The Expanding Role of Sustainability in Hospitality Design

By Chris McDonough, LEED AP, Principal | The Gettys Group

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

­- Frank Lloyd Wright

Every aspiring architect studies the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose deepest inspiration came from nature and its integration into the built environment. In hospitality design, however, Wright’s vision of blurring the lines between the outside world and the indoor environment can still be an aspirational goal.

Even with green policies and practices becoming the expectation in the hospitality industry, building hotels that successfully acknowledge and assimilate their surroundings continues to be a challenge, but one worth exploring and meeting head on.

Eco-Friendly Travel and Tourism

The hospitality industry became increasingly aware of the growing importance of ecological concerns when the World Travel & Tourism Council first began certifying green travel and tourism businesses in 19971. Some of the world’s largest hotel brands adopted eco-friendly practices and made entire green marketing campaigns their cornerstone.

However, the travel and tourism sector still lags behind other industries such as apparel, retail and consumer packaged goods in the performance and reporting of sustainability practices2. Travel and tourism, which is responsible for 9.8 percent of the world’s GDP3, has a real opportunity to help advance environmental transparency and accountability amongst the world’s top corporations.

It Takes a Village

When building a new hotel, it’s easier to implement environmentally sensitive practices and policies from the concept stage through execution. Utilizing energy-efficient fixtures, reducing waste and recycling building materials have become the gold standard. In a city like Chicago, where many of The Gettys Group’s projects are located, hospitality designers can’t avoid being environmentally aware thanks to strict building standards.

However, with rebuilds and renovations, it can be more challenging to uncover those opportunities to build a greener hotel. Collaborating closely with the architecture team and the various vendors on a project can help create and ensure environmentally sound practices are incorporated and executed.

A recent hospitality project, The Hotel at Oberlin, located 40 miles outside of Cleveland, Ohio, recently provided a welcome prospect to implement sustainable building practices from the very outset of the development. As one of only five hotels in the country to meet the United States Green Building Council LEED Platinum standard, the property is the first hotel in the U.S. to incorporate solar, geothermal and radiant heating and cooling. Other sustainable features include a retention basin to filter storm water and rainwater harvesting for landscape irrigation, as well as automated exterior solar shading devices to reduce indoor heat gain.

The hotel’s ownership was committedto using new technologies such as radiant heating and cooling, which set the tone for the project and carried through its design. The building’s central theme is the image of a treehouse, with lofted elements and canted columns resembling sturdy tree trunks. This is a perfect case of the property’s architecture and interior design working harmoniously.

Set on a wooded landscape filled with American elm trees, The Hotel at Oberlin is a study in its surroundings. A centerpiece of the design is the wood used from a dismantled 19th-century farmhouse found on the grounds. We used these wood features throughout, including in a striking bar for the hotel’s restaurant (where locally sourced ingredients star on the simple American menu). Along with our Procurement team, we also selected carpet tiles made of recycled materials for use throughout the hotel’s guestrooms and hallways.

In this careful amalgam of intentional design and innovative technology, we were able to create a hotel that is truly at one with its environment – a hospitality goal worth pursuing.

Chris McDonough is participating in an industry-only panel discussion about sustainability and living design on June 6; if interested in attending, please contact Mary Mullen,  


  1. World Tourism Organization

  2. World Travel & Tourism Council

  3. World Travel & Tourism Council

Want to keep up with the latest in living design? Subscribe to receive updates to your inbox.

  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon
  • Grey Pinterest Icon

Copyright © 2020 to sage vertical garden systems, llc • All rights reserved

730 West Randolph Chicago, IL