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    Charlotte Business Journal: Charlotte Ritz-Carlton brings green to luxury experience

    October 18, 2010


    By Erik Spanberg

    When Balfour Beatty Construction accepted the job of building The Ritz-Carlton’s first environmentally friendly hotel, the only challenge was figuring out how to do it.

    By the time the $60 million hotel opened last fall, Balfour Beatty had negotiated a series of unexpected challenges.

    All the work paid off with gold-level certification in the LEED program, the first Charlotte hotel to earn such a green-friendly distinction.

    Ritz-Carlton emphasized a stringent environmental focus from the start. That determination led architects, designers and others working on the uptown hotel to push for innovations that would earn LEED certification while also living up to the luxury hotel chain’s standards.

    Start with the showers. Balfour Beatty knew the 18-story, 146-room hotel would need low-flow showerheads to meet LEED guidelines. The challenge was keeping guests happy while reducing water use.

    The search for a showerhead capable of delivering enough pressure while limiting water flow ended in failure. That prompted Chris Butlak, Balfour Beatty senior vice president, to ask fixture company Kohler to make one.

    “Basically, they created a new product,” he says. “It’s easy when you tell (a company) that the Ritz-Carlton is behind it.”

    Kohler made three prototypes. Testing fell to members of the project team, who each installed one at home.

    The prototypes earned strong reviews for performance, but the visual appeal fell short. Kohler revamped the design for the Charlotte hotel — and Kohler had a new product to offer other corporate customers.

    Balfour Beatty tweaked the materials and designs in the plans, ensuring Ritz-Carlton met its environmental goals. It meant constantly juggling planning and logistics, from putting multiple collection bins to bolster recycling to finding an effective way to filter and reuse 43,000 gallons of wastewater every day to cool the building. In all, more than 80% of construction scrap was recycled, sparing landfills 3,900 tons of material. Many construction projects are considered a success if 50% of waste is recycled, Butlak says.

    A notable aspect of the recycling campaign involved wallboard. Balfour Beatty formed a consortium with National Gypsum Co. to convert the wallboard for other uses. The effort required the creation of transfer stations closer to the job site to make it easier to recycle.

    Materials tended to be sourced locally and regionally for the Charlotte Ritz as well. For carpet, the contractor couldn’t find a supplier with the Greenguard certification, a measure of sustainable practices. The solution: Balfour Beatty found a manufacturer willing to learn how to earn the designation — and then gave the company the job to make the hotel’s carpeting. A stone selected by the interior designer had a dark grain that would normally be cut out. Doing so, though, would create too much waste. Instead, an alternate pattern of installation was used, preserving the dark grain. The process meant another step toward the coveted LEED designation.

    Butlak credits the hotel for pushing environmentally friendly methods and materials. “They pushed for it the whole time,” he says. “They challenged everyone and they supported it all the way.”

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