Combining classic luxury with modern sensibilities, an increasing number of historic hotels have implemented practices to maintain and support the environment around them. As environmental concerns become increasingly mainstream, historic and luxury hotels and chains are finding new ways to cater to eco-minded clients.
Boston Park Plaza Hotel's Towers King Guest Room
“Many guests expressed their desire to reduce their overall carbon footprint on the planet,” says Greg Clark, director of sales and marketing of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. “The hotel is simply responding to our clients’ requests.” To that end, the hotel has taken numerous measures to save energy and resources. A bi-fuel converter allows the hotel to purchase the most efficient natural resource to provide energy to the building. Compact fluorescent bulbs are used in all guest rooms and suites, and motion detectors conserve energy when public areas are not in use. An energy-management system turns off heating and air conditioning in unoccupied rooms, and also detects when an occupied room is vacant, automatically setting the system back to room temperature. The front desk uses a paperless check-in/checkout policy, and the hotel makes an effort to purchase only recycled or recyclable products. To save water, the laundry department features a system in which the water is used three times before being disposed.
The property offers incentives to guests who take some environmental responsibility for their stay. For example, the “Go Green Package” features a bike tour around Boston, while the “Hybrid Package” offers complimentary overnight valet parking to guests arriving in hybrid cars.
Elsewhere in Boston, The Lenox Hotel also features numerous eco-friendly practices. “The Saunders Hotels Initiatives to Nurture the Environment (SHINE) were started in 1989, long before being green was mainstream,” says Elaine Strunk, director of green. “This program grew from a paper recycling program at one hotel [and] is now a comprehensive program with more than 90 initiatives at five different hotels.” Some features at the Lenox include wind power that offsets 100 percent of the carbon emissions associated with the hotel’s electricity use, a towel and linen reuse program, waterless urinals in the men’s room (saving 180,000 gallons of water per year), low-flow shower heads and toilets in the guest rooms, green cleaning products and environmentally friendly Aveda amenities in each guest room.
The Lenox also offers an “Eco-Chic” package that targets the environmentally conscious travelers. “This package comes with an ice-skating or bike-rental option, a walking map of Boston, nutritional snack (granola bar) and a pass for public transportation,” Strunk says.
The Fairmont San Francisco takes several steps to improve the environment
A Tradition of Environmentalism
The Fairmont San Francisco has quietly maintained environmentally friendly practices for years, borne of the Fairmont chain’s origins in Canada’s national parks. In fact, the company quite literally wrote the book on how to run an eco-luxury hotel, creating a “Green Guide” to environmental partnerships in 1990.
“Many of the hotel companies in the world actually purchase our guide now in order to implement many of these policies and procedures,” says Regional Director of Sales & Marketing Michelle Gilman. Fairmont now offers these guides to any hotel that requests them, asking only for the cost of shipping. The San Francisco hotel uses compact fluorescent lights, low-flow toilets and nontoxic cleaning products in all rooms; outsources its laundry service to a company that recycles approximately 72 percent of the water and uses organic chemicals rather than traditional bleach; recycles paper, plastic, tin, cardboard and aluminum; and, like the Lenox, offers free parking to guests with hybrid cars.
“We want to be sure that we’re embracing green and environmentally friendly travel from the perspective of what’s important to our customers,” Gilman says. Fairmont hotels use surveys and direct communication with guests to make certain that they live up to their customers’ expectations. “We really wanted to hear what was important to them, and how we could best set that up in terms of our practices.”
The Fairmont San Francisco's Lexus Eco-Suite
Any large-scale change to a historic building will face challenges, and the costs of these improvements may seem prohibitive. “Environmentally friendly choices can be more expensive if you look at the upfront cost alone,” Lenox Hotel’s Strunk admits. “However, by calculating the ROI (return on investment), these choices are much more economical. Many initiatives have a payback in two years or less.”
“Another challenge is overcoming certain stigmas people have about environmentally responsible choices,” she continues. “For instance, some people think a low-flow showerhead won’t provide a quality shower. There have been such great improvements in the technology that this is no longer the case.”
Combining Old With New
Balancing the classic and contemporary can also be a challenge for historic hotels. “There are things we can’t do because we are a historic building,” Strunk says. “We do our best to integrate the two. For instance, we renovated the exterior of the building and were able to recycle six tons of brick and terra cotta, as well as install efficient windows. In this renovation, we were able to keep the look and charm of the building while creating a tighter building envelope, which saved energy by reducing the heating and cooling loads of the building.”
Conversely, the Boston Park Plaza’s changes were much less obvious. “Most of our green practices are applied toward decreasing energy use and conserving a greater amount of resources in the hotel’s day-to-day operations,” Clark says. “This does not directly impact the hotel’s classic historic qualities.”
The Fairmont, which Gilman describes as “classic by design, contemporary in spirit,” balances its dual nature by “always looking at what’s next, and what’s cutting-edge, and what the customer is looking for with being classic in architecture and classic in our traditional service and luxury service.”