Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Take Away

It is very hard to make the point that hotels are environmentally friendly.
The facts of the construction in fragile environments, the trucking in and out, the observation of tourists cavorting in the rain forest make the concept oxymoronic.

Attempts to "green" new hotel construction, don't compute the consequences of the construction itself, the fabrication of the concrete, the milling of the steel. We "certify" buildings as if they arrived on the earth fully realized.

The Proximity Hotel owner argues in his advertising: "But we think that a hotel is about luxury — especially a luxury hotel — not about using less energy."

The eco arguments are challenged by the realities of travel, and the apparent frivolity of discretionary, temporary housing, none of which is necessary, argue against my insistence that we reexamine these institutions as models.

Maybe Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862) was a bit acerbic when he wrote:
"We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcae, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveler's cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same." But I don't think that we can deny the essence of his observation. If we are condemned to emulate the rich then it is within their behavior that I want to find examples that, were they to become widely adopted, would be truly eco friendly. Which takes me back to the reconsideration of the hotel.

Lets start with long term stays. It is a fact that many of the wealthiest among us chose to live permanently within a hotel environment or when on business assignment are accommodated in hotels designed specifically to suit their needs. Have a gander at the Waldorf Residence in Florence, It. If you drill down into the web site you will learn that for approx. $5000 a month a guest can enjoy a 540 square foot apartment. The point is not that only the privileged can afford it, but that people are willing to pay that kind of money and consider it a luxury to be housed this way.

I have heard the counter arguments: It is a temporary situation. It is not suitable for a family. It doesn't apply to my needs. One of the best selling children's book series of all time is enjoying another media blitz. The Rose Suite referred to in the ad is 625 square feet.

Neither of these suites has a laundry, a dining room, a study, and most importantly from my perspective, a kitchen.

I mentioned in a previous post that the success of small spaces is contingent on off loading to the surroundings the little used functions we build into our conventional spaces. In the case of the kitchen it is also the most expensive from a construction cost basis and if you calculate the environmental impact, the most inefficient.

Many of you are not cooking, period. The growth of MREs; frozen entrees, pre-cooked meals ready for pick up at your super-market, carry-out, and home delivery testify to the change in life style that is so prevalent as to render the kitchen obsolete.

Let's do a little math. The construction of a kitchen obviously ranges widely, but you will be hard put to find a quote for less than 50K. That's above the ground cost. Now introduce what money people refer to as "opportunity costs". In this formulation you theoretically burn the money (what it would have cost to build the kitchen) and calculate what the 50K would otherwise earn you, say if you invested it at a rate of return of 6%. The 3K figure then has to be understood to be after taxes so add 25% on top and we now have an annual money stream of $3,750 to buy meals with. That is just the kitchen costs. Add the implements, the food, the energy to prepare it, to clean up, and the time factor, and you start to appreciate having others do the cooking is not a luxury. For foodies who love to cook, and I count myself as one, we retain the DIY option. But, it ought to be just that, an option, and not the pattern of what constitutes housing. If one takes away nothing else from the organic experience of an eco vacation, let it be that you shared the kitchen.

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