I’ll save the long-winded introduction and get straight to the facts. Based on New York City’s publicly available Local Law 84 (LL84) benchmarking data for 2015, hotels emit 32% more greenhouse gas (GHG) per square foot than the average for all buildings. I also want to qualify this by making a few statements about the data:
- There are 13,973 buildings on the Department of Finance list; of which 2,353 did not comply with LL84 or are not required to comply.
- We removed the outliers. Weather-normalized source energy use intensity (EUI) over 550 and under 100 (kBtu/ft2) typically indicates erroneous data. Most likely either the building’s benchmarking activities or report filed with NYC were completed incorrectly.
- A significant portion of the list comprises the buildings with erroneous data: 4950. Seems a little crazy, no? Leaving us with a good topic for another day….
- For clarity, that means we analyzed the remaining 6,654 buildings.
The good news – for the sake of this post – is that the hotel market had one of the higher rates of correctly reported compliance data. Out of 187 buildings, 143 reported with numbers that were in a normal range. The average for the sector however, reflects EUI and GHG emissions per square foot that are much higher than other similar building types. Multifamily buildings, for example, have an average of 42% lower GHG emissions/ft2 than hotels (see table below).
The Inefficiency of Hotels
A lot of energy is required to operate a hotel – a huge amount, in fact – much of which is not controlled by management, but rather is in the hands of the hotel guests. If it is 10°F outside in NYC and guests want to crank the heat to 85°F and keep every light in their rooms on all night to host a tropical stay-cation, they can. After all we paid good money for the room! While not likely the scenario driving the sector’s inflated energy use, the point is that when we are guests in a hotel, we prioritize our comfort. We are not generally concerned about the hotel’s operating costs as we are when in our own homes, and the energy use is affected.
though sustainability has become an initiative for many hotel chains, most execute projects that do not address the building’s efficiency as a whole. The signs to reuse towels that we’ve all become so accustomed to are great and actually quite effective – helping to cut related water- and energy-use by an estimated 17% – but it’s not enough. Especially since hotels use an average of 15% more energy and water overall than other commercial facilities.¹
|Sector||Number of Projects||Weather Normalized Source EUI (kBtu/ft2) Average||Total GHG Emissions (MtCO2e/ft2)|
Upgrading the base building systems, insulation, and lighting, heating and cooling controls, etc., as well as implementing newer technologies such as onsite Cogeneration/CHP systems would significantly increase a hotel’s efficiency. In addition, hotels by and large, are not yet offsetting their energy use and lowering GHG emissions with renewables. Often, these high-impact opportunities are not considered because many of these properties are looking for an immediate return for their investors, not solutions with a 3-5 year+ payback period.
These whole-building improvements would greatly reduce energy use and emissions regardless of guest behavior. For the average 16 hours per day when guests are not in their rooms, lighting and HVAC systems can be more appropriately controlled by management. And guest rooms are only a part of it: energy-use in common areas, administrative spaces, and especially restaurants which are energy intensive, could potentially see a significant reduction.
OK, hotels, you’ve been bad. Let’s talk about an opportunity to make things right.
New York City’s Carbon Challenge
By now, most people are familiar with Mayor de Blasio’s One City Built to Last plan for New York City to cut carbon emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, particularly since the initiative received international praise and an award at the recent COP21 climate summit in Paris. The plan seeks to increase efficiency in existing buildings, which account for 75% of NYC’s GHG emissions. The Carbon Challenge invites participants to make an early commitment to the mayor’s goal and achieve a 30% reduction by 2025, a benchmark to help reach 80% by 2050. So far, the program has been successful in its endeavor to increase elective participation. According to NYC’s Carbon Challenge website:
“In fact, six participants have already met the 30 percent goal, and twelve universities, hospitals, and commercial offices have expanded their commitment to a 50 percent reduction by 2025. All together, participants have cut their annual emissions by 175,000 metric tons of carbon and are collectively saving almost $175 million annually in lower energy costs. By the end of the program, current participants are projected reduce citywide emissions by nearly 515,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.”
The program has recently extended its outreach to hotels, hoping to increase participation in a sector where it is sorely needed. And, so far, it’s working. In 2015, 17 hotels in NYC have committed to reaching the 30% reduction by 2025. It’s my hope that more hotels use the Carbon Challenge as an opportunity to act responsibly and lead the way for their sector. Unwashed towels can only do so much.
Visit the Carbon Challenge page on the city’s website to learn more and what hotels are participating.