A breath of fresh air - literally Each week, my "in" box takes over my desk as thousands of press releases bombard the NREI fax machine and mailbox. And each week, I have the opportunity to learn about the newest developments, the most recent acquisitions and the latest trends in this fast-paced industry.

Recently, I came across a press release about a hotel in Philadelphia that may soon have other lodging facilities "green" with envy. The Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel, located at 18th & Locust Street, offers patrons an environmentally-friendly or "green" atmosphere. While the concept seemed interesting on the surface, it wasn't until I did more research that I found out this hotel is truly ahead of its time.

The newly renovated - and entirely smoke-free - hotel offers a 40-ft. high bamboo garden to oxygenate the air in the lobby, and each of the 193 rooms gets fresh, filtered air, 24 hours a day. And yet this hotel also requires that guests sign a waiver agreeing not to smoke while staying at the hotel, and all materials (furniture, carpeting, paint and bed coverings) are chemical free.

"This is one of those things that is not a fad," says Barry Dimson, president and CEO of EcoSmart Health Properties LLC, a New-York-based environmental consultant for the hotel. Dimson's company - which offers programs, education and seminars to companies interested in a green environment - has recently begun working with Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

"The environmental aspect is not a fad because people are getting sick like crazy from breathing indoor air," he adds. "The rule of thumb is, if you can smell it, it's giving off a toxic chemical. When we painted our hotel, there was no smell - not even on the day we were painting it."

In addition to using totally organic materials throughout the hotel and a state-of-the-art air ventilation system, the hotel also offers two smoke-free restaurants, a concept that's new to the hotel industry and the city of Philadelphia. "People have said to me, 'You've got to allow smoking in the restaurants or else people won't come,'" says Dimson. "I tell them they're right. But what about the people who don't want to smell secondhand smoke? They'll come to us. Properly marketed, you're going to get a very loyal crowd."

And loyal they are. So far, exit surveys reveal that more than 95% of customers will return to the four-star Sheraton Rittenhouse, which has achieved almost full occupancy after only its first year in business.

Dimson believes going green is the wave of the future, and he is convinced that other hotels will soon follow suit. "My prediction is that within 10 to 15 years, there won't be a building built that doesn't have environmental considerations," he says. "Making a building green is something that everyone should want."