Eco-friendly Anderson hotel embraces Earth and the community

LODGING LUMINARY<br>Yuan Sing Chang, project manager of Gaia Hotel in Anderson, stands on a bridge overlooking low-maintenance, wildlife-friendly landscaping. Gaia is equipped with an array of eco-conscious features, including a low-water, reverse-osmosis laundry system.

Yuan Sing Chang, project manager of Gaia Hotel in Anderson, stands on a bridge overlooking low-maintenance, wildlife-friendly landscaping. Gaia is equipped with an array of eco-conscious features, including a low-water, reverse-osmosis laundry system.

Photos By Christy Lochrie

Hotel highlights:
Gaia Hotel is located at 4125 Riverside Place, in Anderson. To learn more about the facility, visit

It’s like singing in the round, eco-style. And it comes courtesy of the newly opened Gaia Hotel in Anderson.

First, the subtle notes: A rotund entry awning. Duo ponds, home to swans and koi. Rounded solar tubes, casting light in hallways and meeting halls. And a cluster of circular hotel buildings, encasing Zen gardens that lead to the ponds, hotel lobby, meeting rooms and, beginning in November, Swan Lake Bistro.

“Green design means everything works together,” said Yuan Sing Chang, the project manager for the hotel.

Gaia, Greek for “Earth mother,” opened in Anderson last spring and the eco-friendly hotel is on a journey to synchronize aesthetics, the environment and travelers into one harmonious experience—without sacrificing comfort. Chang, whose hotelier father, Wen-I Chang, envisioned the project, explained the concept on a recent tour of the 120-room, 10-acre facility: harmony in thought and planning.

Rather than trying to conquer the environment, the plan has been to work with it and leave a delicate footprint—carbon or otherwise—on that path. Like all things, the idea started with a plan, and a pinch of happenstance.

Wen-I Chang, who also owns Gaia Hotel in Napa and is planning to build another eco hotel in Merced, was drawn to the North State for its natural beauty and Mount Shasta’s mysticism. The Bay Area resident was looking for personal property near the mountain region, his son said. And that’s when he happened upon the Anderson property, nestled between Interstate 5 frontage—a convenient stop for the road weary—and a bend in the rippling waters of the Sacramento River.

“It just made sense,” the younger Chang said. “He loves the energy here.”

Then came the green-building challenge, the planning and the top eco prize: a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating, an environmental standard established by the U.S. Green Building Council. Napa’s facility has earned the certification and Chang sounded a confident note that the Anderson Gaia also will pick up the environmental seal.

He pointed out the reasons during his tour, starting with the interactive monitors in the hotel’s lobby. They track the facility’s energy and water consumption, along with CO2 output. The utility savings hovers in the 25-percent to 27-percent range, which Chang hopes to boost with the upcoming addition of solar panels. Water savings over traditional hotels is 45 percent, he said.

Savings in electricity start from the outside, with ambient sunlight ushered in through high-efficiency windows and mirrored solar tubes, which diffuse the light (light so bright that you’d think that someone flipped on an incandescent switch) in conference rooms, bathrooms, hallways and the lobby. Of course, electric lights are available for those cloudy days or nighttime meetings, but they heat up a space, which can trigger the need for air conditioning.

“A lot of times, during a meeting, you don’t need lights at all,” Chang said.

Below foot, he pointed out carpet tiles (cheaper to replace than rolls) in pillowy designs. Made with recycled material, the floor covering cuts down on both the manufacturing footprint and indoor toxicity. Also on the fume front, Chang noted the indoor paints are eco-friendly varieties and the outdoor paint not only creates a soothing environment, but also deflects the sun’s rays.

CARBON KIOSK<br>In the facility’s lobby, Yuan Sing Chang demonstrates the interactive computer system and monitors displaying the hotel’s energy and water consumption, as well as carbon emissions.

Photo By Christy Lochrie

A look at the laundry facility reveals the epicenter of Gaia’s clean living. Operating sans hot water, the system works on reverse osmosis and an ozone system, with the water charged and pressurized to scrub the linens and towels. It takes less water and, with the aid of three filters, 80 percent of it is recaptured. But don’t look for line-dried linens; a pair of gas machines spin through the drying chore.

More on the water front: A precision drip-irrigation system quenches the thirst of native landscaping. Faucets come equipped with aerators, showers with low-flow heads. Toilets are dual-flush and men’s urinals, near the conference rooms, are waterless. An outdoor pool and spa, the hallmark of any hotel, skips the chlorine in favor of salt water.

“Salt water acts as a natural chlorine agent,” Chang said, adding, “Your skin is a lot softer.”

While the hotel boasts green in both its construction and operation (lumber came from within 500 miles and 80 percent of its waste is diverted from landfills), it took a lot of green to build it.

The complex cost $14 million, which is 6 percent more than it would have cost to build a “traditional” hotel, Chang said. He expects to recoup the difference from the utility and water efficiency within six years, but that initial investment is small change when it comes to the importance of working with the environment and helping to educate travelers about what harmonious eco-living looks and feels like, he said.

On the embracing good living and eco note, Steve Kinder, the hotel’s general manager, pointed to the mature pecan trees peppered across the hotel campus. The builders saved as many of the trees on the property, once an orchard, as possible. And when the Swan Lake Bistro opens in a few weeks, fresh-picked pecans will be on the menu along with in-season, local harvests.

Kinder sees the entire hotel as a return to world and social consciousness.

“We invite nature back into business,” he said.

Still, like it or not, it takes dollars to survive, even in a green climate. And that’s tough for independent hotels, especially ones that fetch $129 to $159 a night. Like most retail establishments, Kinder worries about the teetering economy and its toll on travelers’ pocketbooks.

Fires buoyed the hotel during July, when it filled up with firefighters who worked to douse the flames battering North State forests. But the seasonal dip is coming—now through January hotel rosters taper and historically don’t pick up again until about February. To prevail during that seasonal decline—and the financial one—Gaia is reaching out to the community.

It’s offered itself as a rehearsal spot for the North State Symphony, which often plays at the Cascade Theatre in Redding. And, in exchange for reduced room rates, symphony members are invited to play in the lobby or share their talents onsite with area children, Kinder said.

In the end, Kinder said that he hopes to see the Swan Lake Bistro and the hotel facilities become a regional landmark. And a local and sustainable culinary one, too. Lunch is expected to run in the $8 to $12 range; dinner from $11 to $32. But stay tuned for the organic sticky rolls, he said, prophesizing that they’re destined to become a regional favorite.

But whether visiting for a stay, meeting, dinner or an eco school tour, Kinder said Chang’s ideas are meant to be harmonized and shared.

“It’s a place of beauty, that people can take one simple idea home with them,” Kinder said. “Our mission is to change one traveler at a time.”