The historic Colcord Hotel is one of the forerunners in sustainability and conservation within Oklahoma’s hotel industry. Originally an office building, one of the structure’s most visible contributions to the green movement was the act of recycling the skyscraper and transforming it into downtown Oklahoma City’s only boutique hotel.
“This is about doing what we can to make sure the next generation, the generation after that and so on can get a chance to experience this,” said Jeff Erwin, Colcord general manager. “One of the biggest eco-friendly things we could do was reuse an entire building.”
Constructed in 1910, the Colcord is currently celebrating its 100th year in business. The hotel, now owned by Devon Energy, survived economic downturns and urban renewal, all with no lapses in its operation, Erwin said.
Standing 12 stories high for the last century, the Colcord was not only the first skyscraper in Oklahoma, but also the first building to boast an elevator. To this day, the hotel continues to rise in its industry through a series of firsts.
The Colcord was a pilot participant in Encouraging Conservation in Oklahoma, an in-state sustainable travel program created by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Department of Environmental Quality. Although the hotel is widely known for its luxurious setting and upscale clientele, its inclusion in the ECO program does not compromise the quality of the Colcord, said Jessica Blackstock, sustainable initiatives coordinator for the state tourism department.
“You can have a green property without it being a tree house,” Blackstock said. “A lot of it is efficiency and smarter planning and a constant raising of awareness.”
The Colcord’s willingness to act as one of the first establishments in the lodging industry to become active in the ECO program came as no surprise to Hardy Watkins, tourism department executive director.
“Not coincidentally, Jeff Erwin was director of state parks,” Watkins said. “He definitely has a conservationist mind-set, and brings in those experiences to help guide some of the decision-making processes at the hotel.”
The program incites green living and conservation practices within several industries, including restaurants, events, marinas and museums. Although ECO facilitates these entities’ pursuit of sustainability, it does not provide the services the industries often end up using. Rather, the program serves as a hub for all things green, by connecting places such as the Polo Grill in Tulsa, Embassy Suites in Norman and the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon with groups and businesses that offer assistance with composting, energy-saving construction and purchasing local, organic foods.
“It’s a big circle that really makes you cognizant,” Erwin said. “The ECO program puts you into a different mind-set because it is a continual process of making changes and improvements that could lend themselves to the conservation and sustainability efforts of the program.”
Participating industries receive different levels of certification from ECO, which directly correlates with the efforts they put into both becoming and remaining green. Ranging from levels of platinum, gold and silver, the certification process is dependent upon the individual business and industry type.
“It gets creative,” Blackstock said. “The program is a commitment to the consumer and the community, but it’s also a process of education and development.”
In 2005, the building received a $16 million renovation that created a 108-room hotel outfitted with several water- and energy-saving additions, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, double-paned windows and faucets designed for water conservation.
By 2009, and prior to joining the ECO program, the Colcord had become the first hotel in Oklahoma to collaborate with Clean the World, a nonprofit organization that advocates recycling for the sake of saving lives. CTW partners with participating hotels throughout the nation, collecting slightly used soaps and shampoo to be sanitized and distributed to severely impoverished countries throughout the globe.
“Taking what is garbage and saving human lives with it is bigger than anything I can comprehend,” Erwin said. “It’s huge.”
Recently, the Colcord achieved a gold ECO certification rating through its efforts and dedication to conservation. The hotel’s participation in this initiative entailed several managerial decisions that affected some of the smallest aspects of the hotel, such as getting rid of food waste and using specific eco-friendly cleaning agents, Watkins said.
“We certainly applaud facilities like the Colcord, and we really feel like this is part of the future and part of the operational decisions for the lodging industry, the restaurant industry and so many other industries in Oklahoma,” Watkins said.