The Greening of Napa Valley

Mrs. Lucas and I recently spent the night at the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa. The hotel is the world’s first and, to date, only LEED Gold-certified hotel. 

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a set of environmentally friendly, so-called green building standards created by the aptly named United States Green Building Council. The standards are aimed at cutting down construction site waste, saving water, using less energy, incorporating ecologically friendly building materials and improving indoor environmental quality. 

Construction projects get rated on how well they do those five things. A maximum of 69 points is possible. A score of 26 to 32 points wins LEED certification. A score of 33 to 38 points earns a Silver certification.  A Gold certification requires 39 to 51 points and is exceeded only by a Platinum certification, which comes from a score of 52 to 69. 

The state of California, for example, is charged by Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order S-20-04 to meet, at a minimum, LEED Silver standards in the design, construction and operation of its new and existing buildings. 

Silver isn’t easy to achieve, as the state is discovering. Imagine what it takes to get a Gold rating. That could be why Gaia is still the only hotel to win such a rating. 

Given those facts, there was some worry that the toilets wouldn’t have water in them, and the recycled this and the bamboo-rattan that would be both overwhelming and cloying. 

It was anything but. It was reasonably priced and seemed more than anything else like an upscale Holiday Inn. 

The only real tip-off to Gaia’s greenness is the xeriscape out front and around the pond and swimming pool in its central courtyard. On closer examination, the reception building outer wall appears to be rusty re-used corrugated tin. 

There are circular clock-size displays behind and across from the reception desk gauging electric use in the hotel. Low-emitting, fuel-efficient vehicles get preferred parking. 

The 132 rooms each have individual names: Osprey, sage, wind, crab, lorikeet, mink, Lassen, chickadee, heron, orchid, chinchilla, sea turtle, bobcat, abalone and so on. We stayed in Room 266 – orangutan. 

However, the card on the nightstand with the Earth from outer space on its front turned out to have factoids on the back not about orangutans but the Sea Lion. There are five species of sea lion worldwide. Their principle diet consists of squid octopus, fish and krill, the card informs. 

“Predators, parasites, disease, pollution, fishing nets and man have played a significant part in the decline of sea lion species,” the card says. “However, the once depleted California Sea Lion have rebounded due to the protections afforded by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

The toilets have water in them but are low-flow, as are the showerheads. The koi pond in the courtyard uses recycled water. The carpet and the pad under it are made out of post consumer recycled stuff.  Recycled tiles and granite in the bathrooms. 

The developer of Gaia in Napa, Wen-I Chang has now opened a second Gaia in Anderson, near Redding. A third is slated for Merced. 

The Anderson Gaia has 122 rooms but a pond that’s twice as big as Napa. Sixty percent of the existing trees on the property were preserved. 

Creation of the Napa Gaia cost about 12 percent to 15 percent more than a standard hotel of its size. Chang, thanks in part to the increasing popularity of building green, whittled that margin down to 6 percent for the Anderson property.   

We’d go back.


Filed under: State Agencies


  1. Lots of people are starting to discover that staying “Green” doesn’t have to be a lean experience. It’s great to see that the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel are joing the ranks of hotel operators who value environmental stewardship. The hotel has a Green Eco-Leaf Rating at iStayGreen.org (found at http://www.istaygreen.org/property.cfm/hid/11353345 ).

    The next step is to get the public to reward the efforts of properties like the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel. I saw this earlier today “If 10,000 people stay at hotels with efficient toilets, faucets and showerheads, each night we’ll save enough water to fill 11,263 whirlpool bathtubs.” It’s the people that make the difference.

    Comment by Richard — 10.03.2008 @ 7:29 am

  2. Would a fast food restaurant with a driveup window ever qualify for LEED certification much less a Silver rating?

    Comment by Brian Hines — 8.29.2009 @ 9:24 am

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