Idaho hotels tackle waste, sustainability

Sharon Fisher//July 17, 2017

Idaho hotels tackle waste, sustainability

Sharon Fisher//July 17, 2017

A bathroom in the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum?
A bathroom in the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum. The hotel’s owner, the Aspen Skiing Co. in Colorado, has a goal of reducing its energy use 25 percent by 2020. Photo courtesy of the Aspen Skiing Co.

It’s not unusual to find notes in a hotel room asking you to conserve by hanging up your towels and not having your sheets changed every day. But some Idaho hotels are kicking their efforts to be green up a notch.

SpringHill Suites by Marriott, in Coeur d’Alene, was the first hotel in Idaho to be certified to comply with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) specifications. LEED-certified buildings are designed to use less water and energy and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional buildings.

“Hotels are huge wastes,” admitted Tucker Qualls, general manager of the facility, which opened in August 2013. “The amount of electricity and water, just to keep the building up and running with its PTAC [packaged terminal air conditioner] units, is a pretty heavy load.”

Ownership chose this facility for LEED certification due to its location, Qualls said. “The world is turning to make sure we’re more eco-friendly,” he said. “Coeur d’Alene is very art-driven, very community-focused on being involved. We get a lot of business from Canada and Seattle, places where this consciousness is making a big impact.”

How much this translates into improved booking rates isn’t clear. “People ask questions, but there isn’t a ‘LEED-certified’ book,” just lists of hotels that consider themselves to be sustainable, Qualls said. “It’s so easy to be ‘green-friendly,’ but just because you’re doing single-stream recycling doesn’t mean you put the steps into place to be a non-drain on how the world works.”

The USGBC said in February 2016 that 1,600 hotels making up nearly 1 million square feet had registered for LEED certification, nearly four times the number of existing LEED-certified hotels at that time. The group recommends that hotels promote sustainability by providing environmentally friendly transportation, such as shuttle programs, for guests and staff; use native plants or undisturbed natural habitat when possible; and pave non-roof surfaces with highly reflective materials or open grid pavement to prevent heat island effect and water retention. The group also recommends rooftop solar water heating systems, solar photovoltaic roof panels or green roofs for improved storm water management and reduced energy use.

sqft-july-14-2017-story-blurbA major part of LEED certification is simply ensuring that a hotel has the right level of monitoring in place for systems such as water management and electricity, Qualls said. But even with that, it isn’t necessarily easy to measure how much energy the hotel saves, because comparing apples to apples is so difficult. “It’s hard to compare because the hotel next door has 101 rooms, and we have 118,” he said, so the electricity and energy use is going to be higher because of the larger number of rooms. Amenities also make a difference. “Our gas usage is actually higher than next door,” he said. “It could be because we have outdoor fire pits, or the amount of laundry we’re consuming.”

And the process is ongoing. For example, the hotel is now switching out the halide lighting in its parking lots for light-emitting diode (LED) lights, Qualls said. “That wasn’t initially in the certification, but it’s something we’re looking to do” because of the amount of electricity the move is expected to save. “I think we’ll see a major decrease in electricity use once we remove 350 halide lamps.” The company also designed the parking lot to keep as many of the existing trees as possible. While it could have scraped the lot flat and then planted new trees, “it’s not the same as trees that have been growing there for 60 or 70 years,” he said.

Other sustainability components in the SpringHill Suites in Coeur d’Alene include:

·       Single stream recycling in the lobby

·       Aerators to reduce water use in the showers

·       Car-charging stations, including one specifically for Teslas – an amenity that is attracting more traffic to the hotel, Qualls said

·       Bike rentals, convenient to the hotel’s location along the Centennial Trail

·       An employee garden

·       A fountain made of recycled material from construction sites

·       Landscaping to help reduce the use of water

Sustainability is a Marriott-wide initiative, and the company continues looking at ways to make itself more green, Qualls said.

Another Idaho LEED hotel is the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum, run by the Aspen Skiing Co., based in Roaring Fork Valley, Colo. The hotel, which opened last December, is in the process of securing LEED Silver certification. “It involves everything from recycling to paint, finishes, and glues, and reclaimed wood,” said sustainability director Matthew Hamilton.

Matthew Hamilton
Matthew Hamilton

Aspen’s goal is to reduce its carbon footprint 25 percent by 2020, compared with its 2000 baseline, and is about halfway there, Hamilton said. For example, hotel fans and kitchen hoods are variable speed, and it uses sensors in the pool deck and patio area to ensure the snowmelt system is only operating when snow is present.

While the hotel itself is too new to have benchmarks, it is designed to save 16.1 percent in energy costs compared with a baseline hotel design. Aspen also works with local utilities to reduce its carbon footprint, though it hasn’t gone so far as to put solar panels on the roof of the building. “We use the power supplied to us.”

Sustainability goes beyond the hotel walls. “What makes the Limelight brand stand out is how we engage in the local community,” Hamilton said. For example, it worked with the Environmental Resource Center to do snowshoe tours in the winter. In addition, employees and guests are encouraged to donate to provide grants to local nonprofits.

“Going in the direction of sustainable is a no-brainer,” said Tucker Burton, public relations manager for the Aspen Skiing Co. “It’s part of our brand. You see it at all levels. We want to stay in business forever, and we want to be good to the land that provides us so much.”

Costs and benefits

It’s clear that consumers are asking for green construction in their hotels. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, lodging visitors request sustainable resources, evaluate the indoor environment for health concerns and place a preference on sustainable buildings.

It’s not as easy to figure out when sustainability projects save money.

“As you can imagine, the answer is: It depends,” said Matthew Hamilton, sustainability director for the Aspen Skiing Co. that runs Ketchum’s Limelight Hotel. Since 2012, Ketchum city code has encouraged green, high efficiency,  health buildings for new residential construction and additions.  It is based on the National Green Building Standard, with a minimum compliance level of LEED Silver.

Hamilton said the hotel company believes reducing its environmental impact and practicing sustainability initiatives leads to higher employee satisfaction and a better customer experience.

Marriott puts out an annual sustainability report, but its metrics all focus on how much power or water was saved, not on whether the company saved money on the sustainability efforts.

A 2014 study from Cornell University, “The Impact of LEED Certification on Hotel Performance,” found that hotels did gain a revenue benefit by being LEED-certified, but it was unclear whether the benefit lasted beyond two years because most hotels’ certification was relatively new. The study, which has not been updated, did not examine whether the LEED improvements themselves were of financial benefit, or because people were more likely to stay at a LEED-certified hotel.