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Yong Han Ahn1 and Annie R. Pearce2
The hotel industry is beginning to implement green design and construction practices,
saving energy, water, and resources and thus helping to preserve the environment. In
addition, green building practices also can provide healthy and comfortable indoor
environments to hotel occupants including guests and employees. However, there is the
potential for conflict between green building practices and hotel guests’ satisfaction and
comfort, as the conservation of resources could detract from the quality of a guest’s visitor
experience. This study adopted a case study approach to identify and analyze green
design and construction practices that create a green and luxurious environment
without damaging the hotels’ financial position. An in-depth literature review was
conducted to identify green design and construction practices, design features of
premium hotels, and major design conflicts between the twin goals of green building
and a luxurious hotel environment. Two LEED platinum hotels (the Proximity Hotel
and the Bardessono Hotel, both in the United States) were selected and data collected
on their green design and construction practices, luxurious design features, and
operation and maintenance practices from multiple sources, including the owner,
designer, contractor, engineer, and LEED consultant. From the perspective of the entire
lifecycle of the building, this data was analyzed to identify green design and
construction practices that not only provide a green, luxurious environment but also
enhance the hotels’ financial strength.
green building, green design and construction practice, hotel industry, case study
Throughout the design, construction, operation, and end-of-life-cycle processes that make up
a building’s life, the built environment of which it is a part exerts both positive and negative
impacts on the earth, its resources, the people that live on it, and their communities. As part of
the effort to reduce these negative environmental impacts and maximize benefits, the concept
of “sustainability” has gained widespread acceptance over the past twenty years, encompassing ecological, economic and social aspects of the built environment (Ahn & Pearce 2007).
Ph.D., LEED AP, Assistant Professor, Construction Management, Western Carolina University, Email:
(Corresponding Author).
Ph.D., LEED AP, Associate Professor, Myers-Lawson School of Construction, Virginia Tech, Email:
Journal of Green Building
In the building sector, green design and construction practices include: increasing efficiencies,
thereby saving energy, water, and other resources; furnishing satisfying, productive, healthy,
and high quality indoor spaces; using environmentally preferable materials; and educating
building occupants about efficiency and conservation (Ahn & Pearce 2007; Kibert 2008).
Hotel industry business owners seeking to be environmentally responsible, both for economic
and financial efficiency, and to satisfy their own personal ethics are introducing green building practices (Tzschentke et al. 2004; Bader 2005). This trend towards green hotels not only
addresses environmental concerns by saving energy, water, and resources, but is also expected
to improve guest satisfaction and comfort (Becker 2009; Millar & Baloglu 2008). Guest satisfaction, intent to return, and likelihood to recommend a hotel are important factors for success in the hospitality industry. Therefore, in developing a new hotel the design team generally
focuses on areas known to be strongly linked to these factors, namely the lobby, the guestrooms, the bathrooms, food and beverages, spas, the outside environment, and the artwork
displayed around the hotel (Heide & Gronhaung 2009).
However, there is often the perception of some conflict between guest satisfaction and
comfort and green building practices in hotels that aspire to sustainability. According to Kirk
(1995), this may arise as a result of the conservation of resources, including water and energy,
which could detract from a guest’s experience and comfort. For example, luxury hotels are
generally more spacious and include plush or exotic materials, sophisticated lighting that feels
warm and inviting, and bathrooms with large bathtubs and multiple showerheads (Schor
2008). These luxury attributes of hotels are seldom compatible with green building practices,
which tend towards smaller spaces, and materials and products that are non-exotic, recycled,
natural, or rapidly renewable, with increased use of fluorescent lighting to reduce energy use
and an emphasis on the conservation of water (McLennan 2004; Becker 2009). In addition, a
green hotel is often assumed to be unattractive in appearance and uncomfortable (McLennan
2004). To counteract these tendencies and assumptions, it is therefore necessary to identify
green building practices that can be implemented over the building’s entire life cycle to reduce
its environmental impact, maximize social and economic opportunities, and improve guest
satisfaction and comfort. The researchers therefore conducted a case study of the Proximity
Hotel in Greensboro, NC, and the Bardessono Hotel in Yountville, CA—the only hotels in
the United States at the time of this study to have achieved the highest LEED rating of Platinum while at the same time providing their guests with a comfortable and luxurious environment—in order to identify and analyze what types of green building practices are appropriate
and practicable for those seeking to implement green building practices.
This section provides background for the concept of sustainability and green practices in the
building sector. Current hotel design features that provide luxury environments to guests
and enhance their satisfaction are identified, along with the types of green building practices
that can be implemented in hotels to achieve the goals of sustainability. Finally, the conflicts
between the twin goals of achieving sustainability while at the same time providing a luxurious hotel environment are examined.
Design Features for Luxury Hotels
The American term “hotel” was borrowed in the 1760s from the French term hôtel, which
originally referred to a nobleman’s residence, large official building, or town hall (Becker,
Volume 8, Number 1
2009). Even though hotels in the USA were introduced in response to travellers’ need for
lodging, they represented high quality guesthouses that were above the level of the taverns and
small inns commonly found at that time (Becker 2009). Consequently, hotels tended to serve
as architectural examples of American excellence and represented a distinctly American vision
of mobility, civil society, and democracy (Sandoval-Strausz 2007), although this perception
of hotels has faded somewhat over time due to the wide variety of industry market segmentation, including a large increase in supply of inexpensive, lower quality chain hotels (Becker
2009). However, this trend has reversed in recent years, with several chain hotels creating
boutique brands such as the W hotel that provide excellent service to guests who are looking
for hotel experiences with style, service, comfort, and luxury that are personal, authentic, and
creatively intriguing. These hotels often explore high fashion architecture, hotel design, and
distinct interiors that influence hotel guest satisfaction, intent to return, and their likelihood
to recommend a hotel (Heide & Gronhaung 2009). Based on reviewing a number of articles
that discussed appropriate design features for luxury hotels, this study identified key design
features that can promote a hotel to luxury status (Becker, 2009; Heung et al. 2006; Curtis
2001; Bernstein 1999; Cohen & Bodeker 2008; Heide & Gronhaung 2009; ). (Table 1)
For example, common attributes of a luxury hotel include more space, plush or exotic
materials, sophisticated lighting that feels warm and inviting, and bathrooms with large
bathtubs and multiple showerheads (Becker 2009). These design features make guests’ visits
more comfortable but may create a perceived conflict with sustainability because major green
TABLE 1. Design features for luxury hotels.
Design Features
Design Features for Luxury Hotels
Lobby Design
• Social interaction spaces not only for guests but also for the local community
• Staged to provide a theatrical introduction to the environment and hotel spaces

Safety, comfort, privacy, quiet and spacious guestrooms
Unique design details, technology, and controllable lighting
Comfortable indoor environment
Comfortable office spaces within the room
Stylish furniture, plush materials and high tech entertainment devices

Spacious bathroom
Deep tubs, his and her lavatories, walk-in showers, marble and chrome finishes
Quality and appearance of amenities
Technology such as a small plasma television, flexible lighting
• High quality artwork in guestrooms, hallways, lobbies, staircases, and elevators
• Gallery areas in the hotel

Food & beverage
• Organic food and unusual food items
• Top quality food and beverage
and exterior
• Parks/gardens with trees and plants
• Open space with trees and plants
• Diverse colors and textures
Attention to interior design, increasing guest relaxation
Transition areas and generous public spaces
Multiple relaxation areas: outdoor and indoor
Environmental controls for guest comfort
Spa cuisine-health, organic options
Journal of Green Building
building strategies focus on reducing humans’ environmental footprint by reducing resource
consumption to the necessities. Sometimes such luxury attributes may be perceived to be
incompatible with green building practices, which often focus on reducing resource consumption over the building life cycle to minimize environmental footprint.
Sustainability and Green Building Practices
Green buildings represent the response of the building sector to the need to minimize negative
environmental, social, and economical impacts in the building sector. Through using green
building practices, it is possible to work toward the aim of “meeting the needs and aspirations
of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
(Brudtlland 1989). To achieve a green building, green design and construction strategies should
be incorporated at the planning stage to the demolition phase of the building. A green building
relies upon a fully integrated “whole building” approach that covers the entire phase of building
cycle including design, construction, operation, and demolition (Boecker, et al. 2009). Multiple studies have demonstrated how green buildings that incorporate green building practices
offer benefits. For example, they can help mitigate building issues and problems, including
environmental problems associated with existing buildings, and also provide healthier indoor
environments to building users. Major benefits that can be provided by a green building are
shown in Table 2 below (Fisk 2000; Kats 2003a; Kats 2003b; Ding 2004; Bohdanowicz 2006;
Kibert 2008; USGBC 2009; Boecker, et al. 2009; Ahn 2010; Ahn, et al. 2011):
To achieve these benefits, green building practices continue to evolve, with considerable
advances in the field during the first decade of the 21st century (McLennan 2004). One of the
main indicators of the success of this movement is the increasing acceptance of green building
rating systems, mainly the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green
building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in many
business sectors, including the tourism and hotel industry.
The LEED Green Building Rating System
The LEED green building rating system has been developed and maintained by the USGBC
for over a decade, with the first version of LEED, 1.0, being released in 1998 (USGBC 2009).
Since the introduction of the LEED rating system to the market, the rating system has been
extensively modified several times and the current version, 3.0, was published in 2009. There
are now a number of different LEED rating systems, including LEED for New Construction,
LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, LEED for Schools, and so on,
that provide green building practices for different types of building uses and different phases
of a building’s life cycle (USGBC 2009). LEED rating systems serve as a third-party certification program and provide nationally accepted benchmarks for the design, construction
and operation of high-performance green buildings. The LEED rating system also promotes
a whole-building approach to green building by recognizing performance in five key areas of
human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality (USGBC 2009).
Balancing the Twin Goals of Sustainability and a Luxurious Hotel Environment
Given the potential for conflicts between luxury and green building practices, it is important
to understand how green building practices can be successfully implemented at each stage
of hotel design, construction, operation, and demolition. According to Heung et al. (2006),
Volume 8, Number 1
TABLE 2. Major green building practices and their potential benefits.
Major Practices
Specific Benefits
Sustainable Site
• Sustainable site planning and
• Solar orientation of building
• Public transportation
• Stormwater management

• Solar orientation
• High efficiency envelopes (efficient
windows and high R-value insulation)
• High efficiency HVAC system
• Building automation systems
• Daylighting and high efficiency lighting
• Onsite renewable energy sources
• Energy saving
• Reduction in greenhouse gases
• Lower operating costs
• Water saving fixtures and technologies
• Rainwater harvesting system
• Water saving
• Lower operating costs
Materials &

Green supplies and materials
Construction waste management
Recycled content materials
Regional materials, locally sourced
Rapidly renewable materials
• Resource saving
• Reduce environmental impacts

Daylighting & high efficiency lighting
Adequate air filtration
Low VOC materials
Mold prevention
Enhanced acoustical performance

Operation &

Green cleaning supplies
Indoor pest prevention and control
Waste reduction and recycling
Energy and water conservation
Green grounds keeping
Electronic versus paper communication
Guest education/communication
• Reduced environmental impacts
• Reduced operational and maintenance
• Exposed ceiling
• Nylon 6 recycled carpet
Reduce environmental impacts
Efficiency of site use
Heat island effect
Reduction of civil infrastructures
Productive and healthy indoor spaces
Provide optimal indoor
environment to building users
Improved occupant health and
• Reduce construction waste
green hotels can be defined as those that “adopt policies that are safe, healthy and environmentally friendly, implement green management practices, advocate green consumption, protect the ecology and use resources properly”. In addition, the most widely accepted definition
of sustainability by Brundtland (1989) is “meeting the needs and aspirations of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, although
Sheehan notes that this definition is insufficient to describe green hospitality because hospitality should not be about sacrifice but rather comfort, building suspense, setting desirable
expectations and satisfying current needs. Sheehan goes on to construct a definition specifically for sustainability in the hotel industry as follows: “Sustainability is about fulfilling our
guests’ current dreams and desires without sacrificing future generations’ dreams and desires.
The objective is to achieve sustainability without making it about sacrifice” (Sheehan 2007).
Journal of Green Building
To simultaneously achieve sustainability and satisfy guests, researchers and practitioners
have identified a number of green building practices that can be implemented in hotels. One
approach is to adopt the LEED green building rating system developed by the USGBC since
it provides third-party verification that a building is designed and built using green building strategies aimed at improving buildings’ performance including energy savings, water
efficiency, lower CO2 emissions, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of
resources and sensitivity to their environment impacts (Becker 2009; Coleman 2009; Hasek
2007; Sheehan 2007). However, Sheehan pointed out that a hotel must implement a greater
number of green building practices, particularly interior strategies, compared to other commercial enterprises because even a relatively basic hotel must provide a comfortable environment for its guests. This is particularly important for a luxury hotel, which is also required to
devote additional resources to meet a Mobile star rating standard. For example, the need to
increase the number of plumbing fixtures in the guestrooms and include extra furniture such
as chairs and tables to meet a star rating is inherently inefficient (Becker 2009). Additional
strategies that can be applied in green hotels are listed in Table 3 below.
These green building practices can be implemented without affecting the quality of the
guest experience. Kasim (2004) argued that if a proper synergy between a great guest experience and a hotel’s sustainability goals could be reached, it would open new opportunities for
business endeavors. However, several studies have suggested that a green hotel must strike a delicate balance between providing a superior guest experience and green building practices (Kasim
2004; Becker 2009). Green building decisions in the hotel must also improve guest satisfaction (Heung, et al. 2006) and it is vital for a hotel to maintain guest satisfaction while at the
same time supporting the growth of sustainability in the hotel (Becker 2009; Sheehan 2007).
Researchers have also identified a first cost premium for some green hotels compared to conventional hotels due to implementing green building practices (Sheehan 2007; Becker 2009).
It is therefore necessary to develop a better understanding of how to accomplish the goals
of sustainability in a hotel while maintaining a luxury environments for guests’ satisfaction, as
well as the first cost premium incurred by implementing green building practices. To answer
these research questions, this study adopted a case study research approach because this offers
a useful way to explore the complex issues involved in achieving the objective of a green hotel
and shed new light on the cause-effect relationship of implementing green building practices.
TABLE 3. Additional strategies in hotels.
• Lighting, air conditioning and heating: Intelligent control systems that monitor
the presence of guests in the room, together with their preferences and patterns
(Heung, et al. 2006; Sheehan 2007)
• Fewer furniture pieces (Sheehan 2007)
• Carpet tiles (so only a few tiles need be replaced instead of the entire carpet in
the event of damage); Green Label Plus carpets (Sheehan 2007)
• Materials selected for durability (Sheehan, 2007)
• Fresh air and clean drinking water (Heung, et al. 2006)
• Green …
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