by Paige Donner
Deirdre Wallace is Owner and Operator of The Ambrose Hotel and Founder and President of The Ambrose Group. The Ambrose Hotel is the first-ever U.S. hotel to earn LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO, founding chair, U.S. Green Building Council said “The Ambrose will be a showcase for high-performance, energy-efficient methods and an inspiration for others.”
Wallace’s flagship hotel in Santa Monica is definitely her “baby.” Wallace began her career as an hotelier at MOA Hospitality. MOA owns mostly limited service and motel-type products and is owned by Wallace’s father. She put her stamp on the family business with The Ambrose Hotel.
“When we started developing the Ambrose, we really wanted to have the best of what a limited service product is and the best of what a boutique hotel is and we combined those two things and created The Ambrose Hotel,” said Wallace. She is an active member of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and also Global Green USA for whom she’s the chair for the L.A. committee. She is also a wife and the mother of a small child.
Greening Hollywood: Can you describe your participation with NRDC’s Environmental Entrepreneurs?
Wallace: “E2 is a subgroup of NRDC. We are a group of entrepreneurs and typically we’re environmentalists at some level. We have meetings about every quarter where we feature a great speaker, networking and also we’re part of NRDC so we’re also being informed of what’s going on with NRDC.”
Wallace was so far ahead of the curve when it came to “greening” a mainstream business that she inevitably, as most trailblazers do, encountered some stumbling blocks when she was overseeing the design and construction of The Ambrose. For example, in the City of Santa Monica, where the hotel is located, there are numerous building codes and permits a builder must acquire before she can expect to open her doors to the public.
Wallace: “We didn’t build the hotel as a ‘green’ hotel. So the roadblocks and challenges we faced when building this hotel are just typical to building a hotel in Santa Monica which is just going through the bureaucratic process. Santa Monica ended up being a great ally for us. They wanted us to have a Craftsman-style hotel. So we said, Great! and we really ran with that concept and created this contemporary Craftsman look and feel.
Then Santa Monica also had, back when we ‘greened’ the hotel, an organization called Sustainable Works, which is still around today except back then it was free. They would come to the hotel and “green” the hotel, green your operations, any business, any business’s operations. So that’s how we went through that process. In building the hotel, we just made really smart choices. Not necessarily thinking, ‘Oh, this is a green choice,’ but thinking this makes sense on an economic level.”
For examples of economic and environmental efficiency Wallace cited Energy Star appliances throughout the hotel, efficient HVAC systems, water filtration, and operable windows. She made a lot of those choices upfront. But, again, they were just smart choices, she says, which today everyone talks about as being “green.”
First LEED EB Hotel in U.S.
Greening Hollywood: How has this allowed you to remain competitive and how have these “green” choices affected your bottom-line?
Wallace: “We recently went through the LEED for existing buildings certification process. In order to apply for LEED for existing buildings your building has to be at least 2 years old. So there were certain upfront costs to that. Such as hiring a commissioning agent and a LEED certified consultant and a few other things. In general, it wasn’t a huge impact on us. We believe we’re going to see a payoff on that. We are the first LEED EB hotel in the U.S. Again, some things do cost more money, some things cost less money. It all kind of evens out in the wash.”
LEED certification is a point system. A LEED certified consultant looks at a variety of things and then adds the points all together.
Greening Hollywood: You must have really known what you were doing when you first built your hotel?
Wallace: “Well, we’re in Santa Monica. We’re sitting out here on this beautiful day in California. It’s sort of progressive in its environmental movement. So, yes, a lot of things we did were influenced by the location that we’re in. A lot of these common-sense choices were influenced by being here and just being aware of our environment. In that way I guess we were on the ball. But I guess it was just being smart about developing in our wonderful city here.”
Greening Hollywood: What is your clientele like? Are they all staunch environmentalists or more the luxury traveler?
Wallace: “Our customer-base is a mix of a variety of people. We have a lot of corporate business from what I call the Colorado corridor [nearby Colorado Avenue] where there are production companies and architecture firms, pharmaceutical companies. We have the hospital [St. John’s] near us. We have a lot of business clientele here. Plus we’re in Santa Monica so we have some leisure as well.
We had a strong base of business already. When we added the sustainability factor to it, it just made people want to come back over and over again. We have a very high rate of repeat clientele, high for the industry standard.”
Greening Hollywood: What kind of distinctive hospitality do you offer guests?
Wallace: “The Ambrose is a limited service or a select service hotel, so that means we don’t have a restaurant or a bar. But we have 24-hour room service catered by Urth Caffe. We work with local vendors whenever we can. We have a free continental breakfast for every guest. We offer free parking; Priority parking for Alternative Fuel Vehicles. We have bicycles that you can rent when you want to go down to the beach.
And of course we have your usual amenities in the room, a mini bar, but we fill it with healthful snacks, such as Burt’s Bees, Vosges Chocolate, Mario’s Morsels which is a cookie. Mario is a local Venice guy who bikes over with his cookies every week and drops them off. The cookies have all organic ingredients.”
Greening Hollywood: And what about The Ambrose Hotel cab?
Wallace: “Our London taxi! It’s run on bio-fuel. We converted it. The taxi is complimentary for our guests. We recommend you book it in advance. It is a popular feature and we do drop you anywhere in Santa Monica. When it’s available, you can definitely take it. I don’t know of any other hotel that runs their shuttle service on bio-diesel.”
The Ambrose Concept
Wallace: “We took the best of the limited hotel product and married that with the best of the boutique hotel product. The “greening” of the hotel was really an organic process. It was a natural next step for us…and continues to be.”
On Using Local Vendors
Wallace: “Cleaning Products we use are non-toxic products. We use low VOC paints and varnishes. We really try very hard to keep anything that’s chemical out of the hotel. We use a mix of wood and carpet flooring. Our new carpet in our hallways and public spaces are all LEED approved.
We try to buy local whenever we can. But it’s not something we can do across the board. Actually that was one of our challenges when we went green was to try to find vendors that were willing to supply us what we needed.
For example, the organic fruits for our continental breakfast, recycled paper, and toilet paper and such. We actually had to switch vendors a few times. And we’re a rather small hotel with 77 rooms. When we did this, four years ago, they really didn’t know what to make of us.
Our non-toxic cleaning supplies come from a mom-and-pop shop in the Midwest. So you have to weigh some of these things out. There was no one else local that had those supplies for us. We have those shipped to us. When you’re thinking about these vendors who are supplying these goods to these hotels, they’re looking for these vast quantities. So in that light, how can we compete with a hotel in Vegas, for example? But if one of those hotels actually said, ‘Hey, we want our toilet paper to be made out of recycled paper,’ there might actually be a shift in the industry that could actually succeed!”
Greening Hollywood: So what’s next?
Wallace: “We just launched a company called the Ambrose Collection which is a hotel management group. We’ll be managing green hotels for other owners. We’re also working on a few other development deals in the U.S. We would love to do some more Ambrose-type properties. We think this is a great product.”