Breathing Easy

In America's First Environmentally-Smart Hotel

To what some may consider a rather stagnant hotel industry, the newly opened Sheraton Rittenhouse Square is a breath of fresh air…literally. Every 34 minutes, guests of this Philadelphia establishment are bathed in an atmosphere that's been completely filtered of such air pollutants as mold, pollen and bacteria.

The hotel's rooms offer fresh, filtered air.

Although the majority of overnight guests probably remain unaware of this unusual practice, it's certainly justified. Americans spend over 90 percent of their time indoors, and according to Environmental Protection Agency studies, indoor air is two to five times more polluted than out, occasionally up to 100 times more. As many as 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings in the world generate complaints related to indoor air quality, says the World Health Organization.

Taking air quality one step further, there's no smoking in the entire hotel—not even its two cocktail lounges—and guests must sign a smoke-free contract upon check-in. “Ten years ago we didn't even have smoke-free rooms,” says Leyla McCurdy, senior director of Indoor Air Programs for the American Lung Association (ALA). “We didn't have a choice, it's something we didn't even think about.” Yet second-hand tobacco smoke carries over 4,000 chemicals, including nicotine, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide.

“The ALA is very much behind the new movement of trying to provide good air quality in hotels,” says McCurdy. “It's something that's important for all of us. People don't realize the air they are breathing is recycled and may be the cause of their discomfort.”

But being the only hotel in the United States to provide fresh filtered air to each room isn't the Sheraton's only claim to fame. “We've set the bar for what is truly the environmentally sustainable hotel,” says Trudy Mason, vice president of communications for EcoSmart Healthy Properties in New York, the consultants for the building's design. From the moment guests check in at the 100 percent recycled cut glass front desk they are enveloped in a holistic eco-environment.

Sleeping Soundly

Bamboo, which is capable of growing 60 feet in a single year and oxygenates the air at a 35 percent higher rate than other plants or trees, provides the sustainable theme for the hotel. It is repeated from the stand of bamboo in the atrium lobby and the paneling that lines the entrance walls to the recycled aluminum leaf sculpture by the front doors and the shape of the chairs at the meeting tables.

Guests will find signs in their rooms pointing out that “reusing bed linens and towels on multiple-night stays saves an average of 30 gallons of water per day, plus energy.” But they'll also find signs alerting them to the more unexpected details—the 93 percent recycled granite lobby floor, the compact fluorescent lights and the recycled glass wall sculpture, which creates a soothing background as it humidifies the air with trickling water.

“Organic sleep systems”—mattresses with recycled steel springs and a layer of pure wool for fire retardation—are topped with 100 percent naturally grown, organic cotton bedding. Next to the beds sit night tables made from recycled shipping pallets. All of the furniture is covered with a lacquer that eliminates toxic off-gassing. There won't be any off-gassing from the walls, either, since they're covered with paint free of volatile organic compounds or wallpaper made from recycled fibers. Even the wool carpeting is colored with vegetable dyes, and is collected and recycled after its useful life span.

In order not to compromise its environmentally-smart qualities, the hotel uses only non-toxic cleaning products, from the laundry detergents down to the nine-stage allergen filter vacuum cleaner. Small eco-touches like natural shampoos and soaps, and flower seeds placed on the pillow at night, complete the guilt-free stay.

Such extraordinary measures have already won applause from the chemically sensitive and asthmatic communities. “I felt like they designed the hotel with me in mind,” says Sue Riedeman of Middletown, Connecticut, vice-president of the Ecological Health Organization. Herself a sufferer of multiple chemical sensitivity, Riedeman finds that “staying at a hotel is always a difficult experience. I have to call ahead about pesticides, cleaning products, nonsmoking rooms—but they'd already thought of everything.”

According to Tom Cheigan, director of sales and marketing for the Sheraton, responsible construction is smart from a business perspective as well. The hotel, which cost an extra two percent to build with its eco-principles, more than paid for the additional investment in the first six months. All these environmental amenities don't come cheaply to guests, however. An overnight stay at the Sheraton Rittenhouse Square starts at $269. But if sheer peace of mind and body is your goal, you can rest easy.