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Sustainability Growth in Hospitality

By Paul Van Kauwenberg, PE, LEED AP BD+C
July 23, 2021

It certainly has been a wild ride in the last year in the hospitality world due to Covid-19, but signs continue to point towards improvement in travel.  While we have all learned a lot with remote working and the benefits this has provided - many feel that collaboration, training, efficiency, and business development are not what they used to be, and companies are eager to get these back to previous levels that only come with in-person interactions. With the increased travel that results, people more than ever will be looking for sustainable properties for their stays. 

Sustainability has already been one of the most prominent increasing trends in hospitality, with properties working to reduce energy and water usage, carbon emissions, and to utilize renewable energy sources.  This is especially important with millennials, who are becoming a larger percentage of travelers.  More than anyone, this group cares about minimizing the carbon footprint of their trips and wants to see sustainability as a focus at the properties where they stay. 

In the Boston area, the push to increase sustainability and reduce carbon emissions is constantly evolving and pushing owners and design teams to further reduce the impact on the environment. The envelope backstop in the latest energy code essentially now requires a building’s envelope to pass on its own, and no longer use higher efficiency building systems to make up for a lesser performing envelope.  This is leading to lesser window to wall ratios and/or potential more use of triple pane glass and high performing thermal breaks. Boston’s Zoning Code Article 37, Green Buildings now includes the Zero Carbon Building Assessment, which requires teams to evaluate a low energy building with an enhanced envelope and optimized systems (including all electric), to determine the most effective solutions for reducing carbon emissions for a given project. Furthermore, the Zero Net Carbon Building Zoning Initiative is working to identify additional strategies to even further strengthen the green building zoning requirements for achieving Boston’s carbon neutrality goal by 2050. Soon enough, zero net carbon designs will be required on new projects to meet these goals. In addition, with the forthcoming BERDO update coming, existing buildings will soon be required to make upgrades as well. 

With their high domestic hot water demand, higher typical window to wall ratios, and limited floor to floor heights - there certainly can be challenges on hospitality projects to meet these requirements. Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are all-electric HVAC systems that provide simultaneous heating and cooling at multiple indoor units, all served from a single outdoor unit. However, they have heat recovery units in-between which can take up significant ceiling space. The technology of these systems continues to evolve, and each manufacturer approaches system designs differently - so careful planning and evaluation is required. All-electric, air-cooled domestic water heating systems for use in cold climates continue to evolve and improve in capacity and efficiency as well. These systems can require significant space and construction cost - therefore hybrid systems are a potential solution to balance first cost and overall emissions savings. And from a higher level, the push for all-electric building systems will add significant electrical load to the existing utility grid, and the evaluation and upgrade of this infrastructure will need to progress hand in hand with these future developments.    

Overall, while there are certainly challenges, this is a very exciting time for owners, design teams, contractors, manufacturers, and utility companies. We are all a part of the revolution taking place and are really pushing the envelope - literally! These efforts will require significant integrated efforts upfront on projects between owners, architects, engineers, and sustainability consultants to determine the best solutions possible. This push taking place will force technology to continue to improve, increase innovation, and require properties to make serious investments in sustainability.  The pathways and solutions determined to help meet Boston’s carbon neutrality goals will likely help set the precedent for designs across the country, as more and more jurisdictions move to reduce their carbon footprint.