How The Proximity Became The Greenest Hotel In America

By Christina Maness

When travelers drive up to The Proximity Hotel, in Greensboro, North Carolina, they’re unlikely to miss the hotel’s large windows, the luxurious white canopy leading into the main entrance, or a posh London-style taxi cab parked out front. What guests are unlikely to notice, however, are the 100 solar panels installed on the hotel’s roof.

London Taxi at the Proximity Hotel Greensboro North Carolina. Photo by Zygmunt Spray.

Similarly, when guests enter the hotel and wander the lobby they won’t miss the earth feng shui element infused into the hotel’s interior, or the two spiral staircases leading down to a lounge area looking out into a garden. But they miss the fly ash in the concrete columns supporting the building.

If you want to experience yourself in a green hotel, we’re happy to tell you about it.

Every element of the hotel, from the overall design to each carefully appointed furniture piece, exudes the unmistakable aura of four-diamond luxury. And then sustainability, if you’re looking closely.

This overall guest experience at the hotel is no accident, according to Leah Clark, a manager for Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels, the company that owns The Proximity.

“If you want to experience yourself in a green hotel, we’re happy to tell you about it,” Clark said. “If you could care less what kind of green certification we have, you sure as heck will never know that we have one.”

Communal areas are on every floor at the Proximity Hotel Greensboro North Carolina. Photo by Zygmunt Spray.

The whole conversation with Clark seems very humble considering that The Proximity has been a pioneer for sustainability in the hospitality industry and is often described with superlatives like “greenest.”

In 2008, The Proximity became the first hotel ever to achieve the LEED Platinum-level certification from the US Green Building Council. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system for measuring the performance of green buildings. Based on the number of environmentally-friendly requirements and benchmarks a building achieves, LEED awards four levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and, at the highest level, Platinum.

Clark, an accredited professional with LEED, played a large role in orchestrating the hotel’s green certification. At the time The Proximity was certified in 2008, there were 69 benchmarks that Clark and the Quaintance-Weaver team were trying to reach. In the end, their LEED scorecard showed they met 55 of these benchmarks.

Today only a handful of hotels can boast the platinum designation. That’s because achieving platinum-level certification is no easy feat.

You don’t have to sacrifice a beautiful environment and the really high quality to get the LEED certification.

For hotels seeking certification for a new building, the team must follow strict guidelines with regards to construction materials. Considerations include the chemicals in the paints and solar heat gain coefficient in windows. Clark told me a story about a near-miss with a window selection that didn’t have the necessary solar heat gain coefficient. After taking the LEED manual home one night to review during the building process, she said she discovered the specs for the windows didn’t meet the necessary requirements.

“It was two hours before we actually purchased it, and if we had ordered it, we wouldn’t have met the prerequisite, meaning we never would have gotten LEED. We just happened to catch a near catastrophic item, but that’s how it is,” Clark smiles.

While the process had its challenges, it’s hard to imagine Quaintance-Weaver would have gone a different route with a mission statement that reads: “To be of genuine service to our Guests, Fellow Staff Members, Shareholders, and the Earth & Her People.” Yes, with capitalization for emphasis.

Spiral staircase to the lounge area and bluebell garden at the Proximity Hotel Greensboro North Carolina. Photo by Zygmunt Spray.

Guests and the Earth and Her People

Every aspect of the hotel experience from researching the hotel’s website to an overnight stay reveals a mentality of guests first, sustainability second.

On The Proximity’s home page, hotel owner Dennis Quaintance promises guests that sustainable practices won’t cause “one iota of sacrifice in comfort.” The marketing suggests many potential guests view sustainability as incompatible with luxury. Evidence suggests this perception is changing. A 2014 study of 93 LEED certified hotels by The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University found that 31 percent of the properties were considered luxury, and that 84 percent were upscale or higher. Today global brand Marriott has a pre-certified green hotel prototype that they use for new hotel builds around the world.

The Proximity has no doubt played a role in changing the minds of skeptics. Still, Clark said some people continue to think that green practices diminish comfort.

“Sometimes when a hotel touts being green, they think ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to go stay there and they’re going to have burlap sheets and an outhouse,” Clark joked.

Instead guests get “sustainable style” with plush pillows and irresistibly cozy sheets. They find a bathroom outfitted with a shower dispensing warm waterheated by the sunwith the perfect amount of pressure to massage a guest’s back and tempt even the most environmentally-conscious person to leave the tap running for just a minute longer.

Many guests don’t even realize they’re staying in a hotel with minimal environmental impact. Liz and Robert Paige, of Charleston, South Carolina, who came to the hotel for the weekend, didn’t know the hotel was LEED certified. Working in the building industry, however, they were familiar with LEED. Liz Paige’s response was almost textbook for how The Proximity wants guests to feel about their stay.

“You don’t have to sacrifice a beautiful environment and the really high quality to get the LEED certification,” she said. “All the environmentally friendly things they’ve done haven’t compromised the quality of the hotel.”

Editor’s Note: This is a two-part series. Read Inside the Greenest Hotel in America.

Published: 2/9/2016

While traveling the world as a digital nomad, Christina found it difficult to find the fine travel experiences that satisfied her conscience. She started The Wayward Post with Ziggy to help travelers find those travel experiences that are driving positive change and to give the Wayward hat tip to travel-related brands doing the right thing. All while amplifying the work of amazing writers and photographers.

When she's not writing for The Wayward Post, you'll find her working with do-good brands run by amazing people with the marketing agency, ZATWIC. Or maybe just drinking a craft cocktail.  Follow her on Twitter.

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