Defining the Eco-Urban Resort

By Lawrence Adams Principal, ForrestPerkins | December 22, 2013

The combined development principles of two prominent trends in the hotel resort industry, the eco-resort and the urban-resort, has resulted in a new ecologically conscious hotel sub-type: the Eco-Urban Resort. The application of green technology and practices has moved from far-flung eco-resorts to inner city hotels. The attraction that guests feel to vacation while promoting environmental responsibility is now being supported for those who choose to vacation at urban resorts and seek the amenities afforded by those lodgings while contributing to the health of our planet.

The Whole Earth Catalog, founded by pioneering environmentalist Stewart Brand in 1968, provided a sourcebook of tools for living off the land for a generation who embraced the principles of ecological responsibility. It provided detailed technical information on alternative energy and fuel sources including solar, wind and geothermal energy. The catalog included detailed information on recycling, organic agriculture, and other non-polluting eco-friendly technologies. Many of those tools evolved to be the mainstay of today's sustainable technologies and have become primary means to reduce our carbon footprint on this planet.

The Eco-Resort

The world's first eco-resort has been credited to Stanley Selengut, a New York civil engineer who developed the 114-unit Maho Bay Camps in the US Virgin Islands in 1976. This pioneering development utilized many ecological principles still applied today in eco-resorts but it was his second development, Harmony Studios, also in the Virgin Islands, where Selengut expanded the concept of ecotourism by incorporating sustainable technology and principles throughout. Harmony was designed to run on solar and wind power and leave its hilly oceanfront site as undisturbed as possible. Floor tiles were made from slag and discarded glass, carpeting was made from plastic bottles. Rooftop solar hot-water and photovoltaic collectors augmented by windmills provide power. Passive systems such as cross-ventilation, heat-resistant glazing, and a wind-scoop at the roof peak help to make the interiors comfortable. Gutters catch rainwater which is then stored in cisterns built into the foundations for later use. Interior wallpaper is made from recycled newsprint. Occupancy sensors detect lack of motion and turn off power in unoccupied rooms.

The last two decades have seen ecotourism flourish in wilderness retreats, mountain lodges, remote shoreline sanctuaries and secluded desert hideaways. Eco-resorts such as Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa in Chile with its innovative water conservation methods in one of the driest places on earth; Saffire Resort that utilized sound principles of site repair in healing a badly damaged wildlife sanctuary on a remote Tasmanian shoreline; and the Singita Pamushana Lodge with its arboreal architecture set on a rocky perch in a rich Zimbabwean forest, all provide excellent examples of how ecologically responsible development has become marketable in the hospitality industry.

The Eco-Urban Hotel

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.