How Tech and Sustainability Go Hand in Hand: An Independent Hotel’s POV
ESG (environmental, social & governance) is becoming more important to consumers with every passing day. In recent years, the hospitality industry has begun to take small step towards improving their carbon footprint and implementing sustainable changes (high efficiency shower heads and faucets, lights that turn off automatically when a guest is no longer in the room, HVAC systems that can be programmed to lower or raise the temperature in guest rooms while they sit empty, etc.). However, during HT-NEXT 2022, Bruce Becker, owner, Hotel Marcel took to the stage to make the case that the hotel industry needs to make much larger changes if it really wants to impact the industry.
Becker is an architect and developer with a background in multi-family buildings. But in 2020 he decided to purchase and renovate a New Haven, Conn., historical landmark. The corporate office building, designed in 1969 by Marcel Breuer for Armstrong Rubber Company, had been sitting vacant for approximately twenty years, but Becker had a vision to turn it into a net-zero energy boutique hotel. And that’s exactly what he did.
“Little did I know how complicated the hotel world is, but I also didn’t have the baggage associated with being immersed in it,” he explained to HT-NEXT attendees. “So, I could take a fresh perspective in looking at every aspect of it. Our hotel has broken all the rules. It doesn’t rely on any fossil fuels for its operations. It’s a LEED Platinum-certified building. And it’s the first Passive House certified hotel in the United States.”
[Interesting side note: According to Becker, there are 7,000 LEED Platinum-certified buildings in the United States, but fewer than 10 of them are hotels.]
During his presentation, Becker listed the various technologies it has implemented to help that net-zero dream come true. From simply insulating the building better to using air source heat pumps for domestic hot water to solar panels to an all-electric kitchen, his team found a variety of ways to conserve or create energy. But according to Becker, turning this building into such a high-efficiency hotel wasn’t particularly difficult or even expensive to do.
“Everything we’ve been doing and have done can be done by any other hotel this year,” he said. “It’s just a matter of willpower.”
Sustainability Isn’t Expensive
In fact, when discussing the costs associated with this project, he revealed that if a hotelier really needed or wanted to, they could finance all of the incremental costs with CPACE (Commercial property-assessed clean energy). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, CPACE “is a financing structure in which building owners borrow money for energy efficiency, renewable energy, or other projects and make repayments via an assessment on their property tax bill.”
According to Becker, there are other energy incentives from the government that hotel owners can take advantage of, as well. For instance, in January the government rolled out at 30 percent investment tax credit or a 2.6 cent per kilowatt-hour production tax credit that implement solar systems.
“Hotels may also qualify for cash payments from their local utilities if they agree to reduce power use at specific days and times,” Becker added. “For example, if we agree 12 times a year not to operate our electric dryer between the times of 4PM and 6PM, we get a $100,000 check from the utility. Why? Because, managing those peak loads means they can afford not to pay people to fire up plants during peak times which can be very expensive. So, this actually becomes a revenue stream for us.”
And Becker reminded the HT-NEXT audience that saving a $1 in operating costs is actually much better for the hotel’s bottom line than creating $1 of revenue. Why? Revenue has taxes associated with it and a cut from that dollar has to go to the brand, and other various entities. However, saving money ends up just being pure profit.
What Sustainability Really Means
According to Becker, a commitment to sustainability is really a commitment to abandon fossil fuels and to use electricity instead.
“Electrification is the same thing as sustainability,” he said. “It’s not a tag that says: ‘If you don’t want your towels laundered hang them up and help us save on water use,’ or bulk dispensers of shampoo. Sustainability is about not using fossil fuels.”
And Becker emphasized the need for the hotel industry to commit to reusing old buildings rather than building new ones.
“You don’t have to build a new building to have something runs efficiently,” he explained. “In fact, making a new building isn’t efficient – it has a huge carbon impact.”
This is something that future generations of travelers are well aware of and care deeply about. Becker spoke about how he was recently at the University of Connecticut where he was told that students have been protesting on campus regarding potential plans to build new buildings.
“They were protesting because they have environmental concerns,” he explained. “They’re worried that their parents and grandparents are making the Earth uninhabitable. These individuals will be guests in our hotels soon. We may find that hotels that use fossil fuels won’t be attractive as destinations to these individuals.”
[To hear a global brand's point of view on this same topic, also presented at HT-NEXT 2022, visit: How Tech and Sustainability Go Hand in Hand: A Global Brand's POV]
To watch the educational session as it happened at HT-NEXT, click on the video below!