The weather here in New York has been miserable of late, so it’s tough not to think about skipping town for a few days to sunnier skies. If you’ve reached that point already, Gregory Dicum of the New York Times recently visited four green hotels in California, including the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel, about which we’ve written previously here at gbNYC in the context of below-the-surface implications of green building mandates and incentives (see our LEED creep archive for much more on this important issue). Interestingly, Mr. Dicum found the Gaia to be “the closest to that of a mass-market chain. Its halls and rooms look almost precisely like those in any other particularly nice hotel in its price range.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and Mr. Dicum did find that, at each of the hotels, “everyone on their staffs, from managers to maids, was well-informed about the green features.” In addition to the Gaia, Mr. Dicum and his wife were also guests at the Ambrose Hotel in Santa Monica, The Orchard Garden in San Francisco, and the Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee.
The Ambrose opened up in 2003 and registered with USGBC under the LEED for Existing Buildings (“LEED-EB”) system back in March. Deidre Wallace, who owns the hotel, told Mr. Dicum that she expects to receive her official certification soon. LEED-EB focuses mainly on the efficiency of building operations, and the Ambrose includes efficient lighting, appliances, and HVAC systems. Guest rooms are outfitted with low-VOC paints and sealants and the hotel also purchases a portion of its energy needs from wind power providers. It also offers guests the option of renting bicycles or hitching a lift with its biodiesel-fueled taxi.
At the Orchard Garden, which earned its LEED Certified rating back in 2006, Mr. Dicum found that the hotel’s additional layers of insulation keep it exceptionally quiet, in addition to extremely efficient, despite its location in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Each room includes key card-controlled lighting and HVAC; when the key is removed, lights and systems turn off. Its green features have helped the Orchard Garden earn repeat guests more quickly than a conventional hotel. In Truckee, the Cedar House will apply for a LEED rating next year after it installs photovoltaics, but in the meantime offers guests a modern Alpine lodge aesthetic that includes a design executed with recycled steel and strandboard from sawmill waste, as well as tankless water heaters, soap dispensers in the bathrooms, and a green roof.
At the Gaia, as you can see in the image above, guests can view the real-time energy and water consumption of the hotel through a display in its lobby. Mr. Dicum also found the hotel’s efforts at maintaining high levels of indoor air quality to be effective and its LEED Gold design features “inspirational.” Just to give you a brief recap regarding our LEED creep points in relation to the Gaia, throughout the latter part of 2006 and most of 2007, Wen-I Chang, the developer of the property, was waiting on his LEED rating in order to obtain a $1 million occupancy tax rebate from the American Canyon, California City Council. The hotel opened up in November of 2006 but did not receive formal certification from USGBC - or its occupancy tax rebate from the municipality - until July of 2007.
As we’ve also discussed previously, Mr. Dicum’s piece points out some of the persistent problems dogging the hospitality industry’s mass embrace of sustainability - both the lack of consistent standards by which it can gauge itself, as well as difficulties in evaluating the green claims made by potential vendors and suppliers. Nevertheless, Patti Baird, owner of the Cedar House, told Mr. Dicum that “[p]eople are responding very positively . . . [and] learning that you’re not sacrificing comfort in order to go green. I think it will become the norm in hotels. People will expect it.”
After flying under the green radar for some time, during the second half of 2007 there appeared to have been an increased recognition of the hospitality industry’s massive environmental footprint and the corresponding need for it to embrace sustainable business practices. Expect 2008 to be replete with green news across this critical industry sector.
Green Hotels Without Guilt (NY Times) Hotel Industry Struggles to Define Sustainable Standards (gbNYC) LEED Creep Archive (gbNYC) Napa Valley Hotel Demonstrates Dangers of LEED Creep (gbNYC)