Name: Stefan Mühle
Title: General Manager, Orchard Hotel and Orchard Garden Hotel, San Francisco
Company: Portfolio Hotels and Resorts
Number of years with company: Five
Primary responsibilities: “They range from overseeing the daily operations of all departments—housekeeping, maintenance, sales and marketing, front office—to being an owner representative. I also have a responsibility to the guests. There are days I spend most of my time with the guest service department. No two days are alike.”
What keeps me motivated: “Knowing that what I am promoting here is not just a business decision but a way of life.”
My hotel or company’s most significant accomplishment so far: “Doing away with chemicals in housekeeping and maintenance.”
Our biggest challenge ahead: “To get as many LEED points as possible prior to our opening and then continue to operate in a green fashion.”
SAN FRANCISCO—Two years ago, when the owner of the Orchard Hotel in San Francisco decided to build another hotel just a couple hundred yards down the street, Stefan Mühle suggested that it be built as a green hotel—one that would qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design-New Construction (LEED-NC) certification. Today, that new property—the Orchard Garden Hotel—is just a month shy of opening as California’s first hotel to be built to LEED-NC standards.
Mühle, who is general manager of the Orchard Hotel and who also will hold the same title at the new property, has played a major role in helping to ensure the new 86-room hotel will be as environmentally friendly as possible.
“I used the Orchard Hotel as a training ground for staff,” Mühle says. “We started with simple things—recycled paper, for example. We also retrofitted housekeeping carts with different bins for recycling.”
Mühle, who was born in southern Germany and grew up in Berlin, also launched a program to phase out cleaning chemicals at the Orchard Hotel. To ensure that was the right decision, housekeepers first ran a test to compare the effectiveness of organic cleaning products versus traditional products. One group of housekeepers used green cleaning products from Watsonville, Calif.-based Sierra Environmental Technologies and another group used other chemical-based cleaning agents.
“We concluded that the Sierra’s citrus-based products cleaned just as well and were cost effective,” Mühle says. “The respiratory issues and dry hands caused by the chemical cleaners also went away. Our housekeepers were skeptical at first but we let them make the decision. Once you let them participate, it instills a great deal of pride and makes them a much better team.”
Recycling and green cleaning will be practiced at the new Orchard Garden Hotel when it opens in mid-September. That hotel also will have an innovative guestroom energy management system. A guestroom key card will control each room’s lighting and mechanical systems. After opening the guestroom door with the key card, the guest will place the card in a discreet box in order to turn on the lights and other room systems. When exiting the room, the guest will simply take the key card, automatically “turning off” the entire room, with the exception of an outlet that can be used to charge laptops and other devices.
“The system will save 20 percent in energy costs,” Mühle says. “The builders installed and designed it.”
The keycard system will cost the owner approximately $37,000 but Mühle says it will pay for itself in just two years. He adds that this addition to the hotel will help customers buy in to green practices.
Air Quality, Other Issues Considered
The Orchard Garden Hotel will feature organic bathroom amenities, be 100 percent nonsmoking, and feature furniture made from wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Carpet throughout the hotel, purchased from Los Angeles-based Bentley Prince Street, will release a very low level of volatile organic compound emissions. The cement part of the hotel’s infrastructure includes fly ash as an ingredient and as many materials as possible were reused during construction. The new Orchard Garden hotel also will feature a 56- seat restaurant and bar.
“Our goal is to have the restaurant in synch with the rest of the operation and as organic as possible,” Mühle says.
Many of the new hotel’s initiatives will earn it points on its way to LEED-NC certification. Mühle says he expects the Orchard Garden Hotel, which is managed by Chicago-based Portfolio Hotels & Resorts, to achieve certification within a month after opening.
Even though the Orchard Garden Hotel is breaking new ground in regard to green construction, Mühle says eventually such practices will be standard.
“It is not a fad,” he emphasizes. “It is here to stay.”
From a marketing standpoint, the two hotels will be promoted as sister properties that share similar green strengths. The Orchard Garden Hotel already is pushing a “Love Your Mother (Earth) package as an opening special.
In a press release announcing the Orchard Garden Hotel, Graham L. Hershman, c.o.o. of Portfolio Hotels & Resorts, said studies prove that LEED-certified buildings have lower operating costs, higher employee productivity and happier, healthier occupants.
“We are extremely proud to set a nationwide example by being the first to open the next generation of hotels,” Hershman says.
Go to The Orchard Hotels for more information.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.