Sustainable accommodation can play a part in managing carbon footprints in the business travel sector. Sustainability will emerge as the most pressing global challenge of the century. As the pandemic crisis continues to unfold and economies struggle to recover, the environmental issues of global heating and biodiversity loss are already returning to the fore.
A year ago, this post would have been simpler. Our first accommodation building in Aberdeen was designed to be energy efficient and user friendly. Now, we have to reflect on how this type of development fits into the post pandemic business environment. As it turns out, a combination of streamlined processes and thoughtful building design, means our apartments have proved be very COVID-secure; a realisation that may see this kind of structure become more popular immediately. However, the focus here is on energy efficiency and the ecological footprint.
There’s more to sustainable accommodation than inviting guests to reuse their towels. Many hotels were built before energy efficiency was taken so seriously. Trying to reduce a building’s ecological footprint retrospectively can be challenging, and give superficial results. Apartrooms Marywell was built based on the principles of Passivhaus, a voluntary standard for energy efficient building that integrates sustainability with the wider architectural design process. As a result, we have an ultra-efficient, spacious accommodation block where the minimum amount of energy is used to generate heat and manage the ambient temperature.
Look up ecotravel on social media and you will see images showcasing biodiversity, multiculturalism, blue seas and lush foliage. This is great but it is important for ecological responsibility to start at home rather than being confined to exotic, long-haul holidays. The business traveller doesn’t choose their end location, but forward-thinking companies can manage their choice of accommodation. Business travel in Autumn 2020 is largely restricted to the national level as people pick up contact with key accounts, start work on infrastructure projects and roll out decentralisation. While a development like ours doesn’t offer palm tree hammocks or coconut water direct from source, we do provide everything a business traveller would need. This means free parking including EV charging points, direct room access with no reception desk or internal corridors, spacious living, working and dining space, free Wi-Fi, large screen TV, comfortable beds and well-appointed kitchens and bathrooms. Sustainable credentials may be central to our philosophy and those of ecotravel but accommodation still needs to be fit for purpose.
We started on a brown-field site for minimum impact and constructed a lightweight building using sustainably sourced materials, with extra insulation and an airtight envelope to retain heat and keep out the cold. The building was aligned to maximise benefit from solar gain; not only do we have 9kW of bi-facial solar photovoltaic panels to help meet electricity demand, but each Apartroom has floor to ceiling glass windows facing south east to help heat the room on sunny days. Solar control glazing and shading prevent rooms from overheating. Mechanical ventilation heat recovery [MVHR] provides fresh filtered air into the building whilst recovering most of the heat energy. All excess energy is diverted to an electric immersion which pre-heats the water used for showers and the central heating.
We have invested in Internet control which allows us to be responsive to changing weather conditions and guests’ needs while reducing the need for site visits. Internet connected thermostats in every Apartroom enable us to monitor and adjust the temperature remotely. Weather compensating gas boilers, thermostats and MVHR are also managed via the Cloud and we use occupancy sensors that can turn off the heating if they detect that nobody is home. When the room is occupied, the control is set to suit the guests’ movements.
All light fittings throughout the building are low energy LED and guests can dim the main lighting in their rooms. The main kitchen appliances are all A+ rated. Shampoo and soap in the bathrooms are provided in refillable bottles. Guests also have doorstep access to regular buses that serve business and tourist locations along the coast between Stonehaven and Central Aberdeen with wider public transport links from there.
And no, towels and sheets are not changed daily. We encourage guests to use the towel rails or drying rack in the room. Since the pandemic started, guests have been asking us to change the linen on an even lower frequency but our laundry service, for which we only use non-bio detergents, remains popular with longer-stay guests,.
We used the example of our own building because we have all the details to hand. We know there are similar initiatives out there and we hope that the hospitality industry can be swift to adopt some of the concepts used in our building. Our Apartrooms aren’t used exclusively by business travellers and contractors but also by tourists, cyclists and anybody looking for a suitably appointed space. Our environmental credentials are important to some but the quality of stay, simple touchless processes and the value we are able to offer are just as important for most. As for any commercial entity trying to follow an ethical policy, it is vital to keep the customer central to the design process. In that way, your stance can be maintained while your business remains healthy. In our case that means a sustainable accommodation business that sustains itself.