Passion Points: Green/Eco
Samantha Denny, of Hotel Terra, a new hot spot in Jackson Hole —and one of North America’s only LEED-certified hotels—signed on to the project out of a deep personal passion. A former Four Seasons employee, Denny believes that properties like Terra, whose mission statement spells out a commitment to sustainable design and green technology, are the future. She spoke to Indagare about the ins and outs of eco travel and what visitors should ask and know before planning a trip to a “green” hotel.
What is your definition of a “green hotel”?
A hotel that is locally staffed; is either LEED certified or has been constructed/remodeled or maintained with environmental building practices; is smoke free; has water management that significantly reduces water use, uses energy efficient lighting whenever applicable, limits laundry/linen use whenever possible, has a comprehensive recycling program including in-room. It’s also important for a self-titled “green” hotel to be a good neighbor to the surrounding community and a good employer to its staff.
What kinds of questions should travelers ask a property to make sure that it does indeed qualify as green?
I would ask about the kinds of energy and water efficiency efforts that the hotel is implementing to realize actual, measurable savings. Also, find out what kind of recycling takes place throughout the hotel and whether the property uses alternative energy sources and a linen-use reduction program. Finally, it’s important to know how the hotel contributes to the local community?
How important is it to belong to a certification program?
It depends on the certification. LEED is pretty significant because it covers quite a bit of ground: energy efficiency, effect on the surrounding environment, and interior health of the building such as air quality. Green Seal is probably the most well known “green certification” out there, but it’s not very stringent in its requirements and you pay into it. We are currently seeking LEED for an Existing Building (LEED EB) which focuses on operations and maintenance where LEED is about design and construction. We have just begun the process, which require about six months to establish benchmarks in things like water usage, air quality, energy use. We hope to have it completed within a year. We think both of these are important because there is so much information out there coming at us all so fast, it’s important to have hotel practices vetted by professionals and given an objective value or rating so that the consumers can separate what is actually happening inside a given hotel.
In planning and opening Terra, what were some of your most memorable discoveries in terms of green materials, amenities, details?
What was interesting in the process was that we had to balance luxury and sustainability or we were not achieving our goal of demonstrating that green can be plush. We also had a mission to demonstrate that green hotels can be financially sustainable. So these concurrent goals were always part of our process. Luckily we have this very bright, educated and energetic director of sustainability, Ashley Morgan, and her job was and is totally dedicated to finding and implementing the right partnerships, systems and products to satisfy those goals.
One of the most memorable discoveries was when Ashley was researching mattresses for the hotel. She had the daunting task of convincing our owners to invest in a sustainable mattress, which would more than double our mattress budget. I didn’t realize that the standard hotel mattress actually releases toxic fumes into the air (“outgas”) when you lie down on it, and it also creates about sixty lbs of petrochemical waste in the process of manufacturing. It’s unhealthy for people and the environment. A natural cotton mattress, by contrast, doesn’t outgas and eliminates that petrochemical waste from entering our earth and water supply. It’s comprised of recycled steels springs, whipped latex (a rapidly renewable resource) and untreated cotton. We sleep-tested the one we had custom made for the hotel and it was incredibly comfortable. Since mattresses are a central part of the guest experience, the extra cost was well-worth it. It was an important statement about our commitment to our mission.
Another example is our coffee supplier Equal Exchange. We carry Equal exchange in all of the rooms and the café. Equal Exchange started as a small co-op, but have grown to be pretty large. The idea behind it is that farmers get fair pay for what they’re supplying. Of course fair trade has much more to do with social justice than it does the hotel management industry, but it’s inspiring and reaffirms that we’re doing the right thing. It’s proof you can improve the world around you and make a profit at the same time.
How do you see the trend of eco tourism develop in the coming years?
I think LEED, or some version of it, will become a point of entry for all hotels, because it makes sense and it’s financially do-able. I also think that people will start to see the concept of ‘luxury’ in a new way, as in it’s a ‘luxurious’ to be in a hotel that recycles, that attends to the healthfulness of it spaces, food, surrounding environment. For so long, luxury has often meant unfettered consumption. I think we’re entering a new era where it will mean comfort and exceptional service, and a more well-thought-out use of resources. I think we can expect that luxury hotels will implement systems to use less paper, less water, and less electricity without a discernable change in the guest experience, and if they simultaneously provide attentive, personal service. We will see the evolution towards a more sustainable version of hospitality. And I think that once evolution starts and gains momentum, that’s when things start to get exciting and smaller changes grow into big ones. And there will be a growing market of guests who demand it, because they have learned and experienced what’s possible. I also think we’re seeing the economies of scale for sustainable products come more in line, and the options for various materials and systems are growing—beyond LEED, I think hotels will begin to see the economic advantages of operating a greener more efficient business, which, if bolstered by tax incentives or other kinds of business and/or government leadership, could really lead us to the tipping point, making many things we define as green now become standard.
Read the interview with filmmaker and environmental activist Celine Cousteau
Read about the favorite properties of architect and eco-lodge specialist Hitesh Mehta
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