Sustainability is nothing new to Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. In many ways, the Canadian hotel company’s embrace of the environment can be traced to its beginnings in the late 19th Century. Back then, when the company was known as Canadian Pacific Hotels & Resorts, it began opening hotels along the Canadian railway. Many of its original properties were nestled away in national parks and forests along the Canada-U.S. border. With the outdoors as its neighbor, the hotel company quickly recognized the importance of taking care of nature and keeping it beautiful.
Over the last century, that notion became a standard part of the company’s culture. And since the early 1990s, Fairmont has held a reputation within the lodging industry as an early adopter of the “green” movement and as one of the most environmentally friendly hotel companies in the world.
“That really came to light when we published our ‘Green Partnership Guide’ in 1990,” says Len Czarnecki, currently general manager of Fairmont’s first LEED-certified hotel, Fairmont Pittsburgh, his third property in the Fairmont portfolio. “That really solidified the company’s approach to the environment. The subtitle is ‘A Practical Guide to Green throughout the 1990s and 2000s Fairmont not only made “greening” a focal point of its properties, but also made it part of the company’s overall culture—for good reason. It makes perfect business sense. Czarnecki says the operational aspects of greening a hotel contribute mightily to cost savings in aspects such as energy usage and waste removal. In this day and age, it also gives a hotel a strong marketing tool.
But today, being eco-friendly is about more than green practices; it’s also about building an eco-friendly property.
“We’ve always done it more operationally for a very, very long time,” says Leslie Shammas, executive director of design and construction for Fairmont Raffles Hotels International says. “Now, we’re really trying to push it on our design and construction end. We’re really rolling it out in the design and construction standards, where it’s now very prevalent.”
Whether as a function of design or operations, Fairmont, like many hotel companies these days, considers eco-conscious lodging a matter of standard procedure, especially considering the efficiency green practices can bring. The result is a more streamlined operation, a better return on investment, and a beneficial message to bring to the table when it comes to attracting and satisfying today’s guests.
And nowhere is an example of that philosophy brought to life more than at Fairmont Pittsburgh, a shimmering tower nestled in the heart of a city once known for the immense air pollution billowing from its steel mills, but revitalized as a place with an increased focus on greening.
There was a time when building green may have sent shivers up a developer’s spine. One of the reasons many hotel developers tended to put environmentally sound design on the back burner was the cost and a lack of proven return on investment. Not so, anymore.
“With the times changing, green is not such a scary word to [hotel] owners anymore when you consider the financial benefits of it,” Shammas says. “The image of it is becoming more mainstream. We can put [a green building up] without scaring everyone off.”
Shammas says that Fairmont has always tried to operate in environmentally friendly buildings, but for the first time, this year added a green section to its design standards. “We have green minimal requirements throughout and identify them as such in the document,” Shammas says. “That’s the first time we’ve ever done that.”
For many hotel owners, in general, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has become an incentive to build green. Fairmont is no exception. Fairmont Pittsburgh was designed specifically to achieve the certification. (The hotel recently was awarded the LEED Gold certification.)
The choice to go after LEED certification at Fairmont Pittsburgh was a decision that Fairmont and the hotel’s owners made right from the beginning, a decision aided by the hotel’s location. The hotel is part of Three PNC Plaza, a 23-story high-rise owned by The PNC Financial Services Group Inc. Three PNC Plaza is one of the nation’s largest green, mixed-use buildings. The hotel is housed in 10 floors of the building.
The choice to design toward LEED certification was also made easy by the fact that, like other hotel companies, Fairmont realizes that building green has become a way to improve return on investment. “You always hear the buzz in the industry that there’s always a surcharge for [building green], but I think that we’re convincing owners now since we’ve done it a few times whether we’re we are LEED certified or with products that are LEED complementary, it’s getting less and less scary,” Shammas says. “I think owners are more adaptable to it now.”
Shammas says that green hotels and Fairmont are a natural fit, stemming back from those beginnings previously mentioned. She also says that the company’s embrace of local themes also makes eco-conscious hotels a natural fit for the company.
“We have a lot of resorts and the resorts are typically local,” she says. “We really try to talk about open air, which makes a connection with the environment. We do it with landscape—very indigenous landscapes.”
Those aspects of design are very much on display at Fairmont Pittsburgh. Shammas says that working with Gensler, the well-known architectural firm, which brought in Paladino, a green building and sustainability consulting firm, Fairmont designed the property not only to be green, but also to be long-lasting. “That’s where the hard part came in. It’s easy to go green on a product or a material but in order to make it durable for hotel use is where it gets tricky,” she says. “The big issues were the quality of finishes and the casework, and all the way down to the silicon in the showers to make sure the showers didn’t leak.”
Shammas says that Fairmont Pittsburgh is just the first LEED-certified property in its portfolio. She says the company has plans to introduce more certified hotels in the future. “There is definitely a plan for it. With us rolling out these new green standards, we’re very much going in that direction and would very much like to promote it to the owners,” she says. “However, it has to be an owner’s final decision. We can’t force it on a project, but we’re going to really strongly recommend that they go forward. A lot of green minimal standards are green-compliant such that if they want to go toward accreditation, they easily can.”
Fairmont Pittsburgh features a strong use of local products and materials. It also was designed to reflect the local culture. In many ways, those two aspects of the hotel contribute to its sustainability.
“We make a great effort to source locally when we can,” Czarnecki says. “During the construction of this hotel, almost all of the case goods came from within a 500-mile radius of Pittsburgh. In today’s environment, many of those things typically comes from thousands of miles across the ocean. By sourcing locally it’s not only one way to support local vendors, but also it avoids the whole concept of having to ship things all over the globe.”
Czarnecki says using local sources extends beyond furniture, case goods, and building materials. As part of the regular operation of the hotel, which relies heavily of food and beverage outlets and service, Fairmont Pittsburgh sources its ingredients from the local community. “A very high percentage of the food products that we use come from local farmers. Our produce, beef, poultry, vegetables, fruits, come from almost all local vendors,” Czarnecki says.
And the hotel does its best to market that fact. The hotel’s food and beverage outlets maintain decidedly local themes. Andys, the hotel’s lobby restaurant and pub, is named after two Pittsburgh icons, Andrew Carnegie and Andy Warhol. It features drinks and dishes named for, and in many cases indigenous to, western Pennsylvania. Habitat, the hotel’s other restaurant promotes home grown dishes.
Czarnecki admits that local sourcing isn’t always the least expensive option, but that by using local foods and organic foods, the hotel gains a natural marketing tool that he says has been well received. “We find it creates much better flavor and quality—things are fresh,” he says. “What it’s done from our guests’ perspective is that they appreciate it more. There are people today that are much more aware of the food they are eating. They seek out these types of foods. It’s been really well received.”
Czarnecki says one of the biggest keys to running a green hotel is to look at the overall operations and to make certain they run as efficiently as possible. As an example, he discusses waste removal as an operational efficiency that can considerably green a hotel and cut costs.
“One of the big waste byproducts that come out of hotels is food,” he says. “We generate a lot of food waste. Traditionally, it ends up in landfill-bound waste containers. What we’ve done is partnered with a company that makes a product that is essentially a giant compost unit, but it does it very rapidly. It uses naturally occurring enzymes. We put the food in, it churns it for about 24 hours and quit literally it gets flushed down the drain. It’s treated as wastewater and is completely fine for the sewer systems.
“That eliminates the need for all of the transporting back and forth as well as the need for all of that to go into a landfill. That’s one small way we have chosen to operate,” he continues. “It certainly has streamlined our trash operations.”
Another important aspect of operating efficiently is the hotel’s employees. In fact, Czarnecki says they’re critical. “If you don’t have the buy-in from all of the colleagues at all levels, this doesn’t work,” he says. “The culture starts with our brand new colleagues so everyone goes from an orientation and a critical component of that orientation is about the environment.
“The belief from our company is that if the colleagues are educated and made aware of it, they will not only support it in the workplace, but also hopefully take it home and carry out some of these practices at home, “ he says. “It sort of becomes a domino effect.”
Whether it is design or operations, Fairmont is looking for the domino effect to keep going as it introduces new hotels. And, as a company that has considered itself green for a long time, it will continue to become even more eco-conscious as it continues to grow.