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New York hotels take a green turn

Large and boutique hotels alike are changing their ways in New York City, adopting cleaner, greener practices to be more sustainable.

A hammock in the Skyline 1 Bedroom Suite at 1Hotels Brooklyn Bridge

New York is experiencing a hotel boom. Around 65 new properties have opened since 2015, bringing the total number of hotel rooms to 112,000, and there are about 25,000 more in the pipeline. That’s a lot of beds for a city that never sleeps.

As the industry grows, the city of New York has taken steps to make it cleaner and greener. In January 2017, for instance, the city began enforcing a new law requiring hotels to dispose of organic waste through composting and other sustainable means. “There’s a city-wide push across all industries to go green as part of the OneNYC plan,” says Magdalene Sim, director of communications at Great Forest sustainability consultancy. She’s referring to an initiative that aims to eliminate landfill waste by 2030, and to cut the city’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent, among other goals. Ambitious? Definitely, but it’s already making an impact. A few months after the organic waste rule was introduced, The Peninsula New York, for instance, managed to divert 66 per cent of its waste from landfill.

The mural in the Superior Room at the Intercontinental New York Barclay.

Aside from regulation, hotels also have financial incentives to reduce waste and energy consumption. “Hoteliers realised that they could lower costs by being better stewards of the Earth,” says Hervé Houdré, chairman of the Hotel Association of New York City. “In the late 2000s major hotel brands began to integrate sustainability into their strategy and the independent hotels followed.” Low-flow water fixtures, energy-efficient lighting, and giving guests the option to reuse their towels are now standard across the industry.

But according to Houdré, sustainability isn’t just about being environmentally friendly. It also entails social responsibility. At the Intercontinental New York Barclay, where he’s the general manager, seafood shells from the restaurant are donated to the Billion Oyster Project to help repopulate New York’s oyster. And used floral arrangements from weddings and events are collected by Repeat Roses, who distribute them to hospitals and aged-care homes before eventually composting them.

Eco-conscious chain 1 Hotels tries to inspire guests to appreciate their natural surroundings.

Although such initiatives are increasingly common, most still go unnoticed by hotel guests. Few people who check into the Westin New York at Times Square realise that their room keys are biodegradable or that housekeeping only uses eco-friendly detergents. At the nearby Intercontinental New York Times Square, diners enjoying fresh herbs and honey from the hotel’s rooftop garden are usually unaware that the green roof’s main function is to insulate the building – or that the building itself was made using recycled construction materials sourced within an 800-kilometre radius.

The conservation efforts at 1 Hotels, however, are impossible to overlook. The eco-conscious chain, which has two locations in New York, actively markets itself as nature-inspired and is the latest creation of Barry Sternlicht, who previously founded the design-focused W brand. 1 Hotels proudly showcases its sustainable ethos, with examples like hemp-filled mattresses and organic cotton sheets, or complimentary Tesla rides and farmers’ markets in the lobby. “We see ourselves as more of a cause than a hotel brand,” says Cornelia Samara, general manager of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. “We want to inspire our guests to open their eyes to nature and how important it is to take care of it.”

The lobby of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.

Sustainability may be on the rise among New York hotels, but will it prove to be a temporary trend or become the new normal? Houdré is hopeful that the concrete jungle will keep getting greener. “I’m optimistic that all New York City hotels will eventually recognise that sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but is the basis of any strategy,” he says. A cleaner, greener New York sounds good to us. Now, about that noise… 

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