On the way to Colorado for vacation, I stopped in Omaha with the family and stayed at an Element by Westin. It was not hard to convince me to stay because I wanted to see what the Element was all about and we used Starwood Preferred Guest points for a free night’s stay. My wife was easy to convince because she prefers to stay in a Westin whenever she travels because of the so-called Heavenly Beds.
Currently numbering 13, the Element sub-brand is positioned as the eco-friendly lodging option. By itself, this is a unique branding attempt because I can think of no other hotel chain that has taken “eco” as a selling point. Sure, every hotel puts up little signs about reusing towels or sheets and puts CFLs in the light fixtures but there has never been a ground up concept focused around being less harmful to the environment.
The Element in Omaha is a Silver Certified LEED hotel. I can argue that a LEED certification can be “gamed” and that it only captures a building’s efficiency at construction as opposed to its ongoing efficiency, but constructing or retrofitting buildings to the standards of LEED is a step in the right direction.
In the room there are nice little touches that remind you that this hotel is trying to do something different. In the shower, the little disposable bottles have been replaced by dispensers of body wash and shampoo. In the kitchenette, a single use packet of Seventh Generation dish soap is provided for your use:
This seemed a little odd given the focus on reducing packaging waste. Why not a reusable pump bottle? Ceramic cups have replaced the foam or paper cups in most hotel rooms:
I could go into all of the components that Starwood says make an Element the eco-friendly choice—dual flush toilets, recycled or green building materials, low VOC finishes, Energy Star appliances in the kitchenettes, etc. I think those are all well and good, but the central question remains: Regardless of the efforts made to reduce the footprint, isn’t a hotel still a huge black mark on the environment?
In the end, it is still a hotel and there is only so much that the concept can do to become truly green.
But, the keycard did tell me to get out and ride: