‘Sustainable luxury’ is all the rage. But how does it actually work?


The streets of Midtown Manhattan are a frenzied maze of hot dog vendors and taxi cabs; high-end boutiques and chintzy gift shops; out-of-towners and locals.

Amid the hubbub is a three-story living wall of English ivy, a small slice of urban zen growing on the facade of a building. Passersby who look up on the northeast corner of 58th Street and Sixth Avenue are reminded that nature can still thrive here.

Conceptualized nearly a decade ago, 1 Hotels is a so-called “sustainable luxury” brand with locations in both metropolitan centers and beachside hideaways. They’re designed to be high luxury with low impact. The company’s first location, 1 Hotel South Beach, opened in 2015, followed by two hotels in New York later that year.

Travelers are more interested than ever in sustainable travel options — and are willing to pay a premium for it. According to Euromonitor’s Sustainable Travel Index from August 2023, nearly 80% of travelers are willing to pay at least 10% more for sustainable features.

Google Search data shows that “sustainable hotels” is a term that’s been trending upwards over the past five years. In addition, Google now carries an eco-label in hotel search results for properties that carry a certification from a trusted third-party group, working directly with organizations like the US Green Building Council (which provides LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – ratings).

The 1 Hotel Central Park outpost, much like the nine other properties around the globe, ascribes to this high-low philosophy, bringing the outside world in while using reclaimed and natural materials wherever possible.

Besides the exterior greenery, redwood staves from New York City water tanks and timbers from local barns were repurposed as materials in guestrooms during the hotel’s construction process. Headboards were custom-made, with hemp-blend mattresses and delicate, hypoallergenic organic linens. A total of 60 guest rooms feature cushioned window seats overlooking Central Park.

All 1 Hotel properties are LEED or BREEAM certified (or in the process of getting certified), Meanwhile, all US locations are either carbon-neutral or on the way there. (While LEED and BREEAM are both internationally accepted environmental certification programs, BREEAM is more commonly used as the standard in the United Kingdom and in parts of Europe.) Raul Leal, CEO of SH Hotels & Resorts (the company that owns 1 Hotels) says the brand’s core founding principle is to connect to the natural environment, based on an individual property’s surroundings.


“Sustainability has always been integral to the DNA that makes up our brand, the thread woven throughout all our hotels,” he says. “We believe that prioritizing sustainability and leading with nature does not mean having to sacrifice design, functionality, or luxury.”

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, a flagship property on the lush Hawaiian island of Kauai, was an intricate, years-long renovation project that minimized the use of new materials to reduce its carbon footprint. The sprawling luxury resort — which opened in 2022 — partnered with RE-use Hawai’i, a “deconstruction” company, to salvage more than 144.6 tons of existing furniture, fixtures and equipment from the previous build.

While Leal notes that the environment is at the forefront of everything they do, it doesn’t come at the expense of “reaching” to guests when they stay. “We find everyday opportunities to make an impact … our mission subtly comes through at various touch points throughout the customer experience,” he notes.

That includes features like a shower timer with a gentle reminder to reduce water use after five minutes. Guests at all 1 Hotels are provided access to fully electric, luxury Audi house cars (that they can also test drive).

Meanwhile, some properties incorporate a lobby farmstand with produce that’s imperfect in appearance and whose producers would otherwise be discarded.

Every 1 Hotel also participates in a sustainability and social impact initiative in which guests can leave behind gently used clothing at the end of their stay. Those items are then donated to local charity partners, such as New York City’s Housing Works which provides services to those living with and affected by HIV, AIDS and homelessness.

Of course, 1 Hotels isn’t the only luxury player with sustainability as a major brand pillar.

Six Senses, the Thai barefoot luxury chain of hotels and resorts, has its own “Sustainability Fund.” It’s a commitment that guarantees 0.5% of the company’s overall revenue, 50 percent of its house-bottled water sales, and 100% of its soft toy sales and donations go toward restoring habitats and improving the quality of life in the communities where they operate.

Similarly, Banyan Tree, the global line of aspirational eco-hotels and resorts, offers something called the “Greater Good Grant.” Nonprofits can apply to this fund intended to preserve the destinations, diverse cultures and host communities where the company has a presence. Banyan Tree also self-produces an annual sustainability report, now in its 17th iteration.

Beyond the dedicated funds, certifications and overall environmental stewardship, true luxury brands — Six Senses, Banyan Tree, and 1 Hotels included — must focus on sustainability at the individual level. For hospitality companies embodying sustainability and luxury, a certain “have-your-cake and eat-it-too” mindset is needed.

None of that comes cheap. Six Senses Ibiza, the first BREEAM-certified resort in the Balearics, has a starting rate of $1,050 per night while the aforementioned 1 Hotel Central Park begins at a more modest $432 per night.

“We believe that wellness and a focus on one’s personal wellbeing is a natural extension of the idea of ​​being in harmony with nature,” says Leal. That means programs to foster wellness, whole-body health, and spiritual fitness. For 1 Hotels, that includes a Bamford Wellness Spa offering a selection of holistic treatments, services, and classes.