Hospitality Case Study: Costs of Green

by | September 9, 2012 0 Architecture, Ideas, Sustainability

Case study executed by SERA Architects with input from Benjamin West and product manufacturers. For further information, please contact Lisa Zangerle at 503-445-7348.

Unlike the majority of hotel rooms on the market, the newly refreshed rooms at the Courtyard by Marriott Denver Downtown have sustainable measures that go beyond the basics. Many hotels have adopted environmentally sensitive operational features (reducing multi-stay laundry and linen needs, utilizing fluorescent lighting, to name a few) that an increasingly savvy public has come to expect. However, the recent renovations at the Courtyard Denver Downtown have pushed further into the specification and purchasing world, beginning to change how and why hospitality case goods are specified.

Download this case study (.PDF)

Download this case study (.PDF)

This more environmentally aware approach to the Property Improvement Plan (PIP) begins as soon as the guest gets off the elevator. The corridor carpeting is Green Label Plus, the walls repainted with low VOC paint and existing light fixtures were reused in the new design.

As the guest arrives at their room for the night, they will be unaware of the variety of sustainable measures that lie beneath the fresh design. The finishes on the wall – low VOC paint for the majority of wall and ceiling surfaces and a 100% spun polyester PVC-free wall covering at accent walls – are healthier than the standard vinyl that coats most hotel rooms. Material toxicity and the chemical makeup of the built environment is an area that is just beginning to be fully explored in order to make healthier environments. Choices that result in cleaner, healthier surroundings, avoiding chemicals of concern like PVC that emit a variety of harmful chemicals is becoming increasingly important in providing sustainable solutions. Continuing this point, a majority of the guestroom furniture was manufactured to low E0 finish levels of urea-formaldehyde (< 0.05 parts per million), and used FSC certified wood stock and veneers. The faux leathers used on the headboard, task chair and ottoman are all PVC-free polyurethane. Even the shower curtain, with its snap-on 100% nylon (and non-vinyl) liner keeps guest health in mind.

Recycled content is another feature of many of the guest room’s furniture and fabrics. The custom duvet cover has 100% post-consumer recycled content polyester. The bed skirt and red accent pillows on the bed are also made of 100% recycled content fabric, while the majority of fibers used in the striped accent pillow are natural wool and cotton. Guests staying in one of the presidential suites with a skyline view patio sit on bold, brightly colored furniture that is made completely out of recycled soda bottles.

Energy use is always a factor in the sustainable story of any hotel – all lighting in the room is fluorescent and the in-room refrigerator provided to the guest is only plugged in when needed, the casework being designed with in-cabinet, accessible outlets.

Even the art in the rooms has a sustainable story through its ties with the community. All of the various art pieces were done by local artists, each artist offering a unique portrayal of Denver and of Colorado. One piece in each room was also produced by students at the local art school, grounding the guest in a truly community-oriented experience and tying in with a meeting room level rotating art gallery space.


In the hospitality sector, price point is everything. In this project, 70% of the products specified had a green component with only a 4% overall cost premium when compared to more standard goods. The breakdown of what product types had a premium is enlightening (see below) in that it highlights where sustainable thinking has been long entrenched and where there are greater opportunities for change.

Pushing hospitality towards this more sustainable footprint challenges the traditional focus on low-cost-no-matter-what purchasing decisions while also raising new questions. Obtaining fabric and finish materials for the room made of 100% recycled content is difficult at the price points most project demand. There is also the argument that the amount of energy generated during the reclamation and recycling process is of greater environmental impact than using a virgin material. Should we be specifying materials with high recycled content when their overall life cycle impact might be equally high? This is just one example of the many issues that must be considered when specifying for hospitality. Setting goals and understanding what is important to the property, to the brand and to the designer can move this process forward.

Next steps in the greening of hospitality FF&E can involve a variety of initiatives. These include lowering urea-formaldehyde to below California’s CARB standards, working with wall covering manufacturers to lower the cost differential on PVC-free wall covering, specifying hospitality carpet with recycled content, working with vendors in the project’s bio-region, end of life operational manuals for a hotel’s FF&E, and designing case goods to last longer than one PIP cycle.

With the PIP process and the constant change-out of hospitality goods and materials generating so much waste and embodying a tremendous amount of energy (much of it still being manufactured outside of this country), clearly changes need to be made. We can’t responsibly burn through resources as we have in the past – decision making processes need to change. Designers (and the hotels themselves) need to factor their environmental impact into the design process and way of doing business, ultimately improving environmental performance with each project.

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