Breaking Down the Sustainable Hotel: Building Green & Sustainable Site Management

6.18.2010
by josh

An expressway construction site in Germany
cc licensed flickr photo shared by Claus Rebler

Last week, we talked about community outreach being a fundamental attribute of sustainable hotels. This week, we consider the direct impact of sustainable hotels on their local environments; specifically, the physical construction and location of the hotel.

Have you ever walked into a hotel and wondered where everything came from--the flooring, the ceiling, the walls, even the furniture? Or have you wondered what it looked like before the hotel, the roads, and all the people arrived? If you haven't, you were probably just distracted by the modern architecture, impressive lobby, and the excitement of being in a foreign place. And if you have, you're probably worrying way too much, but at least you have an eye for sustainable site management, or how a hotel impacts the environment before any of the guests arrive.

Why is site management important for sustainability?

An important term in environmental circles is ‘cradle-to-grave’ analysis, the assessment of a product’s environmental impact during its entire lifetime, from its creation to its disposal and deterioration. ‘Cradle-to-grave’ stresses that it’s not enough for a hotel to host energy and water efficient features and practices if the construction or siting of the hotel was irresponsible. Site management targets a sustainable hotel in its ‘cradle’, infant phase, ensuring responsibility from the hotel’s inception.

What are some ways hotels practice sustainable site management?

Responsible construction practices, low waste production, and local building materials are key factors in sustainable site management. The site location is also important, but usually harder to assess since it requires an extensive knowledge of the local ecosystem.

Some things to look for during your hotel research:

  • Construction waste: What happened to all the construction waste? A survey done by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimated that the average construction project creates four pounds of waste per square foot—which equals a lot of waste for huge hotels! Was this waste mostly recycled or dumped? Was there an effort to completely cut back on waste production?
  • Construction management: Construction sites are exposed to the elements 24/7. Were measures taken to prevent construction debris from entering local water sources via runoff or erosion? Also, who was in charge—were local contractors hired?
  • Local materials: Quite simply, where did the hotel’s structure come from? Local is always better since it means that no excess energy was expended to import materials from far away and that the hotel contributed to the local economy. What’s even better is if the hotel’s design incorporates pre-existing features such as rock walls, trees, caves, and the like.
  • Renewable materials: Were the materials used rapidly renewable and biodegradable, like some types of timber, bamboo, and other plant-based materials? Finite materials like old-growth timber and petroleum products (aka plastics and asphalt) are harsher on the environment.
  • Site selection: Does the hotel’s location disrupt the local ecosystem, increase the amount of surface runoff, or destroy an important habitat for the local wildlife? If the hotel is in an urban environment, is it close to public transportation outlets for the guests?

Innovations in Sustainable Travel: Proximity Hotel, Greensboro, North Carolina

Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina has the distinction of being the first LEED Platinum-certified hotel in America, a distinction that has allowed it to claim the title of “Greenest Hotel in America”. And it’s a well-deserved title given the amount of ingenuity and effort put into diminishing the hotel’s carbon footprint!

87% of the construction waste was recycled, saving our landfills from gaining 1,535 tons of debris. The building materials are largely made up of recycled waste, such as reinforced steel, asphalt, and concrete that contains fly ash, a waste product of coal power plants. The hotel also has bikes that guests can ride for free, so that they can explore the five miles of Greensboro greenway without getting into a car.

In terms of caring for the site’s natural environment, the hotel restored 700 feet of a nearby stream, placing nearly 400 tons of boulders and 18 logs so that the seasonal flood cycles of the stream wouldn't be affected.

And the list goes on and on! Of course, as a true sustainable hotel would, the Proximity Hotel has gone beyond just sustainable site management and also has implemented practices that harness renewable energy sources, reduce energy use, and improve the socio-economic conditions of their area.

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