When Marriott International President and COO Arne Sorenson addressed employees and assembled dignitaries at the company’s Bethesda, Md., headquarters this spring, it was in celebration of the headquarters’ LEED certification. During his remarks, he stressed that the achievement was only the beginning for Marriott’s green efforts. “I think we can have 300 LEED-certified hotels within the next five years,” he said.
Indeed, Marriott is well on its way to accomplishing that goal. There are already five Marriott-branded hotels open with LEED certification, and the company expects to have 12 opened this year. In 2005, Marriott became the first hotel company to partner with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) on its volume build program, and today Marriott boasts a pipeline that will get it to its goal of 300 LEED hotels by 2015. That quest promises to be made easier by a new LEED prototype for the company’s Courtyard by Marriott brand.
“We had involvement with [USGBC] and we began talking to them about building a prototype for LEED hotels,” says Karim Khalifa, senior vice president of architecture and construction at Marriott International. “At that time, they told us that PNC Bank had done a certification program to build a prototype for its banks. Of course, we said, ‘We can do that with our hotels.’”
Khalifa says that the decision to debut a prototype using the Courtyard by Marriott brand was something that came about due to circumstance. “We had a prototype that was pursuing LEED certification as a one-off hotel in Settler’s Ridge, Pa. [near Pittsburgh] that was being done by Concord Hospitality,” Khalifa says. “We told them we wanted to submit it to USGBC for certification as a prototype. They said, ‘Terrific.’” The Settler’s Ridge property is expected to open this summer.
The Courtyard prototype is merely the first prototype for Marriott. Khalifa says the company will have prototypes for all five of its brands.
The company believes the Courtyard prototype will save franchisees $100,000 and six months on development time in creating a LEED-certified property. In addition, the specifications automatically qualify a new property for certification.
Maintaining the Experience
“The first thing about the prototype we wanted to make certain of was that the guest experience was the same,” Khalifa says. “We feel that we can achieve the certification for all five of our brands and maintain the guest experience for each brand.”
When creating the Courtyard prototype, Marriott and Concord Hospitality set out to attack energy efficiency. They added LED lighting to the corridors and added water- efficient toilets. They also increased daylight to the building by increasing the size of the windows.
“During construction, USGBC obligates a number of measures to prevent erosion runoff, so we also have erosion control,” Khalifa says.
For guests, most of the environmentally friendly measures of the hotel will be largely unnoticeable. “I think the guests will find the building more full of light but I’m not sure they’ll walk in and immediately see it as a green hotel, and we think that’s a good thing to tell you the truth,” Khalifa says. “We’ll tell them about it and educate them about it, but they’ll have a great experience just like they’ve always had.”
Benefits and Returns
For hotel owners and developers, the benefit of building a green property is seen in the payback they receive from the property’s efficiency. Marriott estimates that the costs of the prototype can be recouped in three to four years, if they do not already receive any incentives from governments and/or utilities. In several situations, local utilities or governments offer rebates and other incentive programs for building LEED certified buildings or turning to energy efficiency methods. It those cases, Kalifa says, the payback can be cut to between one and two years.
The Courtyard Portland City Center—a LEED Gold certified hotel, which was not built from the prototype—estimates its return to be 18 months.
One of main benefits of the protoype, Khalifa says, is that it ultimately takes away risks involved with developing a property seeking LEED certification. “Some owners have never built these types of buildings so there’s a worry about who they’re going to work with and what they need to do,” he says. “They’ll still be able to use their normal cadre of consultants because we’ve given them the solution.”
And having a ready-made solution lets developers build a green building in less time. Cutting off six months from a LEED-certified building is similar to building a standard hotel, according to Khalifa.
“Finally the benefit we’re all hoping for is the hotels will get some guest preference from having a certified hotel,” Khalifa says. “There’s no indication that they’re going to get a better rate in the marketplace, but they may get preference. We know that there are people calling and asking what your hotel does for the environment. We think this gives them a very strong story. It’s certified by a third-party source, so it’s not what Marriott claims to be green. It’s what USGBC says Marriott has achieved.”
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