Rethinking Sustainable Hotel Design
Tom Ito in Hospitality, Hotels, Los Angeles, Sustainability

I recently read a New York Times article suggesting that the still-shaky economy has caused many hotel owners and operators to scale back or postpone sustainable upgrades to their properties – even as meeting planners and travelers are increasingly demanding sustainable practices. We’re all experiencing budget cuts and are learning to do more with less, but I can’t stress enough what a missed opportunity this is for hotels that aren’t yet going green: sustainability and economy are not mutually exclusive.

Last year we partnered with PKF Hospitality Research and Thompson Engineering to survey several hotel properties across the U.S., and uncovered that hotels designed or upgraded with lower lighting power density (watts/sf) showed an average of 37% lower energy costs ($/sf/yr). Similarly, hotel projects designed or upgraded with Variable Primary Flow HVAC systems showed an average 26% lower energy costs ($/sf/yr) than projects that do not have Variable Primary Flow. Given that energy costs are typically a hotel’s highest expense after staff salaries and benefits, these savings are not inconsequential.

In our own experience designing Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia – an adaptive reuse of The Architect’s Building originally built in 1929 – over 90% of the interior spaces have access to daylight in order to reduce the need for electric light, and water consumption is reduced by at least 20%, among many other cost-saving solutions. CityCenter Las Vegas was built from the ground up with over 94% of the demolition and construction waste being recycled, and the development now enjoys more than 30% in reduced energy costs. Finally, the new Fairmont Pittsburgh was designed with a focus on locally-sourced recycled and recyclable materials, and on aggressive energy efficiency – including Energy Star equipment and appliances that on average use 20-30% less energy than non-certified equipment, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and guestroom occupancy sensors that reduce unnecessary use of lighting and HVAC systems. All three properties have achieved, or are anticipating, LEED-Gold certification.

More of our research and case studies are available here. On October 7th, I’ll be moderating a panel discussion about sustainable hotel design and operations at the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit. Come join us in Ithaca, or look for a recap of our conversation here in the coming weeks – it’s a dialogue that will continue in our industry for years to come.

Tom Ito is a principal in Gensler’s Los Angeles office and a leader of the firm's global hospitality practice. Providing overall direction for all hospitality projects, Tom assures that the practice achieves sustainable design, innovation and strong client service on each project. Tom launched Gensler's hospitality practice with the renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel and has since developed the practice on an international scale with clients throughout Asia, the UK, the Middle East and the Americas. Contact him at
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