January 19, 2016
Seventeen notable New York City hotels have committed to getting greener.
Marquee properties like the Waldorf Astoria New York, Grand Hyatt New York, Loews Regency New York and the Peninsula New York recently joined the NYC Carbon Challenge, a program Michael R. Bloomberg started as mayor in 2007 with the city’s universities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Hospitals, commercial office buildings and multifamily residences were eventually added, and in late December, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the initiative would expand to include hotels.
This initial group of properties — accounting for more than 11,000 guest rooms — has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions from their buildings by 30 percent or more in the next 10 years, a move that could reduce emissions by more than 32,000 metric tons and save $25 million of energy operating costs. Buildings account for around 75 percent of greenhouse emissions in New York City, and getting the hospitality industry on board will significantly help to cut down on the city’s overall emissions, said Nilda Mesa, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.
“Hotels are definitely a cause of emissions, and their involvement can have a big impact in achieving the goals of the NYC Carbon Challenge and the mayor’s overall sustainability goals,” she said. That broader vision, set forth by Mr. de Blasio in September 2014, is to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
The Office of Sustainability worked with the Hotel Association of New York City, a trade group that represents 275 hotels in the city, to get the first group of properties to make a commitment.
Though 17 is a small number relative to the hotel association’s members, its chairman, Vijay Dandapani, says that his group will continue to encourage more hotels to join the program.
“For the hotels who need it, we can connect them with environmental consultants and give them our best practices handout on going green,” he said. “We hope that our help and the visibility of the hotels that have agreed so far gives others the push they need to sign up for the Challenge.”
In the interim, many of the properties that have committed to the project are already on their way to meeting its goals, and the changes they are making, for the most part, involve minor construction and are unlikely to affect their guests.
The Grand Hyatt New York, a 1,306-room hotel next to Grand Central Terminal, for example, is spending $160,000 to install exhaust controls in its four kitchens by the end of January that expend minimal energy when stoves and ovens aren’t in use; the current exhausts, in contrast, operate constantly. Also, the hotel is spending $150,000 on 16,000 LED bulbs for its guest rooms and public areas, a project that is expected to be completed by the end of March.
But the biggest undertaking is the $2.3 million expenditure on a new building management system that controls air-conditioning and heat. “It will operate on demand-based ventilation that doesn’t burn excess energy,” said Ron McGill, the hotel’s director of engineering. All told, he said, the three changes will reduce Grand Hyatt’s carbon emissions by 2,400 metric tons annually.
Similar to the Grand Hyatt, other NYC Carbon Challenge hotels may have to financially invest in energy conserving upgrades, but their leadership realizes that they will save money in the long run.
The Peninsula New York is spending around $250,000 to install LED lighting in the entire hotel, including the 235 guest rooms, by the end of 2017 and another $1.1 million in 2018 on eight new elevators that run with less energy. The money for both projects is worth it, said its general manager, Jonathan Crook. “It’s a hefty sum up front, but it will save us money in the long run,” he said.
The 1,415-room Waldorf Astoria New York, however, won’t substantially reduce its carbon emissions so soon after joining the program until it has undergone a restoration, scheduled to begin in 18 to 24 months. “We’ll replace our windows to make them more energy-efficient and try to make any aspect of the property more sustainable where it’s possible,” said Michael Hoffmann, the managing director. But while a major overhaul is still down the line, he said that the hotel has cut down its emissions by 20 percent since 2005 through a series of changes, such as switching to biodegradable packaging materials.
Like the Waldorf, tackling the issue of greenhouse gas emissions was already a priority for several of the properties before becoming a part of the NYC Carbon Challenge, but now they’re intensifying their efforts.
The Westin New York at Times Square, for example, completed a three-year renovation late last year that prioritized energy conservation — the 873 guest rooms were retrofitted with low-flow showerheads, and energy-efficient boilers and coolers replaced older units. Since joining the Challenge, however, the entire building will be retrofitted with close to 9,000 LED bulbs, and all guest room bathrooms will have sensors that switch off lights after 30 minutes of inactivity. “We were already reducing our carbon footprint, but the Challenge is a reason to do more,” said Sean Verney, the general manager.
And 1 Hotel Central Park, part of 1 Hotels, the sustainability-driven brand created by the Starwood Capital Group chairman and chief executive Barry Sternlicht, is using the goals of the Carbon Challenge as leverage to accomplish its own. Although LED lights, an energy-conserving air-conditioning system, recycled materials and a fleet of electric house cars from Tesla are hallmarks at the hotel, the company’s director of impact, Michael Laas, said that powering the boiler with natural gas instead of diesel fuel will reduce the hotel’s emissions a significant 27 percent. “We have been working with the city to get that change to happen and hope that being a part of the Carbon Challenge gets us there faster,” he said.
But while these moves from 1 Hotel Central Park and other NYC Carbon Challenge properties will most certainly be a factor in helping to meet the project’s goals, they are not necessarily visible to hotel guests, who usually have the option of participating in their property’s eco-conscious efforts with actions such as reusing their bath towels.
No matter, said Adam Weissenberg, the head of the travel, hospitality and leisure sector at Deloitte & Touche, because travelers, especially millennials, want the hotels they stay at to be helping the environment even if that help isn’t tangible. “These changes may not be in their faces, but the guests who care will educate themselves about how their hotels are trying to be greener,” he said.