A Night at the Proximity - My Stay at the First LEED Platinum Hotel

Regular readers know I have a standing policy against posting announcements, case studies, or other related info about new LEED certified projects... mostly because you can find them all over the place. Well... today I'm breaking that commitment a little, but I promise to do it the Real Life LEED way (read: I'll focus on quirky details that interest me and possibly no one else)! The reason for this review is partially because until this weekend I've never been able to spend more than a few minutes in a LEED building at once, and partially because if I review this building I get to write off the costs of staying there as a business expense!

The Proximity is clearly a luxury hotel, a fact that would be lost on anyone looking only at the camera-phone pictures I'm about to provide. The hotel really does prove that you can be sustainable without sacrificing comfort, and I would suggest checking their website's photo collection to get a better feel for the full experience of the place. All the expected green features are included (40% energy savings, whole room kill switches, a very large solar thermal array, regional materials, etc.), and you can find the official USGBC case study and final LEED-NCv2.2 Checklist with descriptions online.

A True Commitment

While the design and construction practices leading to their LEED Platinum certification were no doubt substantial, what really impressed me about this hotel is its managements' commitment to sustainable operations. Not only do they track the energy use of the facility, they have built a running model that figures in hotel occupancy and uses an on-site weather center to calibrate the performance under ever changing conditions! Having had a few years to learn how the building really works, they've even gotten to the point where they provide rooms for guests based on energy performance... They don't place people in the south-facing rooms until the hotel is filling to capacity so they can close the blinds and reduce the solar heat gain to the maximum extent possible. You don't get to that point by just letting the design and construction team do their thing and simply moving in.

This attention to detail runs to other sections of the hotel... The image above shows how guest rooms not only feature CFLs, but feature different size CFLs in each light to allow for multiple light levels down to 7 watt bulbs... a concept I plan on implementing in my own house if my current lamps ever end up burning out.

Another interesting feature was the fact that all guest room floors feature a small fridge and icemaker on the 'honor' system, presumably because standard vending machines are pretty big energy hogs... This may not work in a less affluent hotel where the clientèle may be more prone to petty theft, but I thought it was an interesting tradeoff to reduce process energy use.

They're also willing to take their time. Though I don't have an image to show, they have a currently small extensive green roof that originally featured 17 different sedums. After a few years they've found the 3 or 4 that seem to be a good fit for the climate, and will be expanding their green roof over time...

The LEED Bump?

Free marketing and increased occupancy rates are commonly cited benefits of LEED certification, and while talking with Tony Villier, a very helpful (and knowledgeable!) LEED AP Guest Service Coordinator for the Proximity, he mentioned that roughly 20% of their event sales cite the property's LEED certification as one of the primary reasons for choosing their facility. While I can't verify the authority of that statement, the LEED Platinum status of the hotel was about 90% of the reason I was staying there (the other 10% being the blissful matrimony of Mr. and Mrs. Ryan McDowell the next day). Amazingly, I also ran into an interior design student at the Art Institute of Charleston, Catherine Collins, eating dinner with 'a friend' at the Print Works Bistro (the hotel's luxury on-site restaurant that was also included under the same LEED certification) the same night, and she mentioned that the chance to eat in a LEED restaurant shifted their decision as well. I'm not sure how many people were there that night overall, but I can say with certainty that at least four people spent money at the hotel that likely wouldn't have been there if not for the effort spent going through the LEED process.

Final Thoughts

I'm not sure what target demographic the management was seeking when drafting plans for the hotel, but I can say they pretty much nailed it if they were going after picky bloggers in their mid-twenties with a penchant for a comfortable minimalist aesthetic. For someone who works on LEED all the time, it was gratifying to finally be able to experience a certified building for longer than the few minutes it takes to tour them. My only complaint is that it's not located within walking distance of downtown... I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone, but LEED APs in the Greensboro, NC area should definitely spend the few extra bucks to upgrade to this sustainable, four-diamond hotel!

1 comment:

Joao said...

Interestingly enough the highest-rated LEED building in the U.S. right now is a monastery http://www.benedictinewomen.org/. I just wrote a story about this project for The Zweig Letter.