Holland & Knight’s Sentman on Sustainability

As the seventh attorney in the U.S. to earn the LEED Accredited Professional designation, Shannon Sentman, real estate attorney at Holland & Knight L.L.P., leads a legal practice focused on the interconnectedness of all aspects of sustainability, and also specializes in the hospitality, resort, and timeshare segments. Sentman talked recently about the state of green hotel development. CPN Hospitality: Are you seeing more interest from hotel developers and owners to go green?Sentman: We’re seeing a lot of push from the big hotel companies, such as Marriott and Hyatt. It’s more on their agenda. State legislatures have also gotten involved. Florida has a green hotels program, and state employees must stay in these hotels when they are on official business. There still is a lot of education needed about building green hotels. Some developers thought it cost 20 percent more to build green, or 10 percent. It varies as to what kind of hotel is being built, but the premium is closer to 1 percent, and the owner can recoup that by greater operating efficiencies. Building energy efficient buildings is good for the planet, and can mean money savings. Electricity costs have gone up an average of five percent per year over the last five years.CPN Hospitality: What are some of the key factors that developers and owners should know when they are weighing whether or not to go green?Sentman: They should really talk to someone who knows what the real costs are to going green. A developer may be using a team who may not be up to speed on green building. They may provide the wrong information on costs, because they don’t know the real costs, or can’t build green. It’s important to find the right people with knowledge of the hotel industry.Debt and equity sources will see higher upfront costs on green hotels. There have only been a handful of LEED certified hotels that have been built, so there isn’t a lot of information out there on potential return-on-investment. Lenders are much more familiar with green office buildings, because so many more of them have been built.CPN Hospitality: Are travelers becoming more focused on staying in green hotels?Sentman: The marketing information has to get out there. The next generation will usually pick green. But if you’re doing a quick Expedia search for a hotel room, you’re not going to know if the hotel you choose is green or not.CoStar, though, will say if an office building is LEED certified. There is a green brand coming to the market, 1 Hotel & Residences. Branding green is going to be important in the future.CPN Hospitality:  What are the major obstacles to going green?Sentman: The obstacles will be fewer when hotels that are green are operating more efficiently, and owners are spending a lot less on electricity. But there is a greater focus on it, and developers are going to find ways to do this.