Going the distance

Features - Cover Story

Hotel chain Extended Stay America has no reservations about recycling and reuse in hundreds of hotel renovations across the U.S. and Canada.

May 11, 2015
Kristin Smith

Renovating an entire hotel chain’s properties in North America is no small undertaking, especially if it involves salvaging and recycling as much as possible from each location. Extended Stay America began a brandwide refresh of its 682 hotels across the U.S. and Canada in 2012, and with just more than 50 percent of the hotels completed, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based hotel chain has already diverted an estimated 25 million cubic feet of material from landfills.

Through Extended Stay America’s national renovation recycling and donation program, everything from the artwork on the walls to the box springs and mattresses are either donated or recycled from each renovation. Ben Simmons, facilities project manager for Extended Stay America, recalls that when the renovations began, Extended Stay America’s goal was to provide guests with a consistent brand, room and feel “hoping it would lead to the comfort and convenience of guests, knowing they could stay at the same caliber hotel no matter where they stayed in the country.”

The recycling and donation aspect of the project, describes Simmons, came together somewhat organically. “I think we all realized that we had an opportunity to do something good,” he says. “Extended Stay America’s culture is really focused on giving back to the community, and we definitely thought that being as environmentally friendly and as environmentally conscious as we could was a great way of doing that.”

Simmons recalls meeting with colleagues at the start of the renovation project and going through a list of items identified as reusable and recyclable. “From there, we were able to get in contact with some great vendors, some great organizations that really helped to get this thing off the ground,” he says.

Spiraling effect

David Crider, Extended Stay America director of energy and sustainability, says every item was viewed as an opportunity to give back, repurpose or reuse. “Donating items meant that instead of unnecessarily ending up in the trash, materials were being given to those who found value in them,” Crider explains. “When it came to products such as mattresses, box springs and carpet that couldn’t be donated, it only made sense to recycle, giving new life and purpose to those materials.”

Crider and Simmons did not foresee how big of an impact the effort to donate and recycle would have. To date, nearly 113,000 furniture items have been donated. “We’ve done more than we ever thought we could,” Simmons remarks. “We’ve been able to team up with some very great contacts at Habitat for Humanity and Salvation Army. No matter where we go in the country, we’re able to reach out to local affiliates and partner up with them by coordinating pickups for some of the recycled furniture items.”

Extended Stay America has donated sleeper sofas, headboards, chairs and artwork to charitable organizations. It has done this on every hotel renovation completed in the U.S. and Canada from Seattle to South Florida and everywhere in between. In April alone, the company completed renovations in Des Moines, Iowa; Covington, Kentucky; and Dallas. It has about 250 locations left to go. All brandwide renovations are expected to be complete in 2016.

Recycling has been just as successful as donating items. Lumber, carpet, cardboard, mattresses and box springs are all recycled. Simmons says carpet is the most difficult material to recycle because it can be tough to find outlets for it. Most of the carpet removed during renovations—about 9 million square feet—is channeled through a large carpet manufacturer in Dalton, Georgia, where it is made into new carpet.

Wooden pallets, totaling nearly 40,000 feet worth of wood, have been either refurbished or recycled. Cardboard from the renovations also is recycled and has thus far amounted to 437,400 cubic feet.

In addition, mattresses and box springs are recycled. “We require our mattress vendor, when they replace mattresses and box springs, to recycle them,” says Simmons. “They take the used ones to a recycling plant and break out every part.”

Any wood in the mattresses and box springs are made into mulch. Metal frames and springs are recycled and recast into new metal. Foam and cotton can be turned into carpet padding and insulation. “We are at almost 100 percent recycling with our mattresses,” Simmons notes.

From top to bottom

Extended Stay America requires general contractors to provide multiple containers for donation, recycling and trash. Furniture deemed in good condition is placed in on-site storage containers. As the containers fill up, usually every week to week and a half, Habitat for Humanity or Salvation Army will pick up the donations. Carpet is placed in a separate trailer and is hauled to the nearest carpet recycling affiliate. Extended Stay America also requires every renovation site to have a container for cardboard recycling.

Contractors have been accommodating to the hotels’ requests to recycle and donate materials with relative ease, according to Simmons. While a few adjustments to the contractors’ routine may be needed to meet recycling and reuse requirements, Simmons says Extended Stay America has tried to make the transition go as smoothly as possible and has not had any pushback. “It is a little bit more work, but everyone seems to be on board,” he says. “As easy as we can make it for them, we make it for them.”

Simmons says the cooperation they receive from contractors and vendors starts with the commitment from the hotel chain to its sustainability cause and has been well received in every community Extended Stay America has worked in. “It is just really the right thing to do for contractors and vendors. They appreciate being able to give back to the community as well,” he says.


Beyond aesthetics

Charlotte, North Carolina-based hotel chain Extended Stay America has gone beyond aesthetics with the brandwide refresh it is implementing across all of its 682 hotels. Not only are recycling and donations a priority during the renovations, the newly remodeled hotels also have various energy efficient features.

For starters, the company has partnered with Stem Inc., Millbrae, California, to implement a cloud-based technology system that allows the hotel to store energy and use it during peak hours of the day, thus saving on utility costs. The company also is in the early stages of a pilot program in California to use solar power.

All of Extended Stay America’s renovated properties have low-flow shower heads that use 2 gallons of water per minute, compared with 2.5 gallons per minute on the previous shower heads.

The hotel chain also is replacing faucets, toilets and exterior lights with more efficient models and researching occupancy sensors to reduce energy costs while guests are away.

The company’s linen program encourages travelers to hang linens that don’t need to be washed to help reduce water wasted during unnecessary laundering.

David Crider, Extended Stay America director of energy and sustainability, says educating guests is the key to increasing the hotel chain’s sustainability efforts. “Hotel guests control the majority of energy and water usage, making it vital that they are aware of ways to reduce their environmental footprint,” he says.


Insatiable appetite

While markets for recycling can vary from region to region, Extended Stay America says it is having no difficulty finding outlets for its materials. “It seems like we have a good market for the material working with charity organizations and churches,” says Simmons. “Sometimes we don’t have enough material to give them.”

Simmons says some markets have more accessible outlets for materials, such as in California. “We seem to have a lot of luck in California with our donations and with the recycling,” he says, adding, “When you get into major cities, it is all pretty much the same atmosphere with more avenues to make sure all the materials go to the right place.”

Extended Stay America receives positive feedback for its efforts in the communities it does renovations in, but to date, it has not pursued any green building certifications such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The company still has about 250 more hotels to renovate before the entire brandwide refresh is complete. By then, the hotel chain will have diverted thousands more tons of material from landfills.

Simmons says the ability to donate and recycle so much material is rewarding. “It is a great feeling to know that those furniture items or really anything we pull out of those hotels is getting a second life and being able to be utilized somewhere else [rather] than going straight into the dumpster then straight to the landfill,” he says.


The author is editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net.