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Green Travels Well

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Hotel owners have been environmental advocates for 20 years.


Ken Brenden


If you travel and stay in a hotel, you have certainly noticed those information cards in guestrooms urging reuse of towels and linens, signs requesting modest thermostat adjustments, compact-fluorescent light bulbs, and low-flow shower heads. These items are all part of the growing movement in the lodging industry toward operational sustainability, which focuses on improvements in waste management, energy efficiency, and water conservation.

The movement is not new. Fairmont Hotels’ Green Partnership program traces its commitment to sustainability as far back as 1990. The Green Hotel Association (GHA), Houston, begun in 1993, today publishes a Catalog of Environmental Products for the Lodging Industry and Guidelines and Ideas, suggesting green operating techniques.

Environmental practices at the Bellagio hotel, Las Vegas, include LED bulbs in slot machines, motion sensors in office areas, a towel and bed-linen reuse program, and a water-treatment system that saves millions of gallons of water annually. The hotel has reduced electricity consumption by millions of kWh through ongoing HVAC-efficiency projects.

The green momentum has recently accelerated. More industry-oriented advocacy groups, information clearinghouses, and specialized expositions have been cropping up. State and local organizations promote green lodging. In Chicago, the Green Hotels Initiative challenges hotels to obtain Green Seal certification. The city leads the country with the most Green Seal-certified hotels.

While operational steps (such as postponing towel replacements) can save 5% on utility costs, according to the GHA, and serve an educational purpose, the biggest potential lies in working sustainability into renovation plans and ground-up designs for new construction. Energy conservation clearly represents the lowest-hanging fruit for any sustainability initiative. According to California’s Green Lodging Program, the hospitality industry spends $3.7 billion a year on energy, with electricity accounting for 60% to 70% of the utility costs of a typical hotel.

Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and adding motion and occupancy sensors to reduce power use helps reduce energy use. Installing energy-efficient fenestration can pay the largest single dividend.

Upfront costs and payback expectations

The first question is always how much sustainable construction adds to the project budget. Many developers estimate 10% to 20%. Actually, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building costs an average of 2.5% more upfront than traditional construction, according to a 2008 study sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Washington. And the cost is coming down.

As USGBC notes, sooner or later all properties will be sold, and any green property will demand a higher price because of its enhanced value due to lower utility bills/sq. ft. Even commercial insurers are recognizing the trend and introducing special products for green projects. Premium credits range from 5% to 10% in recognition of certain lower risks for green buildings.

Renovation and new construction often prove to be less expensive than anticipated, and promise long-term savings and improved marketing opportunities. The key is proper cost-benefit analysis that compares the initial cost to the lifecycle cost, taking into account the length of service life, energy savings, and upkeep.

New construction and retrofits

The nation’s first LEED Platinum hotel is the Proximity Hotel, in Greensboro, NC. The eight-story, 147-room, 118,000-sq.-ft. boutique hotel features large, wide windows situated in walls comprised of pre-cast concrete sandwich panels with a 3 1/2-in. foam core. The eight-story, 147-room, 118,000-sq.-ft. boutique hotel features large, wide windows situated in walls comprised of pre-cast concrete sandwich panels with a 3 1/2-in. foam core. Each faade has rows of 50-sq.-ft. windows with perpendicular mullions, that ensure 97% of the hotel and restaurant is daylighted. In addition, natural light reduces energy demand by reducing dependency on electric lighting as well as the heat load that electric lighting places on the air- conditioning system.

To compensate for solar heat gain, high-efficiency insulating low-e glass was used. The Proximity’s green features added about 6% to the project’s $28-million budget. Energy efficiency and reduced water consumption are resulting in savings of $140,000/yr.

A recent Holiday Inn renovation included retrofitting windows in 218 guest rooms and several common areas. All windows were replaced with new units constructed of a vinyl curtain-wall system and low-e glass. The new units have a U-factor of 0.29, a key feature of the renovation that resulted in energy-cost savings of 12.4%.

Industry incentives

Besides operational savings, there are tax incentives. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a tax deduction to $1.80/sq. ft. for expenses incurred for energy-efficient building expenditures, including improvements to the building envelope. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 extended those benefits through Dec. 31, 2013. To be eligible for the deduction, projects must comply with ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2001. In retrofit projects, the performance of new equipment and components is compared to that of baseline equipment for new buildings, not the existing equipment being replaced.

Hotel developers and management companies see operational savings in green hotels. Energy and water consumption is lower, for example. Green practices enhance a building’s real estate value too.

Sustainable standards and practices are offered by various associations and government programs such as Energy Star for Hospitality, the USGBC’s LEED certification, and the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes program for commercial facilities. A newer initiative is a property certification program from the Global Green Hospitality Consortium (GGHC), Naples, FL, which offers upfront recognition for implementation of green best practices by lodging establishments.

Third-party validation or certification of products’ green credentials, return-on-investment claims, technical specifications, features, and functions “will further help hospitality property owners make educated purchasing decisions and avoid lengthy and costly trials for both vendors and property owners,” GGHC notes.

In this regard, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, Schaumburg, IL, is developing a point-system-based green certification program for identifying the green credentials of fenestration products. The program helps designers and specifiers select products that will maximize contributions to whole-building green rating systems. The programs allow products of any material to be evaluated on the proverbial level playing field.

Developers should note, however, that ineffective installation and lack of commissioning could be barriers to realizing the benefits of green construction. Noted a recent study by the energy-efficiency consulting firm McKinsey & Co., New York, “developers have little incentive to ensure that contractors install equipment optimally or commission buildings properly. As a result, some buildings perform below the levels called for in building codes. Research has found that as many as 20% to 30% of buildings designed to meet the ASHRAE standard did not meet the building shell and lighting requirements.”

The advent of new commercial building codes, in the pipeline for local adoption in more and more jurisdictions, may change all of that with stricter, performance-based inspections.

“Only two states have adopted the latest commercial building code, while 13 states have either not adopted a statewide code or continue to use codes that are more than three years old,” the McKinsey study explains. “The 2007 ASHRAE standard represents a 32% efficiency improvement over the 1980 level. States adopting the most recent ASHRAE standard, 90.1-2007, would reduce energy consumption in new buildings by 11% relative to the current code levels.”

Green efforts are starting to reap dividends, not only for the environment but also for the bottom line. Advanced glazing and framing technologies, backed by reliable performance certification, ensure that fenestration products are playing a vital role.