Starwood gambles on eco-centric hotel chain

Starwood has long been eying opportunities in the extended stay market. It has finally taken the plunge, with a twist: Every property in its new element by westin hotel brand is required to pursue a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The giant hotel management company sees this and its aggressive pricing as a differentiation from other extended brands, such as Courtyard by Marriott. "We need to be adaptive, the industry is changing," says Brian McGuinness, senior vice president and global brand leader for element hotels.

There are a lot of practical reasons why the green approach is a good idea, he says. For one thing, many municipalities are starting to put green building design parameters in place, which means that any new hotel properties would need to conform with stricter environmental considerations anyway.

Generally speaking, the hotels will all embrace green design principles, such as using carpeting made from recycled materials or paints that contain low levels of volatile organic compounds. The appliances in the kitchenettes are all Energy Star-rated, showers and toilets are low-flow, and recycling bins are readily available. But don't think these lodgings will all be cookie-cutter: As is appropriate, designers and managers will use technologies and approaches that are best-suited to individual locations, McGuinness says.

There currently are five element properties available for bookings. The original property, in Lexington, Mass., is where the company will test ideas that can be spread throughout the new chain. element is extensively evaluating various smart room technologies that will automatically adjust the temperature and lighting levels when a guest leaves in order to conserve energy. It also is researching green approaches to housekeeping that comply with health codes.

How much does being a green hotel matter? Staying in a green lodging may be a matter of personal preference now, but McGuinness suggests that just as many businesses have preferred properties for business travel, in the future some companies may require employees to seek out green properties. Apparently, the state of Florida already has such a policy in place.

And, when push comes to shove, element may have to compromise when it comes to green approaches that are still emerging (aka, still more expensive than the traditional alternative). "We need to do this so that it is cost-neutral," McGuinness says.

Click here to read element's green vision statement.

This link goes to an extended interview with McGuinness.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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