In the Green Lap of Luxury

In the Green Lap of Luxury

The Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown
reimagines sustainability in a 24/7 business.


By Amanda Sawit

Nestled at the intersection of four busy neighborhoods in the nation’s capital, the stately 10-story Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown has served both local and global communities since 1985. Movie buffs might recognize the hotel from the spy-thriller Enemy of the State, and the hotel has hosted an array of iconic figures, from Muhammad Ali to Arnold Schwarzenegger, in addition to visiting heads of state. From the crisp white marble floors to the light-flooded oasis of a lobby, the four-diamond hotel is nothing short of luxurious. And it might be the last place in town where you would expect to find honeybees.

Shane Krige, general manager of the Fairmont, D.C. Photo: Ana L. Ka’ahanui

The bees, which are guests of the hotel’s roof, have become a symbol of the Fairmont’s dedication to the environment and sustainable practices. As part of a 24-month-long renovation, the Fairmont is currently pursuing Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M) certification. It comes on the heels of years, decades really, of work aimed at shrinking the hotel’s environmental footprint, particularly around energy and water use.

“Put it this way, the front-of-the-house colleagues get to see all the glam and glitter,” says Shane Krige, general manager for the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown. “But in the back of the house, I don’t think a lot of people realize how much energy it takes to run a hotel.”

A Storied Commitment 

The Fairmont brand’s sustainability journey goes back more than 20 years to when the brand, then known as Canadian Pacific Hotels, authored a book on environmental practices and hotels that became a part of the curriculum at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Jane Mackie, vice president of the Fairmont brand, notes that the company has a number of historic properties in its portfolio, and has on occasion been consulted by other property owners for their expertise in building restoration. The challenge is making these spaces contemporary and comfortable without compromising guest experience—and in fact, enhancing it—in addition to increasing the efficiency of these buildings.

“While we were blessed with a lot of these older buildings, they were not exactly built for environmental efficiency to begin with, and many of our newer hotels were…so we really wanted to balance [our portfolio] and reduce our overall carbon footprint,” says Mackie.

These efforts go back to 2006–2007, when the Fairmont brand joined the World Wildlife Foundation’s (WWF) Climate Savers Program. The first hotel company to do so, Fairmont committed to cutting its carbon footprint by 20 percent from the 2006 baseline. “When you have hotels in cold climates…and warm climates…and with some of these buildings being heritage and landmarked, it was a difficult task,” Mackie notes. “We engaged our colleagues and we engaged our ownership communities to come up with real efficiencies and have a long-term focus that is now 10 years in the making.”

In addition to commitments at the corporate level, the Fairmont participates in the Green Key Eco-Rating Program and is just one of two hotels in the area (and one of 46 hotels worldwide) that boasts a 5 Key rating—the highest level of recognition. The goals, set at the local and corporate level, fit in nicely with the long-term goals of Fairmont’s parent company, Accor Hotels, which, in April 2016, launched the Planet 21 Program, a series of initiatives to enhance sustainable development and practice around the world. They also align with the vision of the ownership team at MetLife, which acquired the property in December 2014.

“Sustainability is a focus of MetLife Real Estate,” says Jim Landau, Head of Asset Management for MetLife Real Estate in the Washington, D.C., region. “Environmental, social, and governance issues are very important to us on every level.”

Those values are shared among the hotel’s staff, which has over the years fostered a culture of environmental stewardship that is unique and internal to the Fairmont. “They’ve been working for a number of months in every single department to see what they can do to reduce consumption, particularly [for] water and energy,” says Mackie.

The staff-driven Sustainability Committee has developed numerous programs incorporating the mantra “reduce, reuse, and recycle” into daily operating practices. Over the years, the Committee has spearheaded diverse initiatives aimed at greening the hotel’s footprint, including the installation of a hydrocarbon-powered dry cleaning machine, which replaced the toxic chemical Perc with an environmentally friendly product, and a partnership with Greener Oil Company to collect and recycle kitchen grease—approximately 325 gallons each quarter—for use in the production of biodiesel fuel.

“We have a lot of committed employees,” says Krige. “If you’re in our cafeteria and you put a plastic bottle in the wrong can, somebody’s going to call you out on it.”

Left: 105,000 Italian honeybees living in three beehives produce about 100 pounds of honey per year that chefs use in dishes and cocktails served at the Fairmont restaurant. Courtesy of Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown. Right: Located in Washington’s fashionable West End and adjacent to historic Georgetown, the Fairmont welcomes guests in capital style. Courtesy of Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown.

It is no wonder why the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown was an appealing property to acquire and has become the poster child of luxury hotels for sustainability and community leadership.

“When we acquired the Fairmont we were very pleased that it already had a focus on sustainability,” says Landau. Although the majority of hotels undergo routine upgrades throughout their life cycles, the Fairmont required significant changes in nearly every corner of the property. “The hotel already had many sustainable practices in place, and we were able to basically add on to them and further push the sustainability program here,” he says.

The Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown is considered one of the larger luxury properties located in a highly competitive market for hotel, meeting, and conference space. The District outranks all other states for LEED-certified space per capita. In addition to the high saturation of green buildings in Washington, D.C., one of the main driving forces behind an overall hospitality sector push toward sustainability has been preference. “We have seen in Request for Proposals (RFPs) for meetings and planners a question about ‘What are your sustainability practices?’” says Landau. “So as we’ve renovated the property we’ve looked at [not only upgrading] the common areas and rooms…but also the mechanical plant and sustainable operations.”

Deb Cloutier, principal and co-founder of JDM Associates, which consulted on the project, considers rating systems like LEED a demarcation for investors, clients, and guests. “They see the LEED certification and they may not know everything that went into getting that certification, but there is general awareness that it ties together sustainability initiatives and differentiates the property,” she says.

Setting the Bar Higher

Cloutier notes that the Fairmont was an especially unique project because it involved such deep renovations, and some of the measures implemented also contribute to green-meeting strategies for the hotel. “We looked not only at the potential savings, but also those future revenue streams,” she says.

As it turns out, there were many opportunities that could have brought in huge returns on investment, but it came down to balancing those big-ticket upgrades and prioritizing them to dovetail with LEED certification requirements. Krige points to the hotel’s capital expenditure list—called the capex list—that outlines projects that the hotel has deemed necessary to implement. “We sliced them and diced them, looking at the ones that would give us the most cost savings in addition to LEED as the driving factor, because long-term that’s how our business will be successful.” They then took each project and broke it down by cost, feasibility, and timing, and then compiled it all into an overall renovation plan.

In a 24-hour business that values guests over all else, the hardest decision management can make is whether a hotel shuts down completely or remains open for business during extensive work. As established as the Fairmont is, the former option was just not feasible. So the sequence of operations was staged to first identify ways to improve the building’s operations and maintenance within the existing system, allowing building engineers to get the most out of what they had. A strategy was then created to sequence through each of the renovation components in order to reduce consumption by leveraging the new equipment brought in for the project.

“Our favorite part of the project was collaborating with the really talented team here at the Fairmont, particularly the engineering staff,” says Cloutier. “It allowed us to implement some pretty complicated strategies during renovation of a full-service, 24/7-operating hotel.”

Cloutier’s team helped implement the high-efficiency lighting retrofit of LED lights throughout the hotel, which has made a noticeable difference both in terms of energy consumption and cost—the hotel will enjoy thousands of dollars in bulb replacement savings—and in the quality of the work environment. “It’s amazing how much brighter it is. For me as a general manager I’m all excited because the brighter it is the more you can clean and make sure that the back-of-your-house operations are clean,” adds Krige.

The Fairmont is also replacing its cooling tower and energy management system, which will allow for more control over the sequencing, startup, and use of equipment throughout the building. Referring to the new tower, which is projected to save approximately $53.5 and 509,597-kw hours per year, Krige notes, “Caesar, our building engineer, is so excited that he’s got a big ‘Cadillac’ on the roof now.”

Through a phased approach, guest rooms were upgraded three floors at a time, working from the top of the building down. All guest rooms are now equipped with digital thermostats and low-flow showerheads. “That has been the best approach, definitely, on the room side,” remarks Krige. “There’s not been a lot of interruption for the guests because they don’t even know that [renovations are] going on and before you know it–it’s actually pretty amazing—you’ve got a brand-new hotel.”

Always looking for ways to improve, the Fairmont has set its sights on reducing its energy consumption by 20 percent over a 12-year period. It may sound like a lot for a typical, resource-intensive hotel, but not for this one.

“We thought it was very important for this project to endeavor to take advantage of the Energy Jumpstart credit (EApc67),” says Cloutier. This LEED pilot credit requires projects to demonstrate an energy efficiency improvement of at least 10 percent, and rewards projects that exhibit additional energy efficiency improvement. “With all the other sustainability initiatives here at the hotel, it was pretty much a ‘slam-dunk’ to go for our certification,” she notes.

Krige is confident that the hotel will deliver on its 12-year goal, and if the Fairmont’s recent accomplishments are any indication, the odds are in their favor. In 2015, the brand announced it had achieved WWF’s program targets, becoming the first hotel brand to do so. The Fairmont was also recognized in MetLife’s most recent Energy and Sustainability Challenge, winning the national hotel award and the national award for overall property types. “This award recognizes how the hotel has been operating and the way that we have been trying to push the envelope through our renovations,” says Landau.

For all of the stakeholders involved, it is clear that sustainable business is smart business. “You don’t have to start from scratch to create a LEED-certified building, you can take an existing building and make meaningful changes,” says Mackie, adding that the recent renovation ensures a level playing field to keep colleagues engaged and employed for many years to come.

With the grace and charm comparable to any of the stately embassies of Washington, D.C., the elegant 10-story Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown hotel was designed by renowned architect Vlastimil Koubeck.