As energy prices continue to rise and tolerance for bulky carbon footprints continues to fall, hoteliers are beginning to embrace Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design in new and existing properties.
According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s 2008 Lodging Survey, which was conducted by Smith Travel Research and comprises responses from more than 10,000 lodging properties throughout the United States, 20 percent of respondents said they incorporated Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design elements during the past 12 months, while 21 percent said they are planning to incorporate them into their properties during the next 12 months.
The 104-room Orchard Hotel in San Francisco is scheduled to fall into the latter group. Opened since 2000, the property is following the footsteps of its sister property, the LEED-certified Orchard Garden Hotel (86 rooms). Located less than a mile away, it was only the third hotel in the United States and the fourth hotel in the world to achieve LEED certification.
For new and existing properties alike, registering for LEED certification is no easy task, said Stefan Mühle, general manager of both the Orchard Garden Hotel and the Orchard Hotel.
“What it really truly takes is an independent commissioner to come in and pick you apart,” he said. “It can take you a year or maybe two years before you reach that level where you can finally be certified, but if you don’t let that third party come in and audit you, you’ll never get to where you should be.”
Mühle said the process also entails some creative thinking. When the Garden Orchard was being constructed, for example, the GM wanted electricity in every guestroom to be controlled through a master switch that required the given room’s key card. When guests entered their rooms, they would first have to plug their key cards into a switch on the wall before turning on any lights, the air conditioner and so forth.
“We basically couldn’t find a dummy model, so we had to build this ourselves,” he said, adding that certain elements of the completed design—which saves between 10 and 20 percent of electricity—were taken from foreign markets.
In addition to the key-card system, the Garden Orchard also features energy efficient light bulbs, carpet made from recycled materials, large windows that pull in an abundance of natural light without absorbing heat, and a menu that features local wines, meats, cheeses, and other sustainably harvested items.
From a development standpoint, the results of the AH&LA survey also match the demand Shane Fowler has seen as principal of design-build firm Aardex LLC.
"We had a number of different [LEED-related] projects in different stages of design and construction," he said.
One such project is the Best Western Inn and Suites at Dinosaur Ridge in Golden, Colo. Designed to achieve a silver LEED certification, the 86-room hotel will be the first LEED-certified hotel from Best Western when it opens in Fall 2009.
Despite the interest in LEED-certified projects, Fowler said that not every chain is so quick to adopt environmental sustainable designs. “Some have old ways of working and are not so quick to embrace (the LEED process.)”
Mühle cited the time-consuming registration process as one source of hesitation. “I think part of the trouble is that there is a lot of research involved, and a lot of general managers don’t have the time to do this.”
Additionally, he said many hoteliers are waiting for the U.S. Green Building Council to develop a LEED program tailored specifically to hotels. Currently, the program comprises a checklist of criteria modeled for buildings in general.
“We’re working very closely with the USGBC on making sure that the specifications and standards that they have for LEED certification are easy for hoteliers to understand,” said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the AH&LA. “We’re having a look at things that are standards for hotels that aren’t included in office buildings.”
McInerney said two task forces are investigating relevant criteria for both new and existing properties. The project is still in the assessment phase with no date set for completion.
In the meantime, many brands are working side-by-side with the USGBC to establish LEED-certified prototypes that will bypass site-by-site certification, according to McInerney. “It will help move the LEED process forward and get people LEED certified at a faster pace.”