Sustainable hotel design gaining momentum
Sustainable hotel design gaining momentum
22 APRIL 2015 6:28 AM
Hotel owners, developers and designers must work together to provide creative solutions to embrace the environmental movement.
The hotels of the world are going green. Often criticized for its wastefulness, the hospitality industry is making great strides in environmental consciousness. With monumental programs like the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification in play, many green initiatives are becoming standards rather than suggested practices.
Hotel owners, developers and designers must work together to provide creative solutions to embrace the environmental movement. As hotel architects and designers, it is our job to educate clients on the benefits and profitability of investing in these enhancements while keeping developers’ concerns about cost and execution in check.
And it’s never been more important. Guest expectations of social responsibility and demands for eco-friendly products/services are steadily climbing. Travelers want to know that their travel choices support brands that operate in an environmentally responsible way.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways hotels are transitioning green properties from an idealistic goal to the industry expectation.
Amenities are an important part of the guest experience. However, in the bathroom, individually wrapped soaps and single-use plastic bottles for shampoo and lotion produce unnecessary waste. 
It is our role as designers to find eco-friendly products that meet guests’ needs. The Element Miami International Airport, a LEED-certified Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide property, uses refillable containers for bathroom soaps and shampoos. Also in guestrooms, many hotels are encouraging guests to reuse their bath towels and bed linens to save water. And they are providing bins for in-room recycling, so guests can do their part.
Sustainable materials, goods and processes
Some incredible advances have been made when it comes to eco-friendly building materials and systems including: alternatives made of recycled content or that use less energy to manufacture than conventional ones, rainwater harvesting systems, living roofs, among many others. 
Locally sourcing building materials and goods is also a key part of the sustainable building process, as it reduces the carbon footprint of the transport to get products there. More and more hoteliers are using regional building materials in the construction process. 
The new Canopy by Hilton brand also is embracing the “think local” mantra, featuring local food-and-beverage options in all of its 11 new properties expected to open beginning this year. Waste during the building process is another critical factor in maintaining eco-friendliness. It is essential to ensure as much as possible is recycled before transporting off-site, or, to consider options for re-use. 
During the design process, we look for ways to repurpose building materials or elements in a sustainable way. During a historical renovation of a turn-of-the-century warehouse building into a Residence Inn hotel, we repurposed the existing framework of the building and most of the building materials.
An exterior shot of the Residence Inn Downtown/Seaport in Boston (Photo: Group One).
We even salvaged the original 1901 boiler doors and transformed them into an art piece: 
The original 1901 boiler doors at the Residence Inn Downtown/Seaport in Boston (Photo: Group One).
Water, energy consumption
In the bathroom, there are many ways to conserve water, including using sustainable fixtures such as showerheads, faucets and low-flow toilets. For kitchens, hoteliers are using energy efficient appliances in the main kitchen area and also in individual guestrooms for extended-stay hotels with in-room kitchen suites. Master switches in guestrooms allow travelers to use one switch to control all of the lights throughout the space and only when they are present in the room. 
Smart HVAC and lighting systems have immense capabilities, scanning the room periodically and turning down the heat/off the lights if there is no movement in the room. Complete building management systems monitor and control mechanical and electrical equipment such as ventilation, lighting, power systems, fire systems and security systems throughout the property—drastically reducing the hotel’s energy and lighting usage when managed properly. 
Smart design also can play a large role in the sustainability of the hotel. For example, consider the amount of natural daylight and supplement that with energy efficient light bulbs or lighting systems triggered by movement in a space.
Putting ideas into action
The Element Miami International Airport is a great example of an eco-friendly hotel. Guestrooms include ENERGY STAR qualified kitchen appliances, hypo-allergenic linens, sustainable bath and plumbing fixtures, and recycling bins for glass, paper and plastic. In the kitchen, recycled paper towels, silverware, glassware and filter systems for drinking water eliminate disposable products and minimize waste. Even the elevators are energy efficient.
Throughout the hotel, we also used low VOC paint, carpets made of 100% recycled content and vinyl wall coverings. 
To take advantage of natural daylight, we designed an open layout concept in the lobby with large windows, supplementing with compact fluorescent bulbs that use 75% less energy than conventional bulbs.

Element Miami International Airport lobby great room (Photo: Group One).
Regional construction materials also were used throughout the building process. And for an added perk, green enthusiast guests are rewarded with special parking spots for their hybrid cars.
Green never looked so good
Sustainable hotel design will continue to remain fundamental in enhancing the guest experience. By rethinking provided amenities, water and energy consumption, and the use of sustainable goods, materials and processes, we can create properties that cater to the environmental demands of modern-day travelers.
And it’s not all about the bottom line. It is all of our responsibility to leave the world in better shape for future generations than we found it.
Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in 10 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit or email Wheeler at 
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1 Comment

  • Tedd S June 18, 2015 7:02 AM

    Congrats on making sustainable practices a regular feature of your products. Its exciting to see hotels taking action on and benefitting from these logical business measures.

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