Update on the Element: Staying in New York's Green Hotel

element hotel times square new york photo

Migrated Image / Element Time Square

Image credit Element

After reading a review of the Element Times Square in New York, I thought I would try a stay in the so-called green hotel during ICFF and see what it was like. But I also wanted to see how green it really was. I have been in a lot of LEED-certified buildings and a quick look in the cleaning closet lets you know that the low VOC policy ended with the paint; what they do after matters. Does what starts out as green stay green? Do they still walk the walk?

When you walk in the door, you are hit with a sort of Modern European vibe; it very much reminded me of modern midrange hotels in Europe, particularly the Netherlands. Three folding bikes are parked in the lobby in plain view. Behind the elevators, there is a lovely lounge and a sort of greenhouse lounge beyond that. The hotel also clearly attracts a lot of Europeans. I heard a lot of German and Spanish and what I think were Scandinavian languages and almost no English. I really did feel like I was in Amsterdam.

element hotel times square new york photo
Element Hotel Room Kitchen. Lloyd Alter

The rooms also feel European, with a real working kitchenette with dishwasher, two-burner stove, microwave, and an LG fridge and freezer, ( Which I thought was oversized for a hotel room, bigger than most New Yorkers have).

The shower stall has a rain shower head that makes low volume showering pleasant for the first time. Of course, the toilet is dual flush, and they don't give away little shampoo bottles but dispense it in bulk.

element hotel times square new york photo
Recycled vinyl flooring.  Lloyd Alter

The floors in the unit are recycled vinyl instead of the usual carpet. While I am not usually a fan of vinyl, it is nice to not be on a carpet that is hiding bedbugs or has absorbed everybody else's crap from their shoes, and who knows what else. For some odd design reason, they put the bed on a square of carpet that doesn't extend far enough that you even step on it when you get out of bed, it makes no sense at all. I asked, and was told, "It's part of the design."

element hotel times square new york photo
Window and AC/Heat pump unit.   Lloyd Alter

There is an opening window, which is rare these days in hotels and which I appreciate, even though I would never open it because of the street noise. Under the window is the one discordant note in the whole package, an Islandaire packaged combo through-wall air conditioner and heat pump unit.

Looking up the manufacturer's specifications, I find that it was designed as a more efficient replacement for the incremental units put in every cheap hotel and apartment in the 70s and 80s. It seems oversized at 12,000 BTUs/hr in such a small space and chews up 1300 watts in the process. Fortunately, the hotel buys a lot of green power.

It true that the unit is controlled by a motion-detecting thermostat and is only on when the room is actually being used, and there is no question that it is an economical solution, but it certainly isn't the greenest way to heat and cool a hotel. (more and more of them are using ground source heat pumps.) With a sound rating of 62 decibels, it sounded like a train was in my room. I had to turn it off to sleep.

But once I did that I could sleep well, and upon awakening could brew a cup of Rainforest Alliance certified coffee. Then I dropped 40 floors for the full breakfast included in the room's price. I found mountains of croissants and pastries and fruit and more, and wondered, what about the waste? There is so much food!

element hotel times square new york photo
Lobby during breakfast. Lloyd Alter

Jeffery Reich-Hales, the director of Sales, told me that with 411 rooms of hungry people those mountains of croissants would be gone by 7 AM and that there is very little waste. And if there are any leftovers, they are not thrown in the garbage but donated to shelters.

Furthermore, they are starting a new program with Holton Farms, a CSA (community supported agriculture) which is going to supply the hotel with seasonal fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. According to their press release:

We like to say that Element draws on nature for inspiration, so it's exciting for us to inspire our guests the same way by connecting them to fresh, organic, locally-sourced produce. Even our associates are eager to place their own orders," said Brian McGuinness, Senior Vice President, Specialty Select Brands for Starwood. "It's also a privilege for us to be able to participate in a CSA with our neighbors, reduce our own food miles, and support a valuable family-owned business like Holton Farms.

Hotels of this size don't usually go to the trouble of dealing with small suppliers; their support of Holton is a real sign of commitment.

element hotel times square new york photo
Useless cut cable connector still on desk.  Lloyd Alter

I have a couple of minor cavils about the hotel. The elevators can't cope with the traffic when the hotel is full; don't stay on the top floor as I did. There are no drawers for clothing, and I found the closet awkward to use.

The desk is already showing signs of serious wear and tear; they sort of cheaped out on that. There is a "connect for free" wired connection unit sitting on the desk, with a cut cable so that it does nothing. Wifi was free so it is not a problem, but really, why leave it there?

But of all the hotels I have stayed in while visiting New York, the Element has the best mix of green design, practical features like the kitchenette, and good value features like the free breakfast. I love the sexiness of the Standard and the hipster vibe at the Ace, but this is a solid, and greener, choice.