist, this could be a fun new era. You’ll be treated to organic yogurt, natural mattresses and air quality systems. But it also holds perils for both guests and hotel operators.
Guests wanting to go green could quickly be confused by a cacophony of appeals. Travelocity and Orbitz now rate hotels on their eco offerings. AAA is going to stamp entries in its 2010 book with a green symbol denoting the supposed environmentally elite.
Green Seal, which certifies hotels that use non-toxic cleaners, will continue to push its version of green. Energy Star credentials green hotels, just as it does other commercial buildings. And finally, you’ll be seeing plaques about the US Green Building Council’s LEED program, the respected and most all-encompassing designation for hotel properties. There are four levels — certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum — that can be applied to newly built or retrofitted hotels.
And as in the army, the stripes and colors mean something. A “certified” LEED hotel may not be doing much more than making sensible changes to reduce energy consumption, whereas a gold-rated operation could be a real striver in the green space.
Now add one more layer. The USGBC offers another rating, for operations. It’s called the Existing Building (EB) certification, and only five hotel properties currently carry that distinction, compared with the 700-plus that already have or are about to receive LEED certification for their structure. Getting EB qualified is about daily green actions, like sending out your potato peelings to be composted and using soaps that don’t kill fish when they’re flushed out into the world. Considering that hotel operations consume a lot of resources and generate considerable waste (far more than residences or offices), this lesser known operations certification, seems like more than a detail. If the green trend holds, expect to see hotels signing up for this designation as well.
A Platinum Night’s Sleep
As this new green stew simmers, hotel operators find themselves in the unusual position of having to adjust their approach to guests. While they want to promise great comforts, new green standards mean it won’t be coddling as usual. Guests will be asked, either directly or through the power of suggestion, to act responsibly by putting recyclables in the nice new bins in their room, or drinking the perfectly fine filtered water from their faucet instead of indulging in the bottled variety.
Yes, it will be a new day at the Days Inn, or anywhere else changes are being made. At the same time, hotels will want to keep guests comfortable, because, well, that’s their job.
To see the shape of things to come, we took a look at the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., the only platinum-rated hotel in the United States.
Stroll into the Proximity, and you’ll be drenched in sunlight, but invisibly enveloped by several state-of-the-art energy innovations that combine to make the hotel use 40 percent less electricity than a comparable building. Solar rooftop panels heat the hotel’s water, geothermal energy is used for the kitchen refrigerators, large windows reduce the need for indoor lights and offer views of the outdoors while also admitting fresh air. A special “energy recovery” system uses exhausted cool air to assist the AC. Even the elevators run on a new energy-conserving program that recaptures energy generated.
The hotel used recycled materials in the foundation, drywall and steel staircase. Guest room shelving was made with a 100 percent recycled, formaldehyde-free particle board (SkyBlend). Water use was reduced with high-efficiency Kohler plumbing that saved 2 million gallons of water in the first year. A nearby stream was restored with the use of native plantings and erosion control techniques. Some of the furniture is so local, it was made on site, and the art, by artist-in-residence Chip Holton, came from across the street.
When the hotel was built in 2007, it sent relatively little construction waste to the landfill – 87 percent of the waste was recycled.
All of this earned the Proximity LEED points, and for co-owners Dennis Quaintance, Nancy King Quaintance and Mike Weaver, it became a challenge to leap the highest bar. They wanted to win a platinum rating, not just because they could, but because they believe in preserving the world for future generations. For husband-and-wife Quaintances, it meant considering the legacy they’d leave to their children, and beyond. Would their descendants look back and know they’d done their best for the environment?: Next Page-->
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