“Sustainable Stays”: How Green Hotel Design Improves Occupancy and Operations

By Cristine Henderson Associate, Hoefer Wysocki | January 27, 2019

Sustainable design has made its way into the upper hierarchies of a hotelier's priorities as it has proven to correlate with increased revenue. Benefits of the "greening" of the hospitality industry result in higher occupancy rates, coupled with efficient and profitable operations. To say that sustainability has become desirable among modern consumers and hoteliers alike, would be an understatement. As previously witnessed in other business sectors, sustainable measures have made a lasting impression on the hospitality industry.

Forward-thinking hoteliers incorporate sustainable practices into their operations as early as possible to remain ahead of the curve and achieve higher results, where both sustainability and profit are concerned. Marriott, for example, has committed to reduce water consumption by 15%, carbon by 30%, waste by 45%, and food waste by 50% by 2025. Marriott began setting sustainability goals in 2008 and has documented their progress every year since. As an industry leader, Marriott has set an example to incorporate waste-reducing measures as a standard business practice. These measures are environmentally sound, help improve operations, and also resonate with consumers, particularly Millennials.

A recent Nielsen global online study found Millennials are the demographic most willing to pay a premium for sustainable features. Generation Z follows this trend with 72% reporting they would pay more for products or services from "companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact." However, it is important to note that while these demographics highly favor businesses who engage in sustainable practices, they still expect plentiful amenities. This is especially true of Millennials.

Millennials are also noted as being twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues, and also expect brands to not only manage their impact but communicate it. Still not convinced? Studies show that 43 million U.S. travelers are "ecologically concerned" and 70% of travelers prefer hotels with sustainability credentials. The buying power of these travel-savvy, well-informed consumers is paving the way toward a more sustainable hospitality industry, which continues to experience strong growth.

According to a study by CBRE, demand for hotels is expected to rise by 3.8% in 2019. This increased influx of travelers also tends to seek hotels that integrate technology with enriching experiences in environmentally sound spaces, all while incorporating sustainability. Today's consumers simply want more for their money. While sustainability credentials can be acquired through simple practices such as recycling and reduced water consumption, hotels are seeking more innovative methods through which socially responsible practices can be channeled. To achieve these results, hoteliers are increasingly turning to architects and design professionals to create sustainable structures. Sustainability has extended into the overall construction and design of the hotel itself.


Currently, Hoefer Wysocki's hospitality team is designing several sustainably-minded hotels. Among them is the dual-branded Element and Aloft complex that is part of One North, a new mixed-use development in North Kansas City, Missouri. Element, originally launched as an "eco-friendly" brand, will follow TripAdvisor's GreenLeaders Program, which recognizes hotels that are committed to sustainable practices including recycling, water efficiency, and alternative energy. This designation also helps consumers identify sustainable hotels. Sites like TripAdvisor, which enable easy comparison shopping, are responding to consumer preference for sustainable hotels – properties with higher GreenLeaders rankings are likely to experience more demand.

TripAdvisor's GreenLeaders program is a great example of how sustainability measures have become an industry-wide initiative. All hotels wishing to join the Greenleader Program must apply through TripAdvisor to receive this designation. If accepted, the hotel will receive one of four statuses: bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. A higher status corresponds with a greater impact of the property's green practices.

The design of Element incorporates several sustainable features, including a centralized water filtration system, ensuring every guest room has filtered water. This system not only eliminates the need for a water filter in every guest room, but also streamlines equipment installation and maintenance. Water is also conserved through specification of water-saving plumbing fixtures, including low-flow shower heads and automatic faucets.

Holiday Inn Express

Another prime example of an energy-efficient hotel is the Holiday Inn Express in Overland Park, Kansas. Also designed by Hoefer Wysocki, the hotel, which is part of Bluhawk, also a large, mixed-use development, adheres to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This code is recognized by U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED certification requires a sustainable site, water efficiency, energy efficiency, sustainable materials and procedures, exceptional indoor environmental quality, and innovative design. There are many ways hotel designers can achieve LEED certification, but strategies will generally involve proactive planning and environmentally responsible design.

Bluhawk Holiday Inn Express will integrate sustainable elements such as LED lighting, a proven and cost-effective component that is quickly becoming the new standard. Additionally, adhering to IECC standards allows a hotel to reduce its carbon footprint and increase operational efficiencies by using less energy to light, heat and cool the facility. A high-efficiency HVAC system minimizes the hotel's environmental impact while also reducing operational costs. Energy usage was further reduced in areas required to be consistently lit, such as stairwells. By strategically designing daylight into these spaces, use of artificial lighting is kept to a minimum. As more and more hotels are likely to adopt a preference toward the use of natural daylight, the hospitality industry will become more sustainable overall.

Travel Global, Think Local

To achieve a truly sustainable hotel, more far-reaching practices must be implemented. Standards such as energy efficiency are important, but the materials used are also a key consideration in sustainable hotel design. Sourcing renewable materials, especially those native to the area in which the hotel is built, is an easy way to reduce environmental impact as well as transportation costs. Often these materials are more durable, cost effective, and provide a luxurious, yet natural aesthetic that complements the regional context. The Element design team selected a local limestone for the façade. This native material provides a durable finish, which will reduce maintenance costs over the life of the building. These materials contribute to longevity and create a more timeless and natural appearance.

This coincides with the propensity of leisure travelers seeking a one-of-a-kind, authentic, and hyper-local experience and adventure. While guests want a clean and comfortable place to stay, they also want to experience local culture. Using natural materials is not only more sustainable but also allows guests to feel more connected to the local area. These materials can be complemented through color palettes that reflect the region's naturally occurring elements.

Use of natural materials has also extended to the hotel's exterior. Landscape designers are proponents of native plants, which are fundamental to sustainable landscape design – they are well adapted to the local climate, require less water to thrive, and sustain wildlife habitats. This is especially important for desert and wetland regions as well as those subject to extreme heat or cold.

Sustainability Moving Forward

Recycling, non-toxic detergents, bulk soap, organic bedding, and towel reuse are the more visible aspects of a sustainable hotel. Beyond the optics however, there are tangible operational and financial gains that result from sustainability. For example, water conserved as a result of low-flow fixtures can reduce a hotel's overall water bill, which accounts for as much as 10% of its utility bills. A commitment to sustainability established during design can be carried through to operation, especially regarding the conservation of water and electricity.

Green Suites Hotel Solutions reports that a linen and towel reuse program can save as much as 6,000 gallons of water and 40 gallons of detergent monthly at a 150-room hotel. Fiscally, a linen and towel reuse program can also generate substantial electricity savings through the reduction of washing and drying. A study by American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) shows that a typical 300-room hotel can generate approximately $24,000 in savings on utilities.

Sustainability is here to stay. Not only is it a driving force among consumers, but it reduces costs and increases building longevity. Sustainability measures are now viewed as progressive and cutting-edge in today's eco-minded consumer market. Hotels that do not strive to attain a sustainability-minded image will be viewed as archaic, and simply behind the times. In order to achieve a truly sustainable hotel, far-reaching design practices must be put into place. Practices such as reduction of energy are important, but the use of what materials are used in the design of the hotel are also a key element in creating a more sustainable building. Hospitality design should enable guests to rest and recharge while ensuring the impact on the environment has been carefully moderated.

Ms. Henderson Cristine Henderson has nearly 20 years of experience managing projects in the commercial, hospitality, healthcare and civic sectors. She combines her passion for process and efficiency with her love of design to deliver high-performing buildings that enable her clients to achieve their goals. Based in Kansas City, Ms. Henderson is currently working with major hospitality brands across the country to design new hotels that better articulate the client's brand vision. Seamless integration of her client's brand into the design is among the hallmarks of her portfolio. As a project manager at Hoefer Wysocki, her responsibilities include direct involvement in project design during the schematic design phase through construction document production, submittal review and coordinating with contractors during construction administration, interior finish selection, detailing and coordination, and furniture selection and specification. Cristine Henderson can be contacted at 913-307-3700 or Cristine.henderson@hoeferwysocki.com Please visit http://www.hoeferwysocki.com for more information. Extended Biography

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.