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First Green Hotel - A Journey 
By Wen-I Chang, “GREEN” hotel developer, December 2006
“When one tugs at one thing in nature, he finds it hitches to the rest of the universe”.
                                                                                                          -- John Muir
Years ago, I was celebrating my birthday at a Santa Cruz seafood restaurant with my family. On the table there was no glass of water. The waitress said I had to ask for it due to water a shortage in that coastal city, which upset me. On the way back home on that winding Highway 17, I started to think: “If I have to ask for a cup of water, then what else could I have done in many other ways?  The message of water conservation created a butterfly effect. That night I took a two-minute shower, rather then an eight-minute one that I am used to. I was starting to become more aware of the earth’s condition:
  • By driving in a car alone, America produces 500 million tons of CO2 to the air per year.
  • The garbage truck could line up halfway to the moon from the garbage that we throw away per year.
  • One 10-inch sea turtle had a baseball size tumor around the neck off the Chilean Coast due to sea water contamination.
  • The melting of the glacier has already made some countries in the South Pacific Ocean have a contingent plan to move to somewhere in Africa within half a century.
  • At Palm Spring’s city hall, there is a transparent tube that shows the aquifer water table for that area is 7 feet lower than normal, yet the city is still approving new projects.
  • Every day 40,000 children die of hunger due to uneven distribution of resources among the countries.
  • 75% of the Sunday newspaper is not been recycled.  That represents four hundred thousand trees been cut without replacement (some improvement in recent years).
  • While the earth condition is deteriorating, the hotel industry still has all the squandering habits in its operations.  At the turn of the century, Ritz Carlton advertised whoever had stolen anything from their hotels within the last century could return it while qualifying to win a trip to Bora Bora, Tahiti.  Ritz Carlton’s behavior ignored the social responsibility of a business entity.
One day, I was struck by Paul Hawken’s statement in his book “Ecology of Commerce”,
 “With every living systems on the earth in decline, can we create profitable, expandable companies that do not destroy, directly or indirectly, the world around them?....  Business is not just a reasonable agent for such change: it is the only mechanism powerful enough to reverse global environmental and social degradation.”  
This statement is so in sync with my new age thinking. With encouragement from other entities, I decided to devote the rest of my life to the consciousness transformation of mankind, one traveler at a time and ultimately to change the world.
We have a nine-acre vacant lot in Half Moon Bay, CA., which  I intended to develop as the nation’s first green hotel seven years ago (1999).  The city made us to do all the studies, an EIR and all other reports and spend over $600,000 dollars in fees and spend more than two years.  The local residents’ message was that we were just giving them lip service, i.e.: my green hotel development was not for real. 

I shifted the base to the Napa Valley, where people advocate the union with nature.  That idea fit the practice and idea of one minimalist architect, Mickey Muennig, in Big Sur, CA.  He was a student of both Bruce Goff and Frank Lloyd Wright. Mickey is the architect of Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, CA, a famous and #1 hideaway resort in the US for 4 consecutive years. After knowing my preference on these artists, he designed my Half Moon Bay Hotel Project, a waving glass roof line to represent Debussy’s La Mer and also a Monet’s water lily garden - eye-opening ideas emerging from our two-hour first lunch meeting.  That was the first time in my development life that I had been in contact with an architect that took sustainability seriously while enhancing the architectural beauty. I started to know what Goethe meant by “Architecture is the frozen music.” It is totally away from the conformity of the prototype of those offered by Holiday Inn, Choice Hotel,  Marriot Courtyard, Hilton Garden Inn… and so on.  

Even though his design on my project has not gone to the final approval, Mickey’s sense of beauty and conservation has made a big impact on my future thinking in preparing a hotel development.  We have become good friends.  In American Canyon, Napa Valley, we found a 4.6-acre vacant lot.  The city, the partners and all the consultants loved Mickey’s waving roofline that flowed with the mountain’s terrain and swan lake that took the gray water through filtering.  The addition of a new architect, Todd Jersey, enabled us to cut some expensive elements and made it possible for the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel Project to become a reality and still maintain the spirit of Mickey Muennig. 

Gaia Napa Valley Hotel "Green" Features“
  • Use of recycled materials wherever possible in hotel and construction
  • Chemical-free landscaping 
  • Energy efficient heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system uses 15% less energy 
  • Water conservation features 
  • Solar panels for energy generation 
  • Cooling system features zero use of chlorofluorocarbons 
  • All wood used in construction certified as new growth wood 
  • Specialty zero energy lighting throughout the hotel and public areas 
  • Air quality maximized through low emission paints and adhesives 
  • And many other features endorsed by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design 
Charrette is a design process based on the whole system thinking.  The meeting usually includes the consultants from different fields, the city staff and the concerned residents.   This democratic process also serves as the function of brainstorming that will end up with an integrated design unlike the traditional approach. We were agonized by some of the consultant’s many trial and errors at the expense of the developer.  Mankind had drifted away from our true nature too long and too far.  

As I have three green hotel projects pursuing the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)  (3 out of 11 pursuing for LEED in USA as of by April 2006), I am becoming smarter in selecting the right firm, one that is both conscientious and knowledgeable in green practices.  I have to mention one person who had no knowledge of green interior design before taking my project.  Three months after she started, she had learned everything about green interior materials, which includes 100%, recycled floor tile, low VOC paint, carpet and draperies, etc.  Her name is Shirley Lippman.  

She acts with enthusiasm and passion as if she had a childish heart.  The muralist Yuan Lee, who was singled out commissioned by the U.N.’s near extinction animal program, brought the finishing touch of our green concept by placing a very beautiful wet land scene in front and a special vineyard scene on the side with non-linearity of nature in mind – spring/morning; summer/noon; autumn/dusk; and winter/night in sequence – “the night kisses the fading day and whispers in her ear. I’m death, your mother and I’m to give you fresh birth” (Tagore).  “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” (Shelley) – In fact, the city originally objected the idea of a vineyard even with Seurat’s pointillistic skill. They thought it was just another vineyard painting in a Napa Valley restaurant or even on a restroom wall until I explained with non-linearity.  We are also very pleased to have found a general manager, James Soule, who is so in sync with our ideas and goals that he even runs his Mercedes on used vegetable oil.
The development of the first green hotel is part of a flowing process of entelechy.  It is only the first step toward returning to our true nature from  squandering habits. This first step back was  more than difficult. It takes three re-design to finally settle down.  
At one green building conference, I was surprised to know the Green Building book was sold for $60 while I bought it beforehand through Amazon at $17.95.  This incident has proved a point that I am always aware of and worried about. The problem of our society is the problem of mindset.  If we still have the dualistic separation, we are not coming home to our true nature soon.  A shifting of the mindset from selfishness and separation into reunion with nature and genuine connection among human brothers is the key to the fulfillment of green practice.  Therefore while many hotel developers, who pursue a LEED rating as their ultimate green recognition, I took it further.  In addition to obtain the Green rating from LEED (either silver or gold), I packaged my hotel operation into a medium.  And “the medium is the message” as McLuhan put it.  We placed a plate in the name of a wild bird, wild flowers, animals and even seashells on the door to each room.  To further impact the traveler, I had Ms. Crystal Crosson, a biologist in Redding where I have another LEED green hotel under construction,  make a vivid description of the ecological behavior for that specific species in order to enhance the travelers’ understanding of the endangered species.  Further, in front of the pillows on each bed, we put either a statement about the environment or a romantic short poem to make the travelers’ experience with us a pleasant and educational one.  A collection of children’s fables titled “Sweet Dream” is placed next to the nightstand for people’s easy night reading.  The children’s innate nature is what we adults look for.
Marco Polo’s “description of the world” left the travelers of a later age to expect new encounters, a good kind of cultural shock experience.  Our hotel’s kiosk system gives information on how we can create energy, conserve resources and save the CO2 from going to the air. Our solar lightubes direct the sunlight to the ceiling in a magnified way.  The special and expensive ventilation system will offset the temperature among different guest rooms, not to mention the almost noiseless quietness. The Balinese style spa; the swan lake that was originally designed for recycled water and the permaculture landscaping create a symbiosis bio-ecosystems by itself as well as using non chemical fertilizer, just to name a few.  All these will make the travelers who stay at Gaia Napa Valley not only feel good, but also  as one traveler said, “reduce our guilt.” They will go home with fresh idea and information to start their inner journey on how to shift the mindset of separateness to the mindset of union with nature and human interconnection. The Spanish word “destinaire” has double meaning – promise and journey.  When we successfully achieve that, Gaia Napa Valley Hotel will no longer just be a place to sleep, to stay; it will become a Place, a Journey, a DreamTM.
I am glad that Gaia Napa Valley has opened as California’s first true green hotel.  Innovative ideas still come everyday.

Wen-I Chang, Founder & President, Atman Hospitality Group, Inc.
An entrepreneur and a rebel with a societal mission, Wen I. is passionately committed to transforming the public awareness of ecology into the design and operations of a portfolio of green hotels. Like a seagull, “in fond of storms and dreaming of flying over the sea” Wen I. is launching an innovative hotel system that will revolutionize current industry practices. Even though he has successfully developed hotels under Holiday Inn and Hilton brands, Wen-I wants to make a difference. Following his latest publications of Hotel Investment & Development and Global Brain Awaken, Wen-I knows he can combine the virtues of green with the green of money to promote this noble cause. Wen Chang is pursuing a new book “First Green Hotel – A Journey”.

Wen-I Chang
President, Atman Hospitality Group, Inc
395 Oyster Point Blvd, Suite 213
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Tel: (650) 588-5599


Also See: Owner Wen-I Chang On a Societal Mission Developing an Environmentally Sustainable Hotel, the 133 room Gaia Napa Valley / October 2006

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