Hotel Review: Living the Luxury American Green

As much as I want to write a told-you-so article filled with recriminations at GM for what seemed (to me) like an obvious SUV error, that’s being written all over the place by even snark-ier folk then I.  No one wants to hear me crowing about that, anyway… the fall of an American Industry has, paradoxical, made me feel a tad patriotic in a protective mother-hen sort of way.   (Not patriotic enough, however, that I can’t gloat a little ’bout the Death of the Hummer).

Meanwhile, I failed to post on Friday — and the LtAG brain trust didn’t pick up the slack.  Our bad.  It was a long weekend, filled with wedding things for me.   But, while travel times made posting problematic, the results were glorious, and very interesting from an LtAG perspective.

I spent my weekend here:  The Proximity Hotel, in Greensboro, North Carolina.   The Proximity (so named, I think, for it’s strong locavore leanings in all things from restaurant food to wall-art) is the country’s first LEED Platinum certification luxury hotel.  Possibly the world’s first, though since the world doesn’t use the LEED… that might be a moot point.

LEED Platinum is really impressive.

It means, basically, that every hoop that the LEED regulatory held up, Proximity jumped through.  Out of 110 possible “points” for doing things green, Platinum rating means that they earned more then 80 of em, in categories including water quality, materials used, energy & atmosphere, and indoor environmental quality.  And let me tell ya, the list of stuff is way more then just superficial “lets put out recycle bins” action, too:

  • Recycled 87% of the construction debris (1,535 tons)
  • Sourced over 40% of the building materials locally
  • Restored 700 feet of an adjacent stream
  • Installed the first regenerative drive elevators in North America, in which the elevator generates electricity on the descent that is then used for the ascent
  • Used elaborate energy recovery systems to provide large amounts of fresh outside air to all guests
  • Sourced 90% of the furniture locally
  • Commissioned local artists and craftspeople for original art in every guestroom, a cantilevered reception desk, spiral staircases in the lobby, furniture and accessories
  • The building uses 39% less energy than a conventional hotel/restaurant by using ultra efficient materials and the latest construction technology.
  • The sun’s energy heats hot water with 100 solar panels covering the 4,000 square feet of rooftop (enough hot water for a hundred homes). This heats around 60% of the water for both the hotel and restaurant.
  • Guestroom shelving and the bistro’s tabletops are made of walnut veneer, over a substrate of SkyBlend, a particleboard made from 100% post-industrial recycled wood pulp with no added formaldehyde.
  • “Education Center” for sustainable practices includes tours of our “green” hotel for guests, sustainable practices symposia, and outreach programs for students of all ages.
  • Bicycles are available for guests to ride on the nearby five-mile greenway.

That’s just the stuff that I find the most impressive, too.

I love the conceit that I am a hard nosed seeker of truth, trying to find green washing in every corner.  I have to say, though, this hotel was impressive enough that I just couldn’t do it.  The design of each room poured natural lights everywhere (even into the bathroom in some cases).  The low-flow showers were still luxurious.  Each room had light switches, but also a Master Control switch so that the entire room’s circuit could be turned off on your way out.  I really think that they got this one right in terms of hotel experience, and as far as I can read, they got it right in terms of environmental thinking too.  I loved every second of this place, and I’d have to say it’s because someone took the time to think about everything.  Really think about it.

Environmental Efficiency = Cost Efficiency.

Many of these improvements (things like the solar panels on the roof, or the super-efficient water use) means that the Hotel costs a lot less to run — meaning more of the cost to stay there can be put into things like excellent service, but also into their owner pockets.  Mmmm, smart business.  Tastes like more I told you so.  From a Proximity press-release.

The rigorous testing for a variety of water saving products is paying off. The hotel and restaurant is on track to use two million gallons less water during the first year, saving more than $13,000 by spending less than $7,000 in additional construction costs.

“I’ve come to believe that it is an urban legend that employing sustainable practices with new construction is too expensive,” concludes Quaintance. “We are very happy with the results, including the costs and returns, of everything that we did. It’s not easy — but it’s not hard. And it’s definitely worth it.”

Capitalism didn’t break this!  It’s a luxury hotel, and as such the average room runs something in the $200-$250 range.  That’s expensive for someone like me, but that’s pretty much going to be true for all the Luxury hotels out there.  It sort of proves the thesis we’ve been working with: you CAN still rock the luxury/American Dream and the green at the same time with a little for thought and some good architects.  Hot showers and Big Screen TV’s are a check.  Get on board, Ritz-Carlton!

The question mark is now moving down the economic ladder.  Can this game be played with lower margins, with people holding a slimmer wallet?  My sense of the Proximity is that the costs are about the same as any other Luxury hotel: that is to say that premium you are paying is for luxury, not necessarily for green.  I would love to see other hotels start to follow this model, on a luxury end but also on the more economical tip.  I realize that the cost of investment is high, but its dropping every day.  If we’ve learned anything from GM, it should be that we should stop with the easy to make, easy to break plastic crap.  Even if it’s just a motel eight, I bet solar panels on the roof can still help you out with heating and hot water costs.

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Who wrote this one?  TheAmericanGreen - The founding member of the American Green institute, and a New York based producer and writer hoping to make the jump from "freelancer" to "documentary producer". Read more from this author