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Green Hotel Case 1

The Sheraton Rittenhouse Square hotel was the first hotel ever to receive the Green Seal of Approval, but if Green Seal and the Department of Environmental Protection have anything to say about it, the hotel may not be alone for long.
December 17, 2001

The Sheraton passed a rigid thirty-six point test to become the first hotel on the Green Seal list, meaning that it causes significantly less environmental damage than other products in its class (in this case, hotels), but neither Green Seal nor Barry Dimson, founder of the environmentally-conscious building, want it to stay the only hotel on the list. Green Seal is initiating a program with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that will encourage other hotels in the state to go green.

Under the program, hotels in the seven cities that state government officials visit most often, (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, The Poconos, Johnstown, Erie, and State College), will be asked to apply for the Green Seal of Approval. The first fifty hotels to pass inspection will have Green Seal's audit fees waived, and will be put on a list of recommended places for traveling government employees to stay. Green Seal spokesman Mark Petruzzi says the organization is working to create similar programs in other states.

While the hotels may incur extra costs up front, the added government business will act as incentive. Additionally, as Barry Dimson's Sheraton has shown, being environmentally friendly hardly means being unprofitable.

Many hotels have adopted some practices that are both environmentally and economically sound in recent years. Compact fluorescent light bulbs require less energy than standard light bulbs, reducing energy costs in hotels. Some hotels have begun providing guests with the option of reusing their bath towels instead of washing daily, reducing laundry cycles and water usage. But Dimson says that's only part of the job. When he decided to make the Sheraton green, he decided to go all out.

In guest rooms, the sheets, pillowcases, drapes, and all other fabrics in the building are made of organic cotton. The carpeting is made of organic materials, is hypoallergenic, and is tacked down instead of glued. The walls are papered using a water-based glue, instead of oil-based, so there are no petro-chemical emissions. Dimson proudly claims that nothing in the room emits dangerous chemicals. And that includes people. The hotel includes a heavy-duty air filtration system, which completely filters and refreshes the air in each room in just over a half-hour. By the time a guest checks out and another guest checks in, the air in that room has been cleaned several times over, removing any chemical emissions left by the previous guest.

The room also includes a multi-part trashcan allowing visitors to easily recycle glass, plastic and paper. And the materials in the room are all recycled, from the toilet paper to the nightstand. Even the information card left in each room to tell visitors about the green aspects of the hotel is made from 100% recycled (and at least 40% post-consumer recycled) material. Dimson made a deal with Aveda to supply amenities, which means the soaps and shampoos in the bathroom have not been tested on animals.

Dimson says one of the things he is most proud of is the use of bamboo in the building. The paneling of the lobby is made of bamboo, which is the most sustainable source of wood, growing quicker than pine or oak, and providing strong building material. The bamboo used in the Sheraton was grown domestically in Florida. The granite tiles used in the building are also 93% recycled. Dimson says most people don't think about stone as a non-renewable resource, but once stone is removed from its original location, it doesn't grow back. Those granite tiles are used for flooring, and for countertops, and in many places are decorated with mosaics using recycled glass.

Dimson says he'd love to take things even further, supplying solar energy to hotels and other buildings. He is also looking into the health effects of electromagnetic fields generated by the wiring in buildings. But he says some of those ideas would have been difficult to implement at the Sheraton, since it was renovated from old office space and apartments, and not built from the ground up. Still, the Sheraton is one of the greenest buildings around, and Dimson says he's glad the property was transformed into a hotel, because so many people are impacted by the air quality and environmental features of a hotel.

Before the hotel opened in 1999, some wondered about the economic viability of the project. Dimson convinced Sheraton they wouldn't lose money or prestige by allowing him to own a franchise (although Sheraton did have to grant exceptions from their regular contract for some of the innovative techniques such as the loop pile carpeting, which Dimson says collects dust more than cut pile carpeting, which allows it to circulate in the room). But it wasn't until the doors opened that it became clear how much demand there was for an environmentally friendly hotel.

It cost $20 million to renovate the Sheraton, and Dimson estimates $800 thousand to make it green. He expected to recoup that loss over several years, but the publicity surrounding the opening of the hotel helped it to exceed its estimated profits by $800 thousand in its first year. Now the money the Sheraton saves on reduced energy costs are really starting to show, and with few other green hotels around, the Sheraton picks up corporate business from companies such as the Clean Air Council who recently held their Energy Efficiency Workshop there. These economic incentives might only apply to early adopters of environmental building techniques, but as more buildings adopt environmentally sound principles, the costs of purchasing recycled materials, bamboo, and energy-saving devices will decrease.

Dimson says he welcomes the competition. He says he wouldn't be interested in having the Green Seal of Approval if his hotel was the only one to attain it. It looks like he may soon have some company in Pennsylvania. The DEP is getting ready to send letters to hotels across the state explaining the program, and asking for participation. The first fifty to gain the Green Seal will have their inspection fee waived, but any hotel that meets Green Seal's standards will be put on the list of recommended hotels for government employees.


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