Breaking Down the Sustainable Hotel: Energy Efficiency

by josh

So far we’ve talked about two aspects of sustainability: community outreach and sustainable construction management. Today, we’ll add one more element to the mix to further break down what makes a hotel sustainable: energy efficiency!

In America, energy efficiency is a well-known face of the green movement. With US EPA initiatives like Energy Star, regional water conservation campaigns, and fluorescent light bulb displays in every IKEA, Americans are often asked to conserve and make their homes more energy efficient.

A common phenomenon in hotels now is to encourage guests to reuse towels and sheets to conserve water. However, real sustainable hotels take it a step further, using creativity to build energy efficiency into the building’s architecture.

Why is energy efficiency important?

Today, we understand that our resources are finite and damaging to the environment. But did you know that according to the US Energy Information Administration, almost 70% of our electric power is generated with fossil fuels? Most power plants still run on coal and the damming of natural rivers, which has a profound impact on local ecosystems and landscapes. If we can use these resources more efficiently, we will put less stress on our environment.

What are some ways hotels increase their energy efficiency?

The ideas architects and engineers have come up with in this field are both numerous and impressive! The goal is to improve energy use both inside and outside of the building.

Some of the more common efficient designs include:

  • Responsible landscaping: Landscaping with native plant species eliminates the need for extra irrigation—these plants can survive on their own in the local climate. If irrigation is required, it is designed using systems that make every drop of water count—loss of water due to evaporation and overwatering are avoided.
  • Resource collection: Solar panels, rain collecting cisterns and fertilizing with composted organic waste are just some ways hotels harness their own resources.
  • Passive solar design: Who needs light bulbs and climate control when you have the sun? Rooms can be lit entirely by natural light and heated or cooled with blinds or shades. Passive solar design describes any design that uses the sun’s energy without using solar panels.
  • Sealing and insulating: When heat or air conditioned air escapes the room, that bit of energy has been wasted. Special insulating windows retain more heat so that rooms don’t get too warm in harsh sun or too cold in overcast weather. And although pushing through them with luggage can be a challenge, revolving doors conserve more energy than automatic sliding doors—they help seal off that giant hole in the wall known as a door.
  • Educating the guest: The architecture may by green, but are the guests? Sometimes a gentle reminder from the concierge to turn off lights and air conditioning when not in use helps conserve a lot of energy. Hanging up your towels and reusing them during your stay is also worth the painstaking effort of figuring out the towel rack.
  • If the guests won’t listen…: Some sustainable hotels have taken the guests’ energy use into their own hands. Motion-activated light switches, air conditioners that turn off when windows are opened, and water efficient laundry machines have all been invented to help compensate for a guest’s energy wasting faux pas.

Innovations in Sustainable Design: Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Located in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort was recently certified by Sustainable Travel International as an Eco-Certified Luxury Hotel, the second hotel in the world to receive such a distinction. Tabacon prides itself on being 100% carbon neutral and they owe a lot of their carbon sequestration to energy efficient design.

To reduce electricity use, fluorescent lighting is used, solar panels have been installed in the gardens and paths, and timers turn off general lighting. Low-flow shower heads and plumbing reduces the amount of water used by guests.

However, the key to Tabacon’s carbon neutrality is its water heating, or lack thereof. The resort’s hot water comes from an underground reservoir replenished by a natural hot spring; no extra energy is required to heat any of the hotel’s water. This is a perfect example of sustainable resource collection—the Earth’s geothermal heat is collected and used instead of electrically-generated heat.

Header photo is a cc licensed flickr photo shared by davipt

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