Beyond Carbon-Neutral Hotels: Evolution of Eco-Friendly Hotels

“To truly impact our earth, carbon-neutral developments are no longer enough,” said Grant McCargo, co-founder, CEO, chief environmental officer and partner of Urban Villages.

Urban Villages, the company behind the construction of the upcoming Populus hotel in Denver, will be creating the first “carbon-positive” hotel in the United States, scheduled to open late 2023.

The term “carbon-neutral” is by no means new; in fact, in the United States, it was New Oxford American Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” in 2006. But over the last few years, with concerns about climate change rising year-over-year, efforts by hotel properties around the world have been ramping up, with many first-ever eco-friendly properties cropping up around the world.

The 265-room Denver hotel being developed by Urban Villages will have 4,400 sq. ft. of energy-efficient meeting space and will also feature ecological efforts off-property, including a commitment to plant trees enough to cover over 5,000 acres of forest.

A Net-Zero Option

Over in New Haven, Connecticut, Hilton Hotels is working on—and accepting reservations starting May 19—the first “net-zero” hotel in the U.S.

According to a press release, the 165-key Hotel Marcel New Haven will use renewable solar power sources on property to generate electricity for its communal areas, restaurant, laundry rooms, meeting rooms, and its guest rooms and suites, and will operate independently of fossil fuels. Hotel Marcel will have 9,922 sq. ft. of meeting space across eight rooms, which includes private rental of its entire ninth floor.

“Features in the transformation of the building include a power-over-ethernet lighting system that reduces lighting energy use by more than 30%; repurposed building materials throughout, such as light fixtures and carefully restored wood-paneled walls in suites that were once the Armstrong executive offices and conference rooms; and extensive upgrades to enhance interior temperature control and air quality, resulting in the building using significantly less energy-per-square-foot than most hotels.”

Carbon-Negative Upgrades

Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba has been carbon-neutral since 2018, the only one in the Caribbean and the first in North America; but, fittingly, on Earth Day the 104-room property announced plans to go carbon-negative later in 2022.

According to a press release by the property, its carbon-negative initiative, Invest in Our Planet, will include the following.

  • To continue the reduction of fossil fuel-dependency, Bucuti & Tara provides employees with loans for electric bicycles, electric automobiles and solar panels for home use.
  • Guests and staff have complimentary use of the resort’s electric charging stations for vehicles and bicycles.
  • Administrative offices are being removed from the resort’s overall grid and placed on a self-sufficient microgrid, which will reduce electricity use up to 15%.
  • Beef items are being reduced on guest menus and will be 100% reduced in employee meal offerings, which are praised for their healthy items.
  • A new rooftop system is being installed to increase efficiency and further reduce energy consumption by 10%.
  • Replacement rooftop solar panels will continue heating water to meet most of the resort’s hot water demand.
  • Kitchen stoves will be 100% induction burners (currently 75%), which deliver 80-90% of its electromagnetic energy to the food pan versus a mere 38% with gas stovetops and 70% with electric ranges. Bonus: Since the kitchen is not as hot, less air-conditioning is consumed.
  • Interiors and exteriors are almost completely repainted with state-of-the-art insulating paint that draw up to 25% less of current energy consumption, a major feat in tropical climates.

If you are a bit confused by the terminology, you’re not alone. “Carbon-positive” and “carbon-negative” mean the same thing in terms of what they’re designed to accomplish, which is to move beyond just cutting emissions and to offset carbon production by various means, which in Populus’ case, is planting trees.

Why the Focus on Carbon Neutrality?

It’s not a coincidence so many hotels are deciding to go carbon-neutral. It’s all part of a plan laid out by the European Commission in December 2019. As a response to the European Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency, the European Commission presented the European Green Deal.

This plan aims to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050 and reduce emissions by 55% by 2030; this target has also been laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement, created in 2015 signed by 195 countries, including the European Union and the United States—which ceased participation under former President Donald Trump in November 2020 and rejoined under President Joe Biden on his first day in office in 2021.

Major hoteliers have announced commitments to this 2050 goal, as well, including Marriott International and Paris-based Accor. Marriott announced its sustainability plans in 2021, as part of its 2025 sustainability goals, which includes the reductions of single-use plastics, reducing food waste by 50% and working towards the goal of having each hotel in its portfolio obtain sustainability certification.

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