Event Venues

How Green Was My Property

Making sustainable events cool, one boutique hotel and one hospitality brand at a time.

1 Hotel, South Beach's newest eco-chic offering.
1 Hotel, South Beach’s newest eco-chic offering.

Does the discussion around green meetings have to be so boring? If sustainable events are positioned primarily as the responsible thing to do versus a cool way to engage, educate, and entertain attendees around evolving consumer values, will they ever rise above a conversation about low-flow faucets and LED lighting?

Not if a growing number of eco-chic hotels have their way. This spring, for example, Starwood Capital Group Chairman and CEO Barry Sternlicht, who founded Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in 1995, unveiled 1 Hotel South Beach — the first in a new line of boutique properties, with two more openings scheduled in Manhattan and Brooklyn later this year. The overarching mission of 1 Hotels is to inspire people to become more interested in lifestyle sustainability.

Attendee experiences at 1 Hotel South Beach include bike tours, paddleboard yoga, and kayaking through mangroves. Previously a Gansevoort hotel, the beachfront building features guest rooms and public spaces that have been redesigned with extensive use of beetle kill wood salvaged from sections of forest ravaged by beetles in Colorado. Plastic and paper have been removed as much as possible, and the hotel employs a “director of impact.”

The next generation of hotels, according to Sternlicht, are “communication platforms” designed for people to meet and discuss shared values like protecting the planet. “That’s how you make a hotel company a cause, rather than a brand,” he said. “That’s why it’s called 1 Hotels. It’s one world. We’re all responsible for each other.”

1 Hotels continues a tradition of boutique lines embracing sustainability — including W Hotels, which recently incorporated the EKOCYCLE brand of responsible consumer products into its North American operations. A collaboration between Coca-Cola and musician will.i.am, EKOCYCLE converts waste materials such as plastic bottles and aluminum cans into trendy consumer products like tote bags and eyewear. W Hotels is beginning with EKOCYCLE bed sheets. “W guests want to live a stylish, more sustainable lifestyle,” said Sarah Doyle, global brand director for W Hotels Worldwide, “and this partnership is a way to allow them to do so when they are on the road.”

Meanwhile, W’s parent company, Starwood, is partnering with NRG Energy to install large solar panels at its properties in sunny locations, beginning with The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, this summer. The Westin St. John Resort in the Virgin Islands and The Westin Maui Resort are next. Among the more innovative things about The Phoenician’s solar array is that it’s designed to be used as an open-air outdoor event venue, with the panels themselves providing the roof. The slatted roof created by the panels provides both shade and sunlight, while the industrial aesthetic is aligned with modern hotel design trends.

Starwood's Phoenician Hotel.
Starwood’s Phoenician Hotel.

“At Starwood, we really believe that all meetings start with sustainability,” said Andrea Pinabell, the company’s vice president of sustainability, “so a few years ago we flipped meetings on their head, and we introduced global brand standards that state all meetings are sustainable by default. So in this case, we thought there was a way to introduce solar panels in a very design-forward way that also enhances the natural beauty of the location.”

Another major hotel company, Marriott International, is likewise establishing itself as a green leader. This past Earth Day, April 22, Marriott announced that 2014 water consumption at its managed hotels worldwide decreased by 5.3 percent over 2013, and by 16.3 percent compared to 2007. By the end of 2014, more than 1,600 Marriott properties had earned a TripAdvisor GreenLeader badge, the largest number of branded hotels in the program.

Just as important, Marriott is making its commitment to sustainability a key part of its brand storytelling through media initiatives such as the new MarriottTraveler.com website and the Planet Marriott Europe website on Tumblr. In particular, the Tumblr site features stories about evolutions in renewable tidal, solar, and wind power; how to say no to plastic; and interesting case studies of low-impact programs at different Marriott properties.

“The Tumblr site will help us share our stories and get your feedback,” Reiner Sachau, COO of Marriott International, wrote on Planet Marriott Europe. “By sharing our ideas in a timely manner, we can report on best practices, increase participation, and help to make positive changes in the communities we call home.”

Similarly, last October, Hilton Worldwide launched its new Ideas Network blog on the Hilton Connect+ online portal. The content is divided into four categories, including “Doing It All Responsibly,” which highlights stories about CSR and green meetings. “This is not Hilton preaching at our customers,” said Lesley Brasesco, managing director of sales effectiveness for Hilton. “It’s really about going out to the customer to find out who is doing something well or better, and sharing those best practices to meeting professionals.”

Along those lines, in January, Hilton launched its Meet With Purpose initiative to “inspire sustainable, healthy choices for events.” By outlining green meeting design and sustainable F&B standards, Hilton is providing planners with low-impact best practices that they can incorporate into their programs, from putting water and notepads in common areas versus at individual tables to making use of Hilton’s LightStay meeting calculator to determine a meeting’s overall impact.

“Hilton recently did research with an organization called Mission Measurement, which found that customers are most interested in sustainability factors that directly impact them,” said Katelin Kennedy, senior manager of corporate responsibility and sustainability at Hilton Worldwide. “So as it relates to Meet With Purpose, Hilton is looking through the program and considering elements that directly impact the attendee experience.”

Greg Oates

Contributing Editor Greg Oates is a writer and editor based in New York City.