A guestroom at the 1 Hotel Central Park in New York.
A guestroom at the 1 Hotel Central Park in New York.

NEW YORK — Barry Sternlicht, chairman of Starwood Capital Group, told a sustainable travel conference where its eco-luxury brand, 1 Hotels, has its sights set for new locations.

Although he announced the formation of the chain to much fanfare in 2006, its first two properties, in South Beach and Manhattan, opened only last year. Another, which was originally scheduled to open last year in Brooklyn, will open later this year.

“There is a market for it, an audience,” he said. “We’re doing one in Sunnyvale (in California’s Silicon Valley), a resort in Austin and, overseas, we're looking at London.”

He said he had just been in Austin on Thursday, and the property he was inspecting was in “the wine country.”

“I didn't even know Austin had a wine country,” he said. (Wine is produced in Texas' Hill Country,  which includes Austin.)

Sternlicht's remarks were made during a keynote at the second annual global summit of the nonprofit Travel+Social Good, held at the United Nation's Trusteeship Council Hall.

On the topic of sustainability, Sternlicht said that keeping designers focused on the overarching principals of 1 Hotels has not always been easy.

For instance, the directive “keep it local” didn't always stick. Looking at initial plans, Sternlicht saw stainless steel prominent in designs for the South Beach property. “Why?” he recalls asking the team. “I don't see any stainless-steel trees around here.” (What wood is in the hotels must be harvested in a sustainable manner, he added.)

Sternlicht also said that internal debates would start over, for instance, whether to have Diet Coke in the minibar. “Not because of the Diet Coke — if [guests] want it and we don't have it, they'll stay somewhere else — but because of the can.”

1 Hotels are bottle-free, Sternlicht said, and even bottled water has been replaced by boxed water, “and I don't even like that.”

Small hourglass timers are put in bathrooms as a guide for how long showers should last. “But they keep breaking,” he said, following up quickly with a pitch to find a more reliable vendor.

Speaking about the 1 Hotels philosophy more broadly, he said “We can be zealous, but we have to be practical.” He wanted to be sure people didn't think that, in a green luxury hotel, guests must “eat carrots and sleep in burlap. That's not going to grow, or find its way into your house. But thinking about water usage and bottles may.”

Patterns have emerged for the type of guests who stay at 1 Hotels, and he said that 65% are women, and that, in general, the chain skews to millennials.

Of the latter group — who also made up the majority of his audience — he pointed out that they “will, one day, grow up to be me: Old.”

Sternlicht acknowledged that his plans for 1 Hotels were greatly curtailed by the recession, which came into play after his launch announcement. “Sites had been planned for Scottsdale, Maui,” he said.

Despite the delays and skepticism from others in his company, he did not abandon the idea. “Perseverance is genius in disguise,” he said. “I really wanted to do this. It was important to me. It means something. It’s not just another deal. And I think we’ll grow quickly from here.”

He said that while “even our investors get a kick out of investing [in a sustainable hotel group],” they are not willing to take a lower return. 

“They may, but not yet. Not pension plans and sovereign players. Some will give you room for error, but that’s a small minority.”

Sternlicht said that sustainable residences his group has built cost 3-4% more, but still sell faster than traditional housing. But, he cautioned, that willingness to pay a premium for sustainability has yet to translate to hospitality.

And Sternlicht said that one key lesson he learned while developing 1 Hotels had more to do with intellectual property law than sustainability, design or service: “It turns out you can’t trademark a number,” he said.

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