When asked for his opinion on the progression of the sustainable hotel movement, Jonathan Nehmer, president of Rockville, MD-based Jonathan Nehmer + Associates, acknowledged that although the industry is making strides, there is a long way to go.
“I would say we are still in the early stages but we are moving in the right direction,” he said and likened it to the way the Americans with Disabilities Act affected hotels years ago. “Every time a new element is introduced into the world of architecture and design people are first curious, then they try to understand and put it into practice and eventually it becomes the norm.”
That said, Nehmer stressed the hospitality architecture community has been incorporating sustainable elements into hotels for quite some time now. “We have being doing things that fall into the LEED and other green categories for years. Elements like compact fluorescent bulbs, low-flow fixtures and conserving natural resources are automatic for us,” he said. “Now, we’re just taking it further.”
Nehmer himself has significant experience with LEED and now has 12 members of his staff who are LEED-accredited. “Adding green elements to a hotel can be very simple, but if you are going for LEED certification, you need to plan and everyone involved in the project has to be on the same page regarding the goals of the project,” he said. “And if it’s a ground-up project, it is much easier. Renovations are tougher. The world of sustainable design hasn’t quite caught up yet with the needs that are specific to hotels.”
Although cost, especially in these tough economic times, remains a factor when designing a green hotel, Nehmer commented owners are starting to see the value in sustainable architecture. “Owners are sustainability]. As architects, we do not charge a premium on our end to design a sustainable hotel. We sit down with clients and discuss up front what they are willing to do for sustainability,” he said. “The push back comes when there is added cost because no one has extra money right now. But construction and energy costs are coming down and better materials are becoming available so that is driving the cost of sustainable design down.”
Why then is the green hotel trend not picking up more rapidly? Nehmer attributes it to a couple of factors. “There is a general reluctance in the construction community to embrace the documentation process that is associated with LEED. It is very time consuming, but the extra due diligence can also lead you to discover problems you might not have found otherwise,” he said. The other factor of course, is economic uncertainty. “The financial markets have been hit so hard and we need to see how that shakes out first.”
And while Nehmer and the rest of the hospitality architecture community continue working to educate owners and developers about the benefits of sustainable design, they cannot do it alone. “I believe when certain organizations develop hotel-specific standards, especially for existing buildings, that we’ll really see a greater push forward for green design.”