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Q&A With 1 Hotel Central Park's CEO

Barry Sternlicht created 1 Hotels with a simple purpose: "Show people you can live well and live green."

U.S. News & World Report

Q&A With 1 Hotel Central Park's CEO

Lobby of 1 Hotel Central Park.

1 Hotels focuses on eco-friendly living to help guests plan a low-impact getaway.(Courtesy of 1 Hotel Central Park)

With a mission to reinvent the eco-friendly hotel concept with luxury properties that are equally sustainable and sophisticated, 1 Hotels is championing a new way to travel with eco-consciousness at the forefront. 1 Hotel Central Park, a five-star hotel that opened in August 2015, is a New York City newcomer that's already earned high praise from critics and travelers for its trendsetting, planet-friendly twists. From recyclable wooden key cards to showers with hourglass timers to encourage guests to limit water consumption, 1 Hotels aims to up the green factor with practical amenities that help guests plan a low-impact getaway.

U.S. News caught up with Barry Sternlicht, CEO of 1 Hotels and chairman of Starwood Capital Group, about his drive for launching a boundary-pushing luxury hotel brand. His responses have been edited.

Barry Sternlicht.(Courtesy of 1 Hotel Central Park)

What inspired you to create 1 Hotels?

It started with my kids, who were – and are – all very actively involved in environmental issues. Then when I started to explore the problem in 2006, I realized how important the issue was. The name 1 Hotels comes from "One World" – an idea that we're all connected and responsible for what happens. Traveling to places like Denmark and Holland really opened my eyes. I saw how far behind Americans are in changing consumption habits. These experiences changed my perspective on the definition of luxury – one that's less about being showy and contrived and more about being creative and real, using natural products, materials and ingredients.

What makes 1 Hotel Central Park stand apart? What are its best attributes?

For 1 Hotel Central Park, we wanted to create a refuge of sorts, in the middle of Manhattan. Even the three-story 'living wall' exterior [comprised of English ivy] is markedly different from the all-glass exteriors of buildings that surround it.

We try to avoid using paper waste as much as possible, so it was really important to have wooden key cards and also in-room devices that replace the typical hotel directory. Our mattresses by Keetsa have a hemp-blended fill, and our sheets are 100-percent organic cotton. For us, it's about the mindful touches that matter. We replaced the typical slippers with socks that can be taken home by our guests.

How was 1 Hotel Central Park designed to reflect a refuge in the heart of midtown and was it challenging to create a natural oasis in a coveted Manhattan address?

For 1 Hotel Central Park, the park acted as our inspiration. The three-story living wall by landscape designer Damien Harrison really tells this story. We put in 1 mile of irrigation tubing within four zones that water individually planted pots. Like the park's own foliage, our living wall incorporates plants that grow and die seasonally; however, our plants' life cycle is controlled by technology rather than the seasons. The challenging part of this project was taking an old box and making it sustainable.

Facade of 1 Hotel Central Park.(Courtesy of 1 Hotel Central Park)

Aside from meeting top eco-friendly standards, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, how is 1 Hotel Central Park's commitment to the environment reflected at the property?

Every aspect of the hotel – from the design of the rooms to the uniforms our team wears to the food that we serve – is looked at through a sustainable lens. Now, not everything we do is perfect, but we're constantly striving to do better. We have incorporated reclaimed woods and beams throughout the hotel from old water towers and upstate New York barn wood. Even the Field House, our version of the gym, has floors that were reclaimed from the University of Wisconsin.

Waste is a huge focal point for us. It's why we are paper-smart. You'll also find triple-filtered water from Triple Clear is available through every single tap so you don't need bottled water. It's also why we work with partners like Orca to compost our food and Tesla for our house car.

1 Hotel Central Park also features an innovative Lobby Farmstand as well as Jams, a farm-to-table concept. How did you go about establishing Jams' unique, farm-fresh menu offerings?

We have a simple philosophy at 1 Hotels when it comes to food: ingredients first. We carry that throughout the hotel and brand. The Lobby Farmstand idea was inspired by the hungry traveler. Our team knows what it's like to travel all day and need a snack when you arrive. The Farmstand gives guests just that with a healthy and organic guarantee. The restaurant was a product of identifying a chef, Jonathan Waxman, who lives and breathes our core values. Jonathan has been a leader in farm-to-fork food for decades.

The hotel offers unique social spaces, a 24/7 fitness center, pet-friendly touches and an in-room camping experience for youngsters. Do you think these innovative services and amenities appeal to a millennial audience?

Park King at 1 Hotel Central Park.(Courtesy of 1 Hotel Central Park)

The hotels were designed specifically for a millennial traveler. We knew this generation was more dialed into the effect of their carbon footprint, and they also don't buy into advertising and big marketing like previous generations. They want a story, a cause, a purpose … 1 Hotels has become a natural extension of their values.

What amenities and services do 1 Hotels properties offer that helps the brand outshine eco-conscious competitors across the globe?

Our willingness to look at the long-term effect of our actions is what sets us apart. Rather than focusing on using the most economical furnishing and building materials, we source from old structures and use eco-friendly goods and products. Using sustainable wood is certainly more expensive, but it's the small price we pay to lessen our global waste.

What's the most rewarding part about creating 1 Hotels, and what can guests expect on their next visit?

It's very rewarding to see guests react to the brand and be inspired by it. A recent survey we conducted found that 48 percent of guests say staying at 1 Hotel [properties] made them be more sustainable at home.

Guests can expect a new effort by 1 Hotels toward living more mindfully. We are working with Biet Simkin [a meditation ambassador] to bring on-demand meditations via audio and video to our guests. We will also donate a portion of proceeds from the sale of our GoodThings and (Not So) GoodThings (our name for our minibar program) to Action Against Hunger. We want to help this organization create programs that eliminate hunger in war-torn areas around the globe.

The next time our guests come to New York City, they will be able to experience our newest property, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, [which opens in February]. We have built a water tank into the basement that will collect rain water, and we can use this to irrigate the park during dry months. We also make the effort to better integrate with our neighborhood, and we hired Brooklyn artists and makers to contribute to the food and beverage offerings, design, art and furnishings.

What's your vision for sustainable hospitality in the future? How can other hoteliers follow your example and move the needle forward?

My vision is for the hospitality industry to think long term about their impact on waste and our environment. We are trendsetters and should be leaders in this space. We're working to make 1 Hotels an example for other hoteliers to learn from and grow from.

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