Going for the Green

It's no surprise that for most travelers location is the prime factor in the lodging buying process. But it may surprise you to learn that, in a study by the American Automobile Association, travelers mentioned eco-friendly or green programs among the top 10 items on their list of hotel features.

While the public and commercial building sector has seen growth in the adaptation of green building principles in new construction, the hotel industry has been slower to adopt the cause. That, however, may soon change, suggest architects and operators, as successful green-focused hospitality developments demonstrate solid benefits, both from an economic and guest relations standpoint.

Case in point: the just-completed Hilton Vancouver in Vancouver, WA. The 226-room hotel, owned by the City of Vancouver and managed by Hilton Hotels Corp., offers an array of upscale amenities and extensive convention and event facilities, all wrapped up in an eco-friendly design that maximizes sustainability while minimizing impact on the environment.

Designed by the Portland, OR architecture firm Fletcher Farr Ayotte, the hotel faces the redesigned Esther Short Park, with its extensive green space and facilities for public gatherings. It's also across the street from the Vancouver Farmers Market, which draws an average of 8,000 visitors each weekend day to downtown Vancouver. The area includes a recently-developed, pedestrian-friendly community of shops, cafes, offices and housing.

The hotel's design features glass canopies at the entrance, a two-story lobby, grand staircase and large windows in the lobby, restaurant and bar overlooking the park. The design visually integrates itself into the neighborhood environment, and a warm, neutral color palette was chosen for the interior. The interior spaces establish a Northwest theme through the use of local, handcrafted artisan lamps in the hallways and meeting rooms, and natural, long-lasting materials including brick and stone.

Beneath the appealing façade is a myriad of sustainable design strategies, including sensors that adjust the climate control systems when rooms and hallways are vacant, a white heat-reflecting roof, water-efficient landscaping and guestrooms with operable windows for maximum comfort and flow of fresh air. And, to support the community and save on delivery/energy costs, local vendors were used whenever possible.

The Hilton Vancouver is currently registered with the U.S. Green Building Council and is, according to the architects, scheduled to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating following documentation, which would make it the first LEED-certified major hotel in the country, claims Hilton.

Since the council began the voluntary process five years ago, 231 buildings nationwide, mostly businesses, have been certified and more than 1,900 are in the process of seeking certification, according to the council.

What does this mean for the hotel developer? Outside of the positive image it projects to the public, does going green make sense economically? Does it reduce long-term operating costs?

According to industry experts, yes; the initial upfront cost to construct green can be as much or more than so-called conventional methods, but money is saved in the long-run, through reduction in energy use in addition to health and productivity benefits.

At the Hilton Vancouver, the extra costs were “peanuts,” says Mike Shea, architect and project manager. “It was a big surprise to everyone, especially us. For this project the construction budget was $30 million. We put together a package of sustainability measures and told the City of Vancouver we think we can get you LEED certified at the basic level, and save you a lot of energy, for about $125,000 extra. That figure covered mainly some energy conservation measures and documentation costs.

“We did some energy modeling which showed that our $125,000 investment had a payback of about eight months,” continues Shea. “With the systems we put in we project we're going to save about $85,000 a year in energy costs. We're really happy about that.”

Shea says his firm often pushes for sustainability in its projects, and the great thing about this project was that “there are a lot of things we'd do regardless that turned out to be eligible for points in the certification process. For example, the location of the hotel: it's on a transit line in a developed area which wins some points.” Other credits were won for flushing the building out with fresh air for two weeks prior to opening, using low emission paints, carpeting and furniture — things that don't cost extra to the developer and that operators are happily on board with, too. During construction, indoor air quality was protected by shrink wrapping the duct work.

Shea strongly suggests (and Hilton requires) a commissioning process prior to opening where a third party thoroughly tests all the HVAC, mechanical and electrical systems — anything with a programmable logic aspect to it.

“The hospitality industry is focused on operations (in regards to conservation) and they do a good job with that,” says Shea. “But there's a lot more they can do. The developers haven't had much interest up until now, because they didn't need to and may have considered it a cost point. Our work shows it doesn't need to be a cost point.”

DOING THE RIGHT THING

But it's not just the savings that sells the concept. There's a lot of value in “doing the right thing.” Eco-consciousness is growing, especially among the younger generation. They'll actively seek out businesses that promote green.

This has already been the case for the Hilton Vancouver, relates General Manager Gerry Link, even though the property hasn't actively promoted its green features, except to those meeting planners that specialize in “green” meetings, and there are those that do just that. “There are groups and companies out there that try to do business that are environmentally conscious,” says Link. And while guests might not realize or care about the hotel's green mission, they do like features like the operable windows in their rooms, says Link.

Don't neglect to educate your employees on the features and benefits of a green hotel, advises Link, which are many, and can be somewhat technical. The hotel provides employees a pocket information card that details the hotel's leading-edge technology features, its work to obtain LEED certification and what that means.

The success of this project might just impact future Hilton projects, suggests Link. “I think it will open some eyes,” he says. “As a company we've had some green initiatives (towel/linen reuse, water reuse, etc.), but it's been up to individual owners to determine whether they wanted to go green in design and construction. I think this project will raise awareness of the benefits of green construction.

“We've been given an amazing design in a beautiful building and we're just trying to operate it as efficiently and effectively as possible,” says Link.

Adds Shea: “While being LEED-certified is important and a market differentiator, there's nothing odd about the design that one might attribute to sustainability. It just looks like a very nice hotel.”

Visit www.LHonline.com for more information and related articles.

THE BIG IDEAS

The Hilton Vancouver integrates some of the most advanced environmentally-friendly features found in the hotel industry today. Key energy-saving and waste-reducing strategies implemented in the hotel's design and construction include:

Reduced energy use: Alternative fueling stations are available for electric cars. Minimal parking spaces are provided, encouraging employees to find alternative methods of transportation to work. Additionally, the hotel will run on 30 percent less energy than local codes require. CO2 sensors recognize when people have left rooms and hallways that aren't in use and turn off the heating and cooling system. Administrative offices are also equipped with sensors that turn off the lights when the offices are not in use.

Stormwater management: The property's landscaping uses local native plants that need little water during the area's long, dry summer season. Stormwater from the building is funneled to underground dry wells, which provide a natural filtering mechanism for the pollutants that have accumulated on the roof or around the building.

Fighting urban heat: A white reflective roof on top of the hotel helps it dissipate heat and reflect it back into space, rather than adding to the heat island effect that can afflict urban areas.

Interior: All guestrooms feature operable windows to allow fresh air into the building and control indoor pollutants. Many of the building materials, including steel and particle board, were purchased from local vendors within 500 miles of the hotel. Interior paint, carpet and carpet glue are low-emission materials.

Green construction practices: 75 percent of the construction waste from the hotel was recycled. The building was constructed with recycled steel and recyclable brick.

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