Building a Sustainable Future: How Hotels are Blending Design and Technology for a Greener Tomorrow

By: Drew Conte
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Industry and academic experts convened online to make the business case for sustainable hotel development.

The global hotel construction pipeline has reached a record high, and consumers are asking developers and brands to consider sustainable construction and design initiatives. 82% of luxury travelers, for example, want to travel more sustainably in the future as a result of the ongoing pandemic, according to global travel agency Virtuoso. In an effort to meet this market demand, hotel brands, architects, engineers, and community leaders are collaborating to build eco-friendly properties, centered around sustainability, the guest experience, and efficiency.

On July 21, the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration’s Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) hosted a virtual keynote to discuss how developing a hotel from the ground up offers opportunities to integrate technology and infrastructure to remove friction from the guest experience and reduce environmental impact. The keynote was moderated by Lisa Chervinksy ’89, an architect and lecturer in property development and management. She was joined by a panel of industry leaders including Nicola Graham, the vice president of marketing at Cendyn; Tyler Lavin MMH ’10, the vice president of development and investment in North America at citizenM Hotels; Shane O’Flaherty, the global director for travel, transportation, and hospitality at Microsoft; and Bob Winter ’85, the director of hospitality at IMEG Corp.

Here are the top takeaways from the discussion:

Sustainability certifications and modular construction

According to Bob Winter of IMEG Corp, a national consulting engineering company for the built environment, national building codes and local amendments address sustainability issues in the sections of these documents pertaining to energy efficiency. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other non-municipal rating systems set standards for green buildings that exceed code requirements. To achieve these certifications, buildings must be energy efficient, use green materials, be built on sustainable sites, among other criteria. In the hospitality industry, construction budget constraints typically limit the amount of investment a developer can direct to sustainability practices that exceed code requirements.

Modular construction is one approach to sustainable hotel development. Modular buildings are manufactured in sections offsite before being transported and assembled at their final destination. Cost saving and green benefits of modular construction include shorter development timelines and less construction waste. While modular design is a sustainable alternative to traditional hotel design, it has yet to be extensively adopted, explained Tyler Lavin, whose company, citizenM, is pioneering modular construction in the hotel industry. Without buy-in from other industries, it will struggle to last, he noted, citing some prominent modular development companies that have already gone bankrupt.

Leveraging data to improve operational efficiency and the guest experience

Customer relationship management systems (CRMs), which provide insight into guests’ preferences, make operations more efficient, reducing energy consumption and waste, and helping owners and operators reach their sustainability goals and satisfy their guests. According to Nicola Graham of Cendyn, a maker of hospitality CRM software, CRMs aggregate guests’ requests—e.g. extra recycling bins or opting-out of housekeeping service—and build profiles of those guests and their markets. These profiles help hotel staff predict guests’ future requests, saving resources, and enabling them to work more efficiently. For example, staff can prepare a room with a guest’s favorite amenities or set the thermostat to a guest’s preferred temperature prior to their arrival.

Tackling preventative maintenance with smart infrastructure

Another opportunity to improve operations and reduce waste is smart infrastructure, or technology-enhanced spaces. Integrating technology, like data-collecting software, into a building’s physical infrastructure (e.g. HVAC, electrical, or plumbing) can help owners better understand their properties’ energy usage, facilitate preventative maintenance, and enhance the guest experience. According to Shane O’Flaherty, Microsoft’s Azure cloud and intelligent edge devices can assist with sensors to alert hotel engineering teams of maintenance issues across a property. The sensors collect data that can be used as predictive maintenance solutions to determine the shelf life of digital solutions in room, leak sensors on water lines or sensors on HVAC, for example, that can have a negative impact on the guest experience if they break unexpectedly. Knowing an object’s shelf life means the property can act proactively as opposed to reactively to ensure that the guest has the best experience possible.

Sustainable development: A win for all

Sustainable development is an opportunity for the hospitality industry to make a positive impact on three of its key stakeholders: guests, staff, and the environment. In particular, building certifications, green construction practices, guest-facing technology, and smart infrastructure are some of the innovations that hospitality companies are embracing for a more sustainable future.

Watch the keynote to learn more about innovations in sustainable hotel development.

Learn more about the CHR

Drew Conte

Drew Conte

Drew Conte is pursuing a Master of Management in Hospitality degree at Cornell University. Prior to enrolling in graduate school, Drew was completing Marriott’s manager-in-training program in the rooms division, at one of the largest non-casino hotels in the country, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN. There, he was able to apply his customer service and leadership skills at a corporate level operation, working on projects to increase employee engagement and guest satisfaction. Drew graduated from Johnson & Wales University Magna Cum Laude in 2019, with a degree in hotel and lodging management. He solidified his passion for hospitality and travel after completing several internships, ranging from front office operations in MI to destination marketing in RI. Currently, Drew is expanding his knowledge of the industry and hopes to transition into a marketing role upon graduation.

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