A Greener Hospitality Industry in the Golden State

A Greener Hospitality Industry in the Golden State

California's design and construction industry, for the most part, has embraced the concepts of "green" or sustainable design. Yet in many respects, the green movement -- particularly within the hospitality market -- is just beginning to take off.

Sustainable design is a means of maintaining our natural resources through responsible design that minimizes a building's negative impact on the environment, or perhaps even by creating a net improvement to the environment. Twenty years ago, entrepreneurs in green design began to show up in the marketplace, yet were often considered part of a passing trend. Ten years ago, when designers, innovators and entrepreneurs began finding real solutions for an environmentally preferable built environment, the movement was still considered an idealistic concept available only to those willing to spend more to be green.

In the 21st century, because sustainable technologies have arrived and the marketplace is ready to accept them, sustainable design practices are quickly becoming reality. Today, these new principles are in high demand in the commercial, civic, educational, residential and other sectors, while demand continues to grow in the hospitality market.

Setting a precedent nationally is Philadelphia's Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel, which opened in 2002 as one of the first environmentally smart hotels in the continental U.S. The 193-room Sheraton is the first hotel in the continental U.S. to provide fresh, filtered air, 24 hours a day to each hotel room, independent of the heating and cooling systems. The hotel's centerpiece is an atrium lobby with a 40-foot-high bamboo garden, chosen because it takes in carbon dioxide and produces oxygen at a 35 percent higher rate than any other plant. The flooring in the lobby area is made from 93 percent-recycled granite.

California's hospitality industry is in a unique environmental position. Tourism operators often rely extensively on locating near unique environments to attract tourists and generate income. Unfortunately, hotel developments that accommodate these tourists have become the nodes for environmental degradation due to inefficient building design and wasteful operating practices. Thus, hotel operators find themselves in the role of damaging the resource that sustains their business.

One recent California project to incorporate green elements was the $16 million expansion and renovation of The Dana on Mission Bay, a 270-room waterfront hotel in San Diego. Reclaimed redwood from demolished buildings in the U.S was incorporated as a prominent canopy element at the entrance to the hotel. Also, 200-year-old teakwood, which had been reclaimed from torn-down huts in Thailand, was refurbished for use as structural beams and wood accents throughout the hotel. The endangered teakwood is certified through the Forest Stewardship Council, which coordinates the development of forest management standards to address economic, social, and environmental concerns about declining forestland amidst a growing marketplace.

Statewide, numerous hotels are certified "Green Hotels" through the Green Hotels Association, an organization committed to supporting and promoting ecological consciousness and "greening" of the hospitality industry. These hotels include the Big Sur Lodge in Big Sur, The Green Gables Motel in Burney, Mountain View Hotel & Spa in Calistoga, Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Red Bluff, and the King George Hotel in San Francisco. Green features at these hotels range from energy-efficient HVAC systems, to such water-saving devices as toilet-tank fill diverters, which save about 3/4 gallon of water per flush and are invisible to guests. Hotel owners and operators can learn more about becoming a Green Hotels member online.

LEED Leading the Integration Process

The USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program sets a national standard for achieving high-performance, energy-efficient, and economically viable buildings that enhance occupant well being through the application of sustainable design principles. Specific goals of sustainable design include:
  • Improvement in overall energy efficiency
  • Site plans and layouts that are "earth friendly"
  • Conservation of materials and renewable resources
  • Enhancement of indoor environmental quality
  • Preservation of water
The LEED program offers opportunities for designers and builders to earn "points" towards LEED certification by meeting criteria in five categories, which mirror the five specific goals of sustainable design; plus a sixth goal that encompasses innovation and the design process. Currently, many municipalities across California, including San Diego and Los Angeles, require city-owned new construction projects to obtain LEED's Silver certification or better.

Sempra Providing Green Incentives

In California, adding to the sustainable design momentum, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and three other Sempra California utilities have developed the statewide "Savings By Design" incentives and design assistance program for building owners and design teams. In SDG&E's service area alone, 152 new projects were enrolled in "Savings By Design" in 2002. Once built, these projects are expected to result in ongoing savings of more than 22 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year -- enough power to supply 3,671 homes per year.

Where to Start?

For builders new to the world of sustainable design, working with an architect who is well versed in the sustainable design process, as well as materials and methods, is key to executing a sustainable project efficiently and effectively. The architect should facilitate collaboration among project team members to ensure project success.

Both designers and builders can learn more about the USGBC's LEED program and its requirements online. More information on California's "Savings by Design" program is also available at online.

The bottom line is that sustainable design in hospitality projects is an inevitable trend in today's market that, according to all indications, will only continue to expand. In the near future, sustainable design will be requested and/or required for many projects. Plus, when considering near term payback and lifecycle costs, sustainable design may quite possibly emerge as the most cost efficient design approach for hotel designers and builders.

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Robert L. Noble is CEO and design principal of Tucker Sadler Noble Castro Architects. He also serves as chair of the San Diego chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and as chair of the AIA San Diego Urban Design Committee.