Bring on the Biophilia: the World’s First Fully Net-Zero Hotel Opens with two Women in Charge
Last week, room2 Chiswick the world’s first whole life net-zero hotel opened in London. What’s even more exciting is that the property is run by a woman, Luana Giaveri, and sustainability for the ownership company, Lamington Group, is headed up by another woman, Chantal Beaudoin, who's been working in sustainability for the past 15 years, most recently with McDonald’s restaurants in the UK.
Just off the main shopping street in Chiswick (an upscale residential neighborhood in west London), the 86-room hotel is beautiful, set in a low brick building with enormous crittall style windows, bringing all the biophilia feels––the entrance and lobby are filled with plants! Modern furniture, exposed beams, and ceilings, wall hangings, and local art strike the right balance between earthy and contemporary. The company describes the property as a “hometel” which would be considered an “extended stay” in the US, as all rooms have a small kitchen, dining and working areas in the rooms.
It doesn’t seem like any comfort or convenience has been sacrificed for sustainability, yet room2 Chiswick is forecast to use 89% less energy per m2 compared to typical UK hotels, and it is the first hotel in the world to fully account for its entire carbon footprint, making it ‘whole life net-zero’. With these bold claims, we chat with Chantal and Luana to learn more about how it works and what the industry can learn from this innovative hotel.
First, Chantal, what does “whole life net-zero mean”?
Being whole life net-zero, means both embodied and operational carbon have, and will be, rebalanced throughout the entire hotel’s lifecycle. All emissions associated with the hotel's production and construction, materials used, operations, maintenance, refurbishment, and including the eventual clearance of the building will equal zero.
Luana, are you excited to be the GM of the world's first fully net-zero hotel / “hometel”?
Yes, this is a major milestone for the industry and I am proud to be part of it! This development has been taking place for seven years and I’ve joined at the most exciting time. I cannot wait to give guests an experience to remember and show them how we’ve incorporated sustainability into the building and our operations.
Chantal, how is the hotel able to use 89 pct less energy per sq meter?
room2 Chiswick is expected to be 89% more energy efficient than the typical UK hotel per sqm. The ground source heat pump is 36% more efficient than traditional systems and converts 100% of the energy required for heating, cooling, and hot water. The hometel is also piloting a low heat domestic hot water system expected to reduce energy use by 9% and has maximized on-site solar to produce around 5% of the building’s energy needs. It’s everything from how the building was built with the lowest air permeability levels, to the occupancy censored lighting, heating, and cooling that make a difference in our expected consumptions.
The hotel uses 100 % renewable energy, what does that mean?
We buy from a renewable energy provider that produces energy from solar, wind, and hydro offsite. And as mentioned, the hotel also generates some energy, there are solar panels on the roof that provide around 5% of the building’s energy demand and a heat pump that provides all the heating, cooling, and hot water for the building. This works by extracting heat energy from the earth, through 200m deep loops, and drawing it to the heating and water system. This also works in reverse to cool the hotel.
The hotel has a “blue” roof and a “green” roof, can you explain?
The green roof is made up of 200 tonnes of soil and has an abundance of greenery to promote biodiversity. It is also an insulator, meaning less energy is required to heat the building, one of the largest energy expenditures of operational carbon. The blue roof sits underneath the green roof, it catches and retains up to 50,000L of rainwater, slowly releasing it to the drainage system to reduce the chances of local flooding.
Tell us more about the interiors? Everything was made within 10 miles? Nothing in the hotel is imported?
Yes and no. 100% of the loose bespoke furniture was made 10 miles from the site, this is anything that we designed that you can pick up and move for example the chairs in the lounge. We’ve also worked with a range of local artists to produce unique items such as the mirrors in the bathrooms that were hand-made in London by Kieran Letts. Other interior wins have been the bespoke banquettes in the bedrooms which were made in Chiswick and from FSC wood.
We’ve prioritized local suppliers but in some cases, it has not been possible to source the items that we needed. In these cases, we’ve gone for items that are as local as possible and/or have a sustainability story for example the reclaimed tiles in the lobby, the recycled glass pendant lights in the bathrooms, and the bespoke hand-stitched bedside lamps made from vegetable-tanned leather in the bedrooms.
What about the TVs and other appliances?
Yes, those are imported. In those instances, we have purchased carbon offset to account for the transport and supply of these items.
Tell me more about the food waste situation?
Every single room has a separate food waste bin incorporated in the 3-in-1 bespoke bins, we believe we are the first hotel company to do this. The food waste is collected by our team and taken offsite to be made into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion.
Do you think room2 becomes a prototype for the industry going forward?
We are confident that we are leading the industry with our flagship hometel, room2 Chiswick, and want to inspire others to match our efforts and work with us to improve the hospitality sector.
How hard would it be for an existing hotel to incorporate all or some of these efforts?
Most of the features and standards would be possible in an existing hotel. Some wouldn’t be possible, such as the ground source heat pump, and measuring the embodied carbon of the building can only be done if certain documents are obtained at the time of construction to be able to complete a life cycle assessment.
Which of the environmental programs are most transferable to other existing hotels?
The best place to start is to understand your impact by measuring and auditing your carbon emissions, water footprint and identifying your biggest environmental impacts and opportunities. In terms of practical implementations, if you have a flat roof, solar panels could be added to current buildings to generate renewable energy. And then in operations, we have reviewed and tested cleaning products to ensure all products are eco-labeled certified and/or plant-based. Across our supply chain, making each decision count to eliminate plastic, prioritize recycled content, and working with local suppliers should be a priority.
Do you think anything has been sacrificed in the guest experience?
No, the guest experience has been improved by the care and attention of our initiatives. We strongly believe that the guest will have a more fulfilling experience knowing that we have made all our decisions with sustainability in mind. The implementations we’ve made don’t affect the style or comfort of the hotel but it does give it a better story and give them a unique experience.
What do you feel has been enhanced by the green efforts?
The guest journey has been enhanced as they are now part of something bigger and it is a new way for us to communicate and engage with guests on something that has grown exponentially in importance over the past few years. In terms of the physical building, using the space smartly, the roof alone catches 50,000L of water, has 200 tonnes of soil on it that insulates the property, and grows an abundance of greenery to promote biodiversity. It also generates energy through solar panels and is home to beehives that will benefit the local environment and economy.
Luana, have you been able to fill all the jobs in the hotel? Do you think being a Green hotel has made the property more attractive as an employer?
Yes, a common theme with our interviews was the interest in the sustainability focus of the company and the mission of the hometel. This was not a surprise as statistics show that employees want to work for sustainability-focused companies and are also more loyal to them.
Are you seeing good interest in bookings?
Yes, before we even opened there was over £100K of sales secured by corporate clients aligning with our net-zero mission. It is early days but we are confident that our bookings will remain high.
According to Google trends, the term “green hotel” has quadrupled in search volume since March 2020.
Who is your main market?
Our main market is split between corporate and leisure travelers. As corporations are becoming increasingly aware of the need to become more sustainable they are assessing their suppliers and corporate travel stays to make sure they align with their values, we believe that this demand is only going to grow.
Are there more room2s planned / what is next for the company?
Yes. The company’s vision is to open 5,000 keys by 2030 under the award-winning room2 brand. This will be achieved through the acquisition and development of its own properties, alongside leases with its investors to grow the pipeline.
As a journalist covering women in hospitality, I see lots of women in leadership roles for sustainability, more so than other areas of top management. Chantal, why do you think that is?
Research shows that women are more socially responsible, I would think that this leads them to be more environmentally aware too as ultimately the role is caring for the environment and the people living in it. I think that it is really important that women have leadership roles within a company and I am excited to hear that we are owning this space!