“There are no toxins in this room,” said Jim Henderson. “We took the ceiling down to bare concrete, then lime-washed it. It’s not paint.”
Henderson has had a year to turn a former large chain hotel in downtown Rapid City, S.D., into an environmentally friendly, eco hotel. He calls it Adoba Eco Hotel, a new, sustainable hotel concept. Henderson and his team are not finished by a long shot, but the investment in green technology has paid off.
Total energy savings at the Rapid City hotel topped 40 percent even with an average occupancy of 97 percent. “We are putting in brand new, state-of-the-art boilers and elevators that are DC driven that will be more energy efficient,” he said. “The next step is getting to the air-conditioning system. There is a newly patented a/c system that we are going to install that will cut energy costs significantly.”
The top line looks as good as the bottom line.
“We have had amazing guest response,” said Karim Merali, the hotel’s owner. “Our occupancy has been at 100 percent since May and we’re still almost fully occupied now in the shoulder season, and have bookings well into early winter.”
Adoba is a project Henderson and his wife, Adrienne Pumphrey, conceived many years ago, but have only recently realized in collaboration with Merali. They demonstrate that a total eco-hotel is not only possible, but profitable—more so than the former conventional hotel.
Adoba planners have started from scratch. They reinvented designs and are using eco-friendly and recycled materials with energy savings in mind. As the concept continues to grow, newly constructed hotels will be built that incorporate energy-saving and eco-friendly features from conception to final construction. Older hotels will be converted to standards Adoba has established to create healthy and guest pleasing features.
“The concept started by asking, ‘What are those things that annoy us when we travel? Where are the outlets placed? Bathroom space, space for luggage—Where do you put a room service tray? How can housekeeping clean a room more efficiently?’” said Sacha Merali, vice president of Development and Design. “We designed rooms with space-saving concepts, as well as eco-friendly designs. We want to be able to replicate the model over and over, affordably. We applied these principles and challenges to existing buildings. We can’t change the plumbing, we can’t change the electric systems too much, but we want function and artistry to be tasteful to guests to give them an experience.”
Take, for instance, the carpets, which demonstrate at once eco-friendliness and practicality. Henderson reached down and put his fingers under a square carpet tile and pulled it up. “No glue is used. Glues are toxic.” Henderson added. The carpet is guaranteed for 15 years, after which the manufacturer will buy it back.
According to Sacha Merali, this special carpet is composed of fibers containing a mixture of grass and natural stone.
“The idea is to bring an outdoor feeling to indoor environments,” said Sacha. “If a carpet tile is stained, it can be removed and washed. It is made with a whole new tapestry machine that pulls thread from the back. We get it from the only company in the world with this patent.”
Henderson worked for a time in oil development, where he saw how the environment can be restored by industry.
“Commercial buildings use 85 percent of [the] energy in the United States. Hotels are high carbon producers.” Henderson said. He acknowledges the difficultly of trying to re-brand in a hotel industry that has been virtually unchanged since large chains were founded, when cheap energy was plenty and toxic interiors were acceptable.
“It is hard for a hotel brand, whatever the model, to drag 3,000 franchisees along with a new concept,” he said. “We are the first to create an environmental hotel brand and offer franchises.” But the idea is clearly catching on. Adoba is currently opening another company hotel in Denver and has plans to open branded hotels in New York, California, Washington, and Oregon.
Dr. John Christopher Fine is the author of 24 books on a variety of subjects. His articles and photography appear in major magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe.
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