There was a time when environmentally conscious travelers faced a dilemma: “green” conventional wisdom held that first-rate hotels were a monument to the depletion of natural resources, while the few properties that crowed about their awareness to the environment were sadly lacking in comfort and amenities and generally consisted of Spartan hostelries far from the beaten path and primarily catering to the Birkenstock and granola crowd.
As the environmental tsunami gained strength and guests voiced displeasure to the massive consumption of energy and resources manifest in hotels, especially in large cities, the obstacle confronting management became apparent—how do you appeal to green enthusiasts without losing the luster that hotels like to bestow on guests?
Enter Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which last year opened a hotel in Lexington, MA, under the Element brand. This was the culmination of an effort that began two years earlier when Element Hotels announced its intention to be the first major brand to mandate all its hotels pursue the U.S. Green Building Council’s “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) certification.
Established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is an internationally recognized certification awarded for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.
This accomplishment put Element Hotels as one of the hotel brands that can truly boast of being ecologically minded, while at the same time straddling the line of being both aesthetically pleasing and eco-friendly.
In addition, its success also shows that a rigid environmentally conscious program can be profitable.
“Building green from the ground up is indeed affordable and [we] are estimating we will recoup our investment in energy savings, water conservation and waste reduction in just three to five years,” says Brian McGuinness, senior v.p., specialty select brands, Starwood Hotels and Resorts. “Our eco-friendly, intuitive approach to allow guests to be green has resonated very well with travelers who are looking for smart, urban living—whether they are traveling for business or for pleasure.”
Aside from its successful Massachusetts venture, Element has opened sister hotels in Summerlin, NV; Hanover, MD; and Houston and Dallas, TX, and all are expected to receive LEED certification in the near future. Additionally, more than 20 Element Hotels are due to open across the U.S. and Canada over the next two years.
Every hotel has green features that are cleverly designed to be as aesthetically appealing as they are eco-friendly, so guests never compromise on style and comfort. Green from the ground up guestrooms feature carpets with up to 100 percent recycled content, the wall art is mounted on bases made from recycled tires, and low volatile organic compound paints improve indoor air quality.
There are also multipurpose, modular furniture, swiveling flat-screen TVs, large desks with open shelving and custom-designed closets. Bathrooms have oversized, low-flow rain showerheads and guests who prefer home cooking have the convenience of a kitchen rigged with energy-efficient appliances plus everything needed to prepare gourmet meals. Element conserves water and energy with low-flow faucets and fixtures, compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances. Guests driving hybrid cars are rewarded with priority parking. Even the “Do Not Disturb” signs have been replaced with environmentally friendly magnets.
The hotels are completely modern yet influenced by outdoor living and much thought has been given to customizing rooms to meet individual needs. Perhaps one of the most innovative and appealing features at Element is a feature called “Restore.” In essence, this consists of a gourmet, self-serve pantry available to guests round the clock and offering meals ready to cook, healthy snacks, indulgent treats and local specialties.
But, according to McGuinness, the brand’s success depends on the energy conservation methods used by the hotels. “The Lexington hotel is saving 942,000 gallons of potable water per year by adopting sensible water conservation practices both indoors and out,” he says.
McGuinness also points out that the hotel keeps more than half-million pounds of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere by using energy conservation methods and the practical use of green technology.
“The hotel also supports the development of renewable energy technology such as wind power by purchasing renewable energy credits to offset 70 percent of electricity use for the first two years of operation and is committed to offset 35 percent of annual electricity use each year thereafter,” he says.