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What the new garden roof hotel in Haymarket might mean for green shoots in the industry

Representation of the voco Sydney hotel in Haymarket. Image supplied by BVN.

UPDATED: The hotel industry has traditionally taken a back seat in the sustainability arena – and that’s troubling given the tourism industry accounts for 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – but now there are signs some of the big players are moving in a greener direction.

The proposed designs for a new hotel for Intercontinental Hotels Group in Sydney’s Haymarket include a green roof that slopes down on an angle like a waterfall.

According to the architect in charge of the project, BVN senior practice director Peter Titmuss, the green roof will naturally detain and filter stormwater, curb the urban heat island effect, provide an extra insulation layer and thanks to its sloping-shape, will provide more habitat space for birds and insects than it would if the garden was flat.

Recycled rainwater will be used to irrigate the sloping garden.

The climbing plants, which have been selected to suit the location and low water use, will be secured in place with a grid of cables Mr Titmuss told The Fifth Estate.

He also said that the reason for the distinctive wedge shape was to stop the overshading of the nearby Belmore Park (as per the City of Sydney’s requirements) while still maximising the envelope of the site.

“Viewed from the public domain it will connect the building to its setting across Belmore Park and unify the building’s architectural form,” he said. 

The 301-room “voco” hotel developed by Linzhu Australia on a 14,036 square metre site is designed to meet with IHG’s internal standard called “Green Engage”, which has been developed to benchmark energy performance for the group’s hotel operations.


These set greenhouse gas reduction and water use reduction targets. Overall, the group aims to reduce the carbon footprint of each occupied room by 12 per cent by 2017 from the 2013 baseline.

Level 1 is a requirement for all of the group’s hotels, and includes actions such as tracking consumption data, setting up a property green team and installing energy efficient lighting in guest rooms.

It’s also going for Hotel NABERS 4 star energy rating.

Other sustainability features include:

  • performance glazing 
  • air handling units with heat recovery are proposed to reduce the cooling and heating total load
  • thermal metering
  • the central chiller water plant will employ a highly efficient control strategy that combines variable chilled water pressure and variable chilled water flow
  • domestic hot water system that will exceed the minimum 5 star rating
  • water cooled chillers selected to exceed the minimum BCA Part J efficiency by up to 30 per cent
  • energy efficient lighting and water saving fixtures
  • apartments will be designed to maximise cross ventilation

Level seven will have a restaurant, bar and open terrace and be accessible by both guests and the public. A public art commission will highlight the connection of this terrace to the street.

voco Sydney Central will open at 430 Pitt Street by 2020.

Another major hotel chain, Hilton, is also moving in a more sustainable direction.

Today Hilton Brisbane it announced it was planting 100 trees at Lambertia Close Park, Mt Gravatt East to mark the 100th anniversary of the hotel brand. 

The hotel provider also has an inner-city bee hive and pollination program, recycles old linen to create usable bedding, has a soap recycling program, and participates in the St Vincent de Paul Return-It and Clean the World recycling actions.

Why the hotel industry has been slow to the sustainability game

Energy efficiency isn’t much of a priority for hotels because energy is such a small component of costs, far outweighed by staff and other luxury and service items. But with rising energy costs, this attitude might be shifting.

Elsewhere, there are not many drivers for sustainability improvements. The customer is always in transit and therefore not usually very engaged.

What’s more, the structure of long term leasehold for the operator and a typically disengaged freehold owner means the big cost of upgrading the kit creates a split incentive problem that’s even worse than the office sector. The owners are unlikely to want to pay for expensive new equipment when the tenant gets the benefits through lower outgoings.

According to Jay Gualtieri, managing director of Ausnviro, the lack of competition in hotel ownership means there is little incentive for hotel companies to pursue high sustainability ratings, such as NABERS for Hotels. He told The Fifth Estate last month that this takes the pressure off hotel owners to compete to provide their services sustainably.

But Mr Gualtieri said the sector could follow the lead of offices if corporates and government officials start committing to staying in minimum rated hotels, just like they have committed to limited rated tenancies. 

The Property Council is also advocating for government procurement policies that mandate staff stay in minimum rated hotels because “they are well placed to drive better performance,” Property Council national policy manager – sustainability and regulatory affairs Francesca Muskovic told The Fifth Estate.

The council also supports the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Destinations Partnership, which was introduced in June last year to encourage hotels, event centres, cultural institutions and tourism bodies to work together to improve environmental performance.

The new partnership has been modelled on the Better Building Partnership for office property owners and industry, and already has some big names signed up such as AccorHotels, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Shangri-La.

Ms Muskovic said the sector is starting from the beginning in many respects, but “there are some sensible and tangible things that they can get started with” to improve environmental performance.

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