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Development & Operations Lessons from Three LEED Platinum Certified Hotels

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NEW YORK—The common misconception that LEED is too hard and too expensive was dispelled a few weeks ago at the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show in a panel entitled, “Gone Platinum! A First-Time Ever Gathering of Leaders of Three LEED Platinum Hotels.” The only three LEED Platinum certified hotels in the United States at this time (not including the one LEED Platinum hostel) were represented. The panel was truly the pinnacle of sustainably developed hotels in the United States, with Jim Treadway, G.M. at Bardessono (Yountville, Calif.), Lynee Sauer, Business Manager, Hotel Skyler (Syracuse, N.Y.) and Dennis W. Quaintance, CEO, Proximity Hotel (Greensboro, N.C.) discussing how and why they achieved this level of verified sustainable development.

Each of the properties are different in their market and segments, with Bardessono in the new construction ultra-luxury segment, in a market (California) that expects sustainability, the Proximity as a new construction upper upscale hotel in Greensboro—a non-traditional “green” market—and the Skyler in a heavily higher-education and medical driven market. “We have an adaptive reuse property that caters to the business traveler,” said Sauer.

Starting out with the value of reaching LEED Platinum, Sauer said the Skyler, with its strong meeting and business travel segment driven from the local university and medical centers, that they receive a lot of RFPs requesting sustainability information about their property. “We were seeing a lot of sustainability inquiries from government organizations,” stated Sauer. The Proximity has received a large amount of positive PR, which they believe translates into bookings. At Bardessono it is a mixed bag. They have bookings with groups because of their LEED Platinum status. “About 20 percent of our group business is because of our greenness” and “in Northern California it was a no brainer to pursue LEED. There is an ROI component to it,” said Treadway. On the other side at the ultra-luxury level many of the transient guests don’t want to perceive they are giving up any element of their experience, so the team doesn’t lead with sustainability, it is just how they operate every day. Treadway said, “We cannot ask our guests to save energy for us.”

‘LEED Platinum by Accident’

At the Proximity hotel Quaintance said, “We ended up getting LEED Platinum by accident. We considered, ‘Is there a green angle in every step in the process.’” Sustainable development is really part of the DNA of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels. Quaintance said, “A LEED point should be the product of a good decision.” Quaintance also surprised the audience with a clear message that nothing they did were emerging technologies or particularly innovative. In fact he said, “If we would have done this in Germany, we would have just made code,” and “We are not making progress here (in the United States) when it comes to sustainable hotels.” Treadway made a similar point, stating that they sourced a lot of the systems and technology in Europe and that sustainability is further advanced in Europe compared to the United States. He said, “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

Also discussed was the value of LEED compared to other sustainability certifications or designations, such as Trip Advisor. Quaintance said, “We pay a lot of attention to TripAdvisor but LEED Platinum is the real deal.” That was the shared sentiment of the panel that LEED is considered the highest level and the most trusted certification in the marketplace. With the final thought from Quaintance being something for everyone to think about: “The best thing we can do for the built environment is to build things that people don’t want to tear down.”

This group of leaders has lessons for everyone working in the hospitality industry, whether development, consulting or operations. Creating sustainable hotels and resorts is simply a better way to do business and there is a quantifiable return on investment.

Dina Belon is director of the Seattle team at the internationally recognized green building and sustainability consulting firm Paladino and Company. Dina’s team promotes sustainable advancement in design, construction and operations of the built environment. Dina is responsible for elevating real estate owners’ portfolios through effective sustainability strategies that are result-driven and have measurable impact. As a director, she leads business development, strategic planning, program development and change management spanning markets from commercial real estate, higher education, to retail and hospitality.

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