JJ Steeley of Carbon Lighthouse on Positioning Hotels for Recovery and an Energy-Efficient Future

Throughout this year’s slowdowns, hoteliers have taken time to reevaluate their operations, considering technology and protocols that could help ensure the health of their employees, guests, and bottom line. JJ Steeley—executive vice president of customer experience at Carbon Lighthouse, a company that delivers profitable climate solutions to commercial real estate owners, investors, and operators for financial, operational, and climate impact—says that part of this “new normal” is planning for unpredictability. “Those who do will rise to the top, even in the toughest circumstances.” As part of LODGING’s AHLA Spotlight series, Steeley shared how Carbon Lighthouse is helping hoteliers take a data-driven approach to operating in the current environment and more.

Can you give some background on your company?

Carbon Lighthouse is an energy savings-as-a-service company on a mission to stop climate change. We are focused on commercial real estate since 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions come from the built environment. Carbon Lighthouse’s business model and patented artificial intelligence (AI) platform, CLUES, help office buildings, hotels, retail stores, and other commercial properties eliminate carbon emissions by uncovering hidden energy inefficiencies in buildings and turning wasted energy into bankable NOI.

To date, we’ve worked in over 100 million square feet of commercial real estate (predominantly office and hotel), eliminated emissions equivalent to decommissioning 11 power plants, and delivered more than $150 million in new profit for clients. Those that have signed on to convert their portfolio’s wasted energy into profit include Ohana Real Estate Investors (Montage Deer Valley), Montage Beverly Hills, Hawaiian Hotels (Royal Lahaina Resort), Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Claremont Club & Spa A Fairmont Hotel, Benchmark Hotels, Goldman Sachs, The Swig Company, and A&B.

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What innovations have changed the way Carbon Lighthouse approaches its hospitality clients over the past few years?

The same technologies that enable Carbon Lighthouse to optimize a hotel’s energy use are also helping us guide our clients through today’s new normal. High levels of ventilation are crucial to the safety and confidence of guests but put huge demands on HVAC systems and operating expenses, not to mention the significant increase in carbon emissions. We can help increase indoor air quality with responsible climate strategies and the least penalty to operating expenses.

Hotels have long been implementing more sustainable strategies to offset their carbon footprint in guest-facing areas of the business. Back-of-the-house investments have been more limited but offer an untapped opportunity for energy efficiency and cost reduction without sacrificing guest comfort. Carbon Lighthouse leverages advances in IoT sensors, AI and machine learning data analytics, building software, battery storage, lighting, and solar to make it feasible and cost-effective for hotels to invest in energy efficiency.

We developed our patented AI platform, CLUES, to find, quantify, and deliver energy opportunities in hotels and other commercial properties. This software can quickly and accurately simulate building energy use at a granular level, combine it with other external data, and quantify a corresponding real dollar value of energy savings. Advanced AI and machine learning technologies enable CLUES to process thousands of real-time data points in a hotel’s HVAC and lighting systems—the largest energy-consuming equipment in buildings. Rooted in thermodynamics and enhanced by machine learning algorithms to accurately and quickly establish how a building operates, CLUES adjusts the complex and interdependent configurations of these systems around the clock across a variety of ambient and occupancy regimes so that the building’s energy usage is optimized for maximum energy savings, occupant comfort, and carbon emissions reduction.

How do you see the hotel industry evolving over the next five years?

We’ve seen COVID-19 uncover a stark reality that most hotels lack even the basics of 21st-century proptech in their back-of-the-house systems. Increased pressures from the investment market, guest and group booking demand, and now COVID-19 and the recession require more modern systems that enable agile, resilient hotels. The slowdown from COVID-19 is allowing hotels to take a step back and reprioritize previously deferred maintenance, updates, and investments. Taking the opportunity now to invest in greater digitization and controls technologies can future-proof hotels, creating a short- and long-term impact on their finances, operations, and the climate for years to come. From recent wildfires that drove utility rate hikes in California to COVID-19 to carbon taxes in New York, the fairly unsexy HVAC system is playing a larger role in the industry’s overall financial picture.

What prompted Carbon Lighthouse to get involved with AHLA?

AHLA is a cornerstone of the hospitality industry and has been on Carbon Lighthouse’s radar since we started serving the market. The critical work AHLA does for the industry aligns with Carbon Lighthouse’s goal of advancing and modernizing the industry through energy efficiency.

What is one thing about your company that you want AHLA members to know?

Carbon Lighthouse helps hotel clients take a data-backed, science-based approach with operating in the new normal. We not only streamline hotels’ current operations but modernize back-of-the-house systems for hotel resilience to weather both planned and unplanned disruptions in the future. It may be hard to see this now, but improving a hotel’s ventilation efficiency and effectiveness is crucial to the economic recovery, and—in the long run—will improve asset value once things stabilize.

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