Name: Wen-I Chang
Title: Founder and President
Company: Atman Hospitality Group, Inc., South San Francisco
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO—Wen-I Chang, founder and president of Atman Hospitality Group, Inc., based here in South San Francisco, is a lodging industry groundbreaker. He is not only talking about building green hotels, he is doing it. In fact, his first environmental property—the 133-room Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa in American Canyon, Calif.—opened in October. Chang also is developing the 133-room Atman Hotel in Anderson, Calif., a 141-room Merced Center Hotel in Merced, Calif., and a property in Mt. Shasta, Calif.
Each of Atman Hospitality Group’s properties will pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Chang expects his Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa to be certified either Gold or Silver in the next few months.
Chang, who developed hotels with well-known brand names prior to starting his Atman Hospitality Group, has had to overcome many obstacles to make his dream of creating an independent green hotel chain come true. In fact, eight years ago, an attempt to develop the United States’ first green hotel in Half Moon Bay, Calif., fell flat when residents rejected the idea. Development on his Merced Center Hotel has been delayed almost a year because of problems with contaminated soil, but the project will soon move forward.
Challenges aside, what Chang has accomplished with his Gaia Napa Valley hotel has been impressive. Architects Mickey Muennig and Todd Jersey designed the hotel on 4.6 acres with waving roof lines and a swan lake that uses recycled water. Yuan Lee, a muralist, painted a wetland scene in front of the property and a vineyard scene on the side. Shirley Lippman helped coordinate the hotel’s interior space that includes touches such as 100 percent recycled tile.
Other environmental features of the Gaia Napa Valley:
• Chemical-free landscaping;
• Energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system;
• Guest van that uses alternative fuel;
• Plates on guestroom doors that include the name of a wild animal, bird or flower;
• Carpeting made from recycled materials; and
• Scrap metal and recycled wood incorporated into exterior design.
Moments of Inspiration
From his days as a youth growing up in Taiwan, Chang says he has been inspired by nature. He recalls growing up on a mountain and being able to watch thousands of egrets and herons with the ocean as a backdrop. About 10 years ago, while dining in a restaurant in Santa Cruz, Calif., he had a life-changing moment when he had to ask a waitress for a glass of water during a water shortage. That incident, he says, made him ask himself what other things he could be doing to make a positive environmental impact. He was also inspired by a statement in Paul Hawken’s book, Ecology of Commerce. The statement:
“With every living system on the earth in decline, can we create profitable, expandable companies that do not destroy, directly or indirectly, the world around them?…Business is not just a reasonable agent for such change: it is the only mechanism powerful enough to reverse global and social degradation.”
Chang admits that others advised against building a green hotel but he decided it was a venture worth pursuing.
“I am breaking new ground,” he says.
Without the support of a franchise affiliation, Chang says it is taking longer for reservations to roll in at the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa but he expects the spring and summer season to be much busier.
Marketing His Green Message
In an article that Chang recently authored and released to the lodging media, he talked about the need for a societal shift from selfishness and separation to a reunion with nature. Throughout his Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa property, he reminds guests about this need. A kiosk at the hotel will soon educate guests about how to conserve resources and reduce their carbon footprint.
This year, Chang hopes to publish a book about his Gaia Napa Valley experience. It will be called, “First Green Hotel—a Journey.” He says despite all of the grim news lately about climate change and the lodging industry’s slow pace in greening itself, he is hopeful about the future.
“I am an incurable optimist,” he says. “Once we are determined to do something, we will do it.”
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.