There's good news for green consumers on the go, as Starwood Hotel and Resorts has 10 Element hotels open in the U.S., with plans to open dozens more around the world in the coming years, including in Harrison, N.J., and Vaughan, Ontario, in 2013; Vancouver and Frankfurt in 2014; Miami Doral in 2015; and Muscat, Oman, in 2016.
Each of these will, like the original Element Lexington (Massachusetts), be built to LEED green building standards, and cater to customers willing to (possibly) pay a little extra to lessen the impact of their travels while enjoying sleek modern style.
I recently stayed a night with my wife and baby at Element Lexington to see first-hand how this chain catering to the green consumer measures up. The short answer: they don't disappoint.
Built in 2008, Element Lexington is the only Starwood-owned and manager of the bunch; the others are franchises, but operate under the same guidelines to build and operate using non-toxic and local materials, and to operate using technology and practices that reduce both energy and water waste. The packaging is modern and comfortable--from dubbing the lobby a "common space" for communal breakfasts featuring more appealing light and organic yogurt-and-granola-type options than your typical Continental breakfast buffet, to the energy-saving but still gigantic TV offering on-demand movies in the midst of a room designed with a modern color palette and crisply drawn lines.
Like any thoughtfully designed and built green building, you can get dizzy cataloging its attributes, from soy fill in the cushions to faucet aerators to cut water usage by a third. For guests some of the most appealing features include the availability of both recycling and compost bins, the filtered water on tap, the lack of chlorine in the pool (it's a natural salt pool,) and the dishes and flatware in the kitchenette. For drivers of hybrid and electric cars, there are even prime reserved parking spaces.
That's a glimpse of Element Lexington. Each Element hotel is different. The Element Times Square, for instance, offered a farmers market of sorts, so guests could order a cache of Vermont-grown vegetables. (While undoubtedly appealing for some travelers, I personally could not imagine staying in midtown Manhattan and not eating out at every opportunity.)
Here's what is consistent about this hotel chain: You will get the feel of a modern boutique hotel and low-impact green design wrapped in the staffing and quality assurance that comes with staying with one of the world's largest hotel companies.
Therein also lies my one disappointment. There's nothing bad to say about the Element hotel chain. So why isn't Starwood making green design a feature of all it's hotel chains, which also include the Sheraton, St. Regis, Le Méridien, W, Westin, Four Points and Aloft brands? In all, there are 1,076 Starwood-branded hotels, with over 315,000 rooms.
The Element brand is a great option for the green consumer, but we would really celebrate if the Element brand was less a green feather in Starwood's cap than an incubator used to test green practices and designs to be rolled out at its sister brands across the world.
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