Just outside Portland, Ore., the highway spills between rounded hillsides of vineyards and farms that until recently were rife with visitors and low on lodging. Roots run deep herenot only in terms of grapes, orchards, and generations of other agriculture, but also in pride for stewardship of the land. When Joan Austin, owner of the Allison Inn & Spa, decided to build an 85-room hotel, spa, event facility, and restaurant in the small suburb of Newberg, she brought environmental and contextual sensitivity to the table. Delivering a consummate guest experience remained a vital priority, however, and the resulting combination allows visitors to relax in luxury while treading lightly on the earth.

The Allison is inexorably connected to its surroundings, its name derived from Lake Allison, which was created by glacial floods from Lake Missoula nearly 12,000 years ago. Jory, the inn’s restaurant, shares its name with the region’s mineral-rich soil that imparts character to the Willamette Valley’s acclaimed wines. To integrate the large property unobtrusively into the landscape, Austin originally conceived the inn as a series of cabinlike structures, but efficient operations demanded a single building. In response, the design team from Seattle-based GGLO nestled the four-story structure into the hillside so that it appears as a single story from the entrance, and the drive up the hill was carefully constructed to offer only glimpses of the building to soften its visual presence.

Agriculture was an important consideration on the 32-acre site as well, notes James Bradley, AIA, a principal at GGLO. “We looked for opportunities to bring agriculture onto the site and worked on not controlling the land and nature,” he says. A half-acre chef’s garden serves the restaurant, and five acres of vineyards will produce 12,000 bottles of wine per year when fully mature in a year and a half, roughly three years after they were planted. The landscaping includes nine acres of native meadow grasses and wildflowers such as perennial ryegrass, sweet alyssum, and baby blue eyes. “These grasses can be cut in specific places for a manicured look, and the changing wildflowers lend a dynamic seasonal experience for returning visitors,” Bradley explains.

While there are a few telltale signs that something sustainable is happening at the Allisonsuch as a 268-panel photovoltaic (PV) array that produces about 55kW above the east guest room wing and central living roommost of the green features imperceptibly enhance the visitor’s experience. Completed in 2009, the 150,000-square-foot project achieved LEED-NC Gold certification using a host of features. Few guests suspect that 28 percent of the building materials contain recycled content. More than half of the wood-based materials in the flooring, wood paneling, and built-in casework hail from Forest Stewardship Councilcertified forests; rapidly renewable aspen fiber flooring lines the spa. Regionally sourced mossy rock from Montana lends a distinguished ambiance to the lobby, spa, and building exterior.

“As evidenced by the small number of LEED certifications, hospitality is a late adopter of green practices,” says Alicia Daniels Uhlig, GGLO’s director of sustainability. “However, the Allison celebrates its sense of place and shows that sustainability is synonymous with quality and comfort.” Large, thermally broken, double-pane, low-E windows with views to the Willamette Valley keep guests mindful that they are in a lush locale and reduce heating load. A shallow pool that separates the hotel and spa entrances appears as if it trickles through the terraced landscape and reappears as a water feature inside the spa.

A 10,000-square-foot vegetated roof plus open-cell paving installed on a fire-access road that circles the building as well as on the entry driveway mitigate stormwater runoff. The team installed an irrigation system that will link up with a reclaimed water supply that the City of Newberg is in the process of creating, which will eliminate the need to use potable water in the Allison’s landscape irrigation. Low-flow fixtures in public areas and guest rooms combine with the restaurant’s high-efficiency kitchen equipment to help the project reach a 37 percent water-savings target compared to a conventionally designed building.

GGLO’s team emphasized energy reduction. Guest rooms, laundry, the restaurant’s kitchen, and the spa require ample hot water. Nearly 4,000 square feet of solar hot-water collectors on the roof help offset this demand. Combined with the PV array, the solar features reduce the facility’s projected energy load by an estimated 19 percent. The team also increased energy efficiency with variable refrigerant volume heating and cooling. Lighting in the offices and other back-of-house areas are linked to occupancy sensors, and hallway lights drop to 50 percent illumination between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Projections indicate that the combined measures will realize a 48 percent reduction in utility cost savings compared to a conventionally designed building.

The soft and hard costs of integrating features to reach a LEED Gold rating was 1.4 percent of the project budget, but after Oregon energy incentives were implemented, that dropped to a mere 0.3 percent. If the anticipated energy savings are realized, the cost will drop to 0.15 percent in a short payback period.

The Allison’s owners tended to operations with the same care as its construction. “Waste is a huge issue in hospitality, and the owners were very committed to reducing waste from the very beginning,” says Pierre Zreik, managing director for the inn.

The Allison eliminates the prolific use of plastics by giving guests small reusable glass drinking bottles and filtered water in every guest room and suite. The bottles are sanitized, refilled, and sealed after the guests check out. Large refillable bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion adorn showers. Each floor has three recycling bins to separate paper, plastic, and glass. And the restaurant also makes its own sparkling filtered water so patrons can indulge in effervescence without container waste.

If they choose to do so, guests that stay more than one night can place a card on the bed directing staff to not wash the sheets daily. Zreik says almost half take advantage of this option. “Guests respect the differences here,” he notes. “In fact, about 45 percent of our hotel business is companies coming for meetings and retreats, and many won’t even consider staying unless the hotel has a green initiative.”

To further reduce waste, the inn and restaurant sort leftover food and two farmers arrive daily to collect waste bread, vegetables, and trimmings for livestock feed. In public restrooms, individual fabric towels for hand drying add a touch of luxury and eliminate paper waste.

“The Allison helps us educate and inform others that hospitality can be truly sustainable,” Bradley says. “Once I saw how successful it was, I wish we’d pushed the boundaries even further. I’m very encouraged by how sustainable design will become the new norm for hospitality projects.”

KJ Fields writes about sustainability and architecture from Portland, Ore.