Ultimate Oxymoron

Hotels are now worse for the planet than ever before. Recently built properties use twice as much energy per night as hotels built
50 years ago. Even so-called “green hotels” are often merely less-bad alternatives. Is hotel design inherently unsustainable?

Andrea Pinabell
Director, Environmental Sustainability
Starwood Hotels and Resorts

We believe that economic growth and societal well-being are inextricably tied to the health of the environment. One key way we are working toward improving is through the 30/20 by 20 program, which is aiming for a 30 percent reduction in our energy use and a 20 percent reduction in our water use by 2020, across all of our hotels. We’re tracking our progress on a list of initiatives at each of our properties, such as installing high-efficiency lighting and low-flow faucets, and establishing a sustainability champion and council. Currently, we have over 80 percent compliance with these initiatives. But we acknowledge that we’re only in the early stages of developing and implementing the many changes that will be necessary to achieve these vital goals.

George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg
Yabu Pushelberg

Everything we do as humans is inherently unsustainable! However, we can help to alleviate the exhaustion of resources through the choices we make when we are designing a hotel. We must be more cognizant of the “how” and “what” of our designs. In our studio, we have been taking a less conventional approach to green design by designing locally, thinking more about where the materials come from, and questioning how processed they are. On our recent hotel projects, we have sought the work of local artisans, which, combined with our designs, gives the property an entirely unique feel, and, at the same time, nods at handmade, local flavors. It’s our version of the locavore approach—but with design and materials instead of food.

Scot Horst
Senior Vice President, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

Let’s not look so closely at one part of a system that we lose sight of greater issues. It’s true that almost every building built today—not only hotels—uses more energy than a building of 50 years ago and, of course, much more than a hundred years ago. We’re a high-energy-consuming generation, plugged-in and turned-on all day and night. There is much we can do to change this, but any improvement requires vision and excellent design, as well as operational diligence and constant attention. I propose that we frame the question differently: which hotels are honestly confronting the issues of energy, water, transportation, waste, health, and comfort, and what role do hotels play in a sustainable future? Rather than focusing on what’s wrong with the system and concluding that our efforts are in vain, we should recognize genuine improvement.

Recent Viewpoints