Sustainable Design

As the “green” building movement gains momentum, there are increasing opportunities for hoteliers to take advantage of the latest innovations in sustainable design and incorporate them into their new-build properties,
says Mike Scott
The hotels of tomorrow will look, feel and operate vastly differently to those of today. They will have to. Increasingly under pressure to improve efficiencies, hoteliers are realising that good design in new-build properties can significantly reduce operational costs as well as their overall impact on the environment.

This is partly because there is still a perception that making hotels more sustainable must automatically diminish the guest experience, explains Nick Carrier of WATG, a design consultancy for the hospitality industry. “The challenge for the operator is to provide the same level of luxury, service and amenities for guests while making sure there is not a huge amount of waste and inefficiency.”

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to consumers, regulators and governments not only in developed markets, such as the US and Europe, but also in emerging markets. While more mature regions, such as the US, UK, Japan and France, will see growth in the hospitality sector of around 2%-3%, the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—as well as some South-East Asian countries, the Gulf States, North Africa and the West African coastline, will grow at 5% or more, Deloitte says in a recent report, Hospitality 2015. So it is in these latter markets that the greater opportunities to build more sustainable hotels will present themselves. For Jon Lovell, head of sustainability at property consultants Drivers Jonas Deloitte, “the key areas to focus on are energy, water and waste”.

There is much that the hotel sector can learn from the commercial property sector in this regard. At Ernst & Young’s main offices in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, for example, 65% of rainwater falling on the site is retained by the building’s groundwater storage system, and much of it is used to fill a large ecological pond that serves as a focal point at the offices’ entrance. In Australia, Melbourne’s ANZ Centre uses wastewater and river water in its cooling system, while 27% of the building materials used in the construction of the US Environment Protection Agency’s buildings in Arlington were recycled.

Further examples include One Westminster Place on London’s South Bank, which has layered glass walls that create an insulating environmental buffer zone; in summer, hot air from inside the zone can be extracted to create energy. In Norway, the headquarters of the oil company Statoil Hydro uses geothermal energy for heating. At the opposite extreme, the Cactus Project in Doha, Qatar, features large, energy-efficient sun shades that open and close depending on temperature, in much the same way as a cactus opens and closes its stomata.

However, it is important to recognise that hotels operate differently to office blocks, says Gregoir Chikaher, director of hotels and leisure at the building consultancy Arup. “Commercial buildings are only in use 10 hours a day while hotels operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But hotel guests are transient. When you design a hotel, you have to understand how it will operate and take that into account.”

Even so, hotels and other hospitality venues have a significant opportunity to reduce negative environmental impacts associated with guest rooms, event space, and general facility use by factoring in measures such as energy and water efficiency, waste reduction and siting so that transport to the hotel is more sustainable. “The opportunities for hospitality venues to integrate green building strategies into their design and construction make business sense and can be an important part of a company’s commitment to sustainability,” says LEED.

Such moves are not just about cutting operational costs, they are also about meeting demand from customers. Corporate clients have their own targets, says Laura Noctor, director for corporate responsibility at the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), “and they want to know that we are helping them to meet those targets”. For example, the USGBC’s guide for conference planners suggests they take account of the same five categories that make up the LEED standards when they consider venues—sustainable sites, energy efficiency, water efficiency, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Hotel operators who have used LEED standards in their design can show that they have addressed these issues.

While there are many opportunities to make existing buildings more efficient and sustainable, the scope is much greater when building new hotels. “The earlier you start thinking about this, the better in terms of making the most of a particular site,” says Townsend. “You can also make a huge difference to the impact of a development and its cost of operation simply through good design,” Lovell adds.

Savings can be built in to a project before a brick has been laid by thinking about passive design, for example. This uses the orientation of buildings to make the most of natural daylight or sunshading to minimise the amount of sunlight entering rooms at the end of the day, depending on what climate conditions the building is likely to experience. Such decisions can have a big impact on the amount of energy needed for heating, cooling or lighting.

“Over the 50-year design life of a hotel, the savings can be huge,” says Sidharth Bhatia, an associate at architects Reardon Smith. “It’s about optimising your use of the environment rather than working against it,” adds Carrier. “A lot of these decisions are made before you even go into the detail of the building and if you get them right, they can save the operator a huge amount of money. And these things are free.” For example, according to Woking Borough Council, one of the UK’s most sustainability-focused local authorities, fuel cost savings of up to 10% can be made by applying simple layout and building design principles.

Once details of siting and orientation have been decided, the actual design of the structure takes a lot of cues from local buildings, Carrier continues. “The vernacular architecture of the area will have developed over hundreds or even thousands of years and it will be designed in the way that it responds to the local environment and weather conditions. We aim to take those features and reinterpret them in a contemporary manner.”

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, the tourism sector as a whole contributed an estimated 5% of total global emissions in 2005, with accommodation contributing a fifth of those emissions. The report observes that: “Hotels rely on a wide range of natural resource inputs and generate significant waste through their lifecycle. Once built, buildings are expected to last for decades and major retrofits can be expensive.” So it is increasingly important that the industry designs with a lower impact on the environment. As Jefferson Thomas, senior design manager at Marriott International, notes: “Sustainable construction is a growing consideration for everyone in the industry.”

Regulations such as the UK’s Carbon Reduction Commitment (recently renamed the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme) and zero-carbon building regulations, along with the new green building codes in Dubai, tough building standards in Sweden and elsewhere around the world, are driving this concern. Yet sustainable construction also makes economic sense. “There is a direct correlation between environmental benefits and economic benefits,” says Martin Townsend, director of the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), a voluntary measurement rating for green buildings. “Sustainability is basically best practice.”

Green buildings use on average 26% less energy, emit 33% less carbon dioxide, use 30% less indoor water and send 50%-75% less solid waste to landfills and incinerators, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), which administers BREEAM’s main rival in construction standards, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). However, the hotel sector lags behind other parts of the economy, Townsend says: “For some reason, the drivers in the hotel sector do not seem to be as strong as elsewhere.”

Chain reaction

Most large hotel chains have moved away from building their own hotels relying instead on project developers to construct properties for them, often with franchisees running them. This is a boost for sustainability, says Bhatia. “Previously, if an operator had deep pockets, it would build whatever it wanted. Now we [architects] have two masters and that creates pressure to keep costs down. There is a move beyond “ego-architecture” that looks good but costs a lot to run.”

However, too much of a focus on squeezing the costs of construction can lead developers to cut corners when it comes to using the most sustainable materials and technologies; generally these require higher upfront costs, even if this means savings over the lifetime of the building. Despite this, an increasing number of hotel chains are bridging the gap between developers and operators through their own sustainability criteria to ensure that their premises are as green as possible—IHG has its Green Engage programme, for example, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts introduced a Sustainable Design Policy earlier this year, while Hilton Worldwide’s LightStay programme measures indicators across 200 operational practices, from air quality to food waste, to calculate the environmental impact at all its locations.

“We worked with the World Wildlife Fund to update all our design and construction standards so that our hotels are green from the very start,” says Leslie Shammas, executive director of design and construction at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International. Fairmont has minimum requirements for all its hotels and other measures that it asks developers to consider, she adds. It tries to ensure that materials are locally sourced and reclaimed or recycled during the building and operation of its hotels while also installing the latest in environmentally friendly technology.

The hotel group’s new LEED-certified Pittsburgh property, for example, features an enzyme digester machine to treat organic waste, natural ventilation units that supply 100% outside air in guestrooms, and carpets, fabrics and adhesives/sealants containing no or low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC). In addition, during construction, about 99% of the waste created was diverted from landfills, with around 900 tons of metals, concrete and other material reclaimed for other projects or recycled into new products.

This emphasis on the future is crucial, according to Andrew Mellor, head of architects PRP Environmental. Hotels must be adaptable and flexible to future fashions and lifestyle changes, technology advancement and climate change and they must reuse materials, he told the Sustain Worldwide 2011 conference earlier this year.

Environmental certification schemes, such as LEED and BREEAM, are being used by many companies both to retrofit existing hotels and to build new ones. Marriott has been working with the USGBC on its LEED Volume Programme and has become the first hospitality company to launch a pre-certified prototype that developers can follow to earn basic LEED certification or higher without having to make applications and pay fees on an individual basis. The company says that the prototype for its Courtyard brand will save roughly $100,000, six months in design time and up to 25% energy and water savings annually for its owners.

The certification schemes provide third-party verification that buildings are designed and built using strategies aimed at improving environmental performance. “These schemes are about educating people as to what is best practice and demonstrating that over the lifetime of a building it is not more expensive,” Townsend says.

The success of schemes such as LEED is reflected in the growth of certified buildings over the past decade. As of May 2011, according to the USGBC, 619 hotels were LEED-registered (awaiting certification), with 97 certified—buildings are only certified once the entire process is complete. In addition, 29 convention centres were registered, of which 17 have received a LEED certification. Compare that with only two projects registered in 2001, four in 2004, 14 in 2005, 20 in 2006, 74 in 2007, 132 in 2008, and 623 by October 2009. And Marriott, for example, plans to have 300 LEED-certified hotels by 2015, against 11 that are currently certified, with another 90 hotels aiming towards a LEED rating. Meanwhile, BREEAM has carried out 143 assessments in the UK and elsewhere around the world.

China’s building boom

In emerging markets, however, there can be less flexibility regarding sustainable construction. Deloitte reports that in China, set to become the world’s top tourist destination in the next five to seven years (according to the UN World Tourism Organisation), local hotel chains are planning to build hundreds of hotels. In the first quarter of 2011, according to Lodging Econometrics, China had 1,260 hotels in the pipeline, representing 62% of Asia Pacific projects and 70% of the region’s rooms. Evidence of China’s hotel development boom is supported by a news report in Global Times, March 2011, which said that industry experts are predicting more than 1,500 hotels will be built in China every year from 2010 to 2015. Wyndham Worldwide, the largest US hotel company in China with over 50,000 rooms, is planning a huge expansion in the country. “We expect to double that number in the next five years, and our long-term vision is to have a footprint in China that rivals our presence in the US,” Stephen Homes, the group’s CEO, recently said.

However, when it comes to building sustainable hotels in China, it seems the jury is still out. There are barriers related to a lack of law enforcement, and a concern in the country about the effectiveness of sustainable technology. This is exacerbated by the poor availability of China-centric case studies to support the business case for going “green”. The Building Research Establishment is working to tackle some of these concerns by opening an innovation park in Beijing. “We need to demonstrate to the Chinese market that these technologies do work,” says Martin Townsend.

In the longer term, China offers a great opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past and create sustainable, energy-efficient hotels. Especially with the central government acknowledging that the country does have environmental problems and the public becoming more aware of sustainability issues. The nature of its one-party system also means that once a decision has been made, there is swift action nationwide. In addition, the country can draw on a significant “brain power”, with large numbers of graduates produced every year, to be the great innovators of the future in the high-tech and clean energy industries.

Sustainable new-builds in the hotel sector

The hospitality industry is still working out which are the most cost-effective technologies and techniques to use when planning a new property. In the UK, for instance, Whitbread Hotels opened its first sustainable hotel in 2008 in Tamworth, Staffordshire, and “threw technologies at it just to see what worked, both in isolation and together,” says Ben Brakes, Whitbread’s environmental manager. These ranged from ground-source heat pumps (GSHPs) and natural ventilation to solar hot water and sheep’s wool insulation.

Tamworth was Whitbread’s pilot sustainable hotel, so the extra cost was “significantly higher” than for a conventional property. Yet when the group opened its second one in 2010 in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, it cost only about 10% more than an equivalent hotel without sustainability features, says Brakes, because many technologies had come down in price. “The cost of GSHP boreholes halved between Tamworth and Burgess Hill because more people are doing it and bigger companies are moving into the sector,” he adds. Other technologies, such as solar, have seen similar reductions.  Other measures incorporated into the design of the Burgess Hill hotel include rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling that provides 100% of the hotel’s toilet water use and saving 20% of the hotel’s entire water use.

Meanwhile, the Soneva Fushi by Six Senses Resort in the Maldives uses deep-seawater cooling that will reduce its energy consumption by a fifth and pay for itself in 3.2 years. The resort collects seawater from a depth of 300m, which is at a constant 12ºC, and pumps it to the surface to provide cooling for resort buildings. In Stockholm, the Rezidor Hotel Group’s Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel and Congress Centre is cooled by water drawn from a lake, which is stored in ice tanks in the basement. During construction, 20,000 sq m of materials were used from the building previously occupying the site. Other sustainable features of the hotel, which opened in January 2011, include glass facades that generate 1MW of heat energy daily, equivalent to 90,000 normal low-energy light bulbs.

Several new hotels are incorporating green roofs into their design, which help to insulate the building, reduce rainwater run-off and help with rainwater harvesting. Sometimes they can even help to feed the guests—the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto is just one of a number of hotels that have herb gardens on their roofs, while the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, North Carolina, produces its own honey from two beehives on its green roof.

IHG’s “Innovation Hotel” is a web application that showcases the company’s ideas of what the hotel of the future might look like and allows guests to highlight the ideas that they think are most promising. Many of the technologies featured are already in use, including GSHPs, low-emission paints, low-flow shower fittings and natural ventilation strategies, “There is a focus in everything we do on guest impact,” says Noctor. “It is important that what we implement takes their recommendations into account—we want to enhance our guests’ experience through sustainability, not to make their stay less comfortable.”

Another approach, which is being used by Lookotels, is to use modular construction, where rooms are built off-site in a factory and then transported whole to the site to be bolted together. Developers love it because it cuts the time taken to build a hotel from 18-24 months to less than six months as work on the rooms can take place at the same time as work on the site. Building hotel rooms in a factory also allows for higher environmental standards in areas such as airtightness, reduces waste and increases the opportunities for recycling, uses less energy and cuts emissions from transport from deliveries to the site.

Progress in achieving higher environmental standards in new builds has been slower in the hospitality industry than in many other sectors. Nevertheless, the industry’s green champions continue to demonstrate that good design and a long-term vision reap their rewards.

“Sustainability is not a trend – it is here to stay,” says Jefferson Thomas at Marriott International. “Any building owner who does not decide to build sustainably will be left behind not just from an environmental point of view but on performance, too, because it will cost them more to operate their hotel. Sustainability is really a good business decision as well as a responsible environmental position.”


Leave a Reply