Nicholas DeRenzo
Apr 2021

From off-grid eco-lodges in the middle of the jungle to high-tech urban retreats, sustainable hotels come in many forms. Some feature trappings traditionally associated with “green” living—compost piles, solar panels, rainwater collection systems—but others are environmentally friendly in myriad ways you might not even notice: That could mean the lumber used in construction was salvaged from an area warehouse, the elevator works as a generator to store excess energy or the shape of the building itself cuts down on energy costs. Here, five hotels that pair style with eco-consciousness.

Courtesy of Proximity Hotel

Proximity Hotel

Greensboro, North Carolina

America’s first LEED Platinum hotel opened in 2007, not in some West Coast tech hub but instead in this aptly named North Carolina city. Eco-friendliness is baked into its DNA: During the construction process, developers used recycled and ultra-efficient building materials, resulting in the property’s usage of about 40 percent less energy than a traditional hotel/restaurant. In addition to solar panels, you’ll find regenerative drive elevators, which act as generators, capturing energy and pumping it back into the building’s internal electrical grid. The focus on sustainability continues beyond the hotel’s four walls: The developers also helped restore 700 feet of its adjacent stream, introducing local plants and rebuilding the banks.

Courtesy of Hix Island House / Credit: Michael Grimm

Hix Island House

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Set on the hilly island of Vieques off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, this Brutalist compound looks a bit like a supervillain’s lair, but its intentions are much more heroic. Canadian architect John Hix used nature to his advantage when designing this series of blocky concrete buildings. Solar panels capture the Caribbean sunshine to charge batteries that power the house, while enormous, eastward-facing windows harness the trade winds to cool off rooms without the need for air-conditioning. And, as if the surrounding jungle needed any help staying lush, rainwater is collected in cisterns, while gray water from sinks and showers is rerouted out to the garden to irrigate fruit trees outside.

Courtesy of Olas Tulum / Credit: Tanveer Badal

Olas Tulum

Tulum, Mexico

Many travelers view cenotes (limestone sinkholes) as aquatic playgrounds, but this founding member of the Regenerative Resorts collection uses one as an everyday resource: Rather than ship in fresh water like other beachfront hotels, the LEED Platinum–certified property draws water up from a neighboring cenote and uses rooftop cisterns (and gravity!) to get water to each suite. Solar panels power the property, leftover food waste (which is always organic and locally sourced) is composted and wastewater goes through a multi-step purification process that involves an aerobic-bacteria generator and charcoal filtration.

Courtesy of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

New York

New York City may be a concrete jungle, but within it is Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre oasis of native vegetation. Located at Pier 1 in the riverside park is the eco-minded 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, which uses rooftop rainwater reclamation systems to irrigate the gardens out front. During the construction phase, designers incorporated reclaimed building materials, such as salvaged heart-pine beams from the defunct Domino Sugar Factory. Instead of stocking guest rooms with wasteful bottled water, each space includes filtered-water fill-up stations with carafes made from old wine bottles.

Courtesy of h2hotel


Healdsburg, California

This Sonoma County hotel is built on the site of a former gas station, and its construction began with removing contaminated soil from the site and filling the space with drought-tolerant native plant species. A living roof reduces the building’s heat island effect (urban areas tend to be hotter than their greener surroundings), thus diminishing the negative impact on the surrounding microclimate. Inside, much of the lumber used in construction was salvaged, and floors are made from fast-growing—and therefore very sustainable—bamboo. If you want to give back even more, buy one of their stainless-steel water bottles: Proceeds benefit Foss Creek Restoration, which works to protect the creek that runs through the property.

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