The Green Enterprise: Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa
Correspondent Sumi Das takes a look at the green innovations in use at the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa, such as solar energy powering the hotel, environmentally friendly guest rooms, and an energy usage meter that shows guests how much water and electricity the hotel is using minute by minute. She also talks with Gaia's creator, Wen Chang, about his motivation for building a green hotel and his mission to provide eco-friendly tourism.
Sumi Das: Hello, I am Sumi Das for ZDNet. Hotels are known for being energy hogs, consuming enormous amounts of electricity and water and producing a lot of waste. Well, one hotel is trying to make a difference offering a prototype for change. It is the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa and it is being called the greenest hotel in the US.
Today, we are going to talk to executives at Gaia. They are going to show us some environmental innovations that they are using at the hotel. It is on next on the Green Enterprise.
The Gaia Hotel is just off busy Highway 29 in Napa Valley, California. And from the outside, it may not look like eco friendly lodging, but take a tour inside and you might be surprised. From solar arrays on the roof of the hotel, to high tech solar tubes that naturally light the building corridors, the hotel is using the sun to power 12% of its electricity.
They are also focused on the customer experience and green living. The guest rooms are made of recycled and sustainable materials and their bathrooms are conserving more water than a typical hotel.
There is even a copy of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" in every room right next to the Bible. Wen Chang is the creator of Gaia. We sat down with him to talk about the green ideas at the hotel and his mission to provide environmentally friendly tourism.
Sumi: Wen, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Wen Chang: Thanks for coming to my place.
Sumi: Absolutely. Now this place is the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa. This is really your baby. Why did you decide to build this hotel?
Wen: Well, the whole earth's condition is degrading and all species on earth is declining. Most of those conditions have been done by business, by the big corporations. And so as a responsible businessman, I think I have to do something.
Sumi: Now you are in the business of hotels. Hotels have a reputation for consuming a lot of energy, generating a lot of waste, people come in and out, maybe they are not as conscientious as they would be at home, what are you doing to change that perception?
Wen: We use sustainable use of material; we use forest stewardship programs lumber. We do the conservation of resource like water. We save more than 45% and also the creation of energy, plus solar panel on our roof top and also the solar tube. All those kind of things we save 26%. Then the most important is educational program. That by doing that we will influence people in the right away.
Sumi: You have been in business for a little less than a year now. What are you hearing from the guests? Are they making a conscious decision to stay here because it is a green hotel?
Wen: Because at the beginning, we did price very low. So a majority of people they stayed at our place because of the price, but gradually and gradually, the people find themselves, we find the people, they stay here because of green hotel, because of the concept. So the higher intelligent, the traveler, the more, the better come to us and that made me excited.
Sumi: So you have smarter guests, is that what you are saying?
Sumi: Tell us how you are saving money here at the hotel by being green?
Wen: Every year, we estimate we can save between $50, 000 to $75,000 just by the energy and the water alone. And, so that it will take about eight years to payoff whatever we invest in here. And usually non franchise hotels, we will pay off within six years. So that means, for the good of the earth, we pay additional two years. But it is a smart decision because after that, we have 30 years free because the hotel is about 40 years.
Sumi: So it is a smart decision, but let me ask you this, there has got to be a balance between the challenges of using green practices but also decisions that make good business sense, how do you strike that balance?
Wen: Well, the balance is that, firstly, you calculate the cost saving and the actual cost you develop, but then anything more than that, you listen to your heart rather than listen to you head.
Sumi: So it is a heartfelt decision more than anything else?
Sumi: Will you only build green hotels from here on out?
Wen: Just like once you see the big ocean, you never go back to look at the pond, the same thing. Once you expand your dimension, intelligent dimension, then you will never go back to those Holiday Inn, Hills & Garden Inn yeah, no, absolutely no.
Sumi: Wen, thank you so much for telling us more about the hotel. We are actually going to get a closer look now.
Wen: Thanks for coming to my place and I hope you enjoy looking around.
Sumi: Our first stop, Gaia's guest rooms.
How is this not your run-of-the-mill hotel room?
Angela Shen: Like you said, it does look like a typical hotel room, but if we dig deeper, we'll see many, many things that make it 'green'. For instance, we'll just start with the curtains in the back; these are all made of natural fibers, as well as the linens. If you look around, everything is made out of natural materials, so even the wood and the rattan all natural materials that can be recycled in the future.
Sumi: And you also carry that out in the way that you paint the rooms as well.
Angela: Absolutely. Here the paint that we use here is low VOC, which stands for 'volatile organic compounds'. So it's very low emission, and it makes the air much cleaner. Same thing for our carpets here, they're all made out of natural fibers. The backing to the carpet is made of natural materials, recycled materials and also the sealants, same as the paints all low VOC.
Sumi: Now there are also some features in the bathroom that are environmentally friendly as well.
Angela: Yes, the restroom is very special. We have an efficient showerhead where it only uses one gallon per minute; whereas, ordinary showers will use 2.5 per minute. And most importantly, what we're really proud of here is using dispensers for our lotions, soaps and conditioners. This way the clients here who stay as guests use as much or as little as they need. There are no plastic bottles that we need to throw out and plug up our landfills with.
Sumi: You're looking at a LEED certified stamp of approval. LEED stands for 'Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design', and it's the benchmark for measuring the green characteristics of a building. The Gaia Napa Valley Hotel was awarded a rare gold certification for its design and implementation.
Sumi: Tell us how you were able to do this, how you were able to get the gold certification.
Yuan Sing Chang: Well one of the challenges that we had was our construction process. A lot of guests don't see this, but one of the requirements we had to do was have 75% of any unused materials not go to the landfill. We had to divert it to recycle places.
Sumi: Now that you've created this hotel and it has achieved this certification, what business benefits can you reap as a result? Are there any?
Yuan Sing: One of the greatest benefits we got was from the city. We got a $1 million tax credit for their TOT tax, so that was a huge incentive for us. So it's definitely been a huge, huge benefit.
Sumi: Next, we visit the roof of the hotel, where they're using the Sun as a central power source.
Yuan Sing: Our entire roof here is energy efficient, from our solar panels to our solar tubes, and to our roofing. These are thin film solar panels made out of silicon. They provide about 36 kilowatts for our hotel, and that relates to about 12% percent of our hotel energy use.
This is the solar tube. What this does is it collects the sun's rays and magnifies it down into our hotel. We have this scattered throughout the hotel common areas. During peak hours, we turn the lights off from about 10A 4P. And these solar tubes light up our common areas. It helps us conserve on energy use.
Another energy saving resource is our 'cool' roof. The roof itself is cool reflective roofing. What it does is it reflects the Sun's rays, so we don't absorb heat, therefore, we can have smaller HVAC units to cool the hotel.
Sumi: The hotel is very 'green' as we've seen so far. And the brains of this operation are with this device right here in the lobby. The creators of the hotel call it the 'energy usage panel'.
Yuan Sing: Well these are our kiosks. We have one kiosk that measures our CO2, one that measures our electricity use, and one that measures our water use. These are updated about every 10 to 15 minutes, so we have live tracking of what we're doing here at the hotel. We also have an interactive touch screen that we can look at our monitoring to compare ourselves with other hotels.
Sumi: How are you able to take what's actually being used and quantify that?
Yuan Sing: Well the electricity use is tied to our solar system and they have a meter that translates the usage that we're using. The CO2 is just correlating with our electricity use the less electricity we use, the less CO2 we're putting out into the atmosphere. Our water use, we have a meter that goes out straight to our water meter and just programs into our computers. So that's how we track it.
Sumi: Now we're right by the front door of the lobby. Why did you choose to place these here?
Yuan Sing: We wanted to make sure all of our guests see this, so they can see what we're doing and they can look at it and interact with our interactive kiosk, too, as an education center.
Sumi: As you've just seen, the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa has installed many green technologies to help run their daily operations. Stay tuned. In the weeks ahead, we'll show you what other companies are doing to help 'green' their enterprise.