The Low Down On Green Living
October 5th, 2008
For many years, eco-conscious travelers had to stay in hotels that often compromised their values. While at a luxury hotel, in particular, a traveler might have rested uneasy knowing that a stay might be wreaking havoc on the environment, as well as gobbling up energy.
The sins of hotels are numerous and well documented. The daily changing and laundering of bed and bath linens for hundreds of rooms uses heaps of energy and water, creating detergent-laced waste water that ends up in local waterways—or in the case of hotels in the Midwest, as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.
We’ve all stayed in hotels that offered a cursory nod to the green movement by not washing bed or bath linens daily (and in my experience, most have housekeeping staff who forget and take your towels, anyway—even if you’ve followed protocol by hanging them up). Old habits die hard—for both guests and hotel staff. But there are a few hotels which take their eco-vows more seriously, offering more than a perfunctory nod to earth-friendly practices.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has established a goal for his city of nearly three million to be the greenest in America. With a city hall crowned by an immense rooftop garden (one of the largest in the world), the Second City’s mayor is serious about being environmentally responsible. Equally committed to the civic greening goal is a growing number of other businesses, including the luxury InterContinental on the city’s Magnificent Mile.
Located steps from the city’s river, the hotel recently became one of the first LEED-certified hotels in the city—no small task given that the hotel is housed in a 1920’s era tower that required complete renovation.
The hotel has taken so many actions—both small and large—that it’s impossible to name them all. For starters, many light bulbs were replaced with CFLs, reducing energy needs and saving thousands of dollars. And staff have recycled more than 265 tons of material in 2008 alone—the equivalent of nearly 200 trees and more than 4400 gallons of oil!
I’ve long wondered when American hotels would adopt what has become a standard feature in European hotels—heating, cooling and lighting systems that operate only when a room is occupied. One of the first to adopt this eco-savvy approach, the Chicago hotel installed motion sensors in rooms which connect to thermostats, lowering the temperature when rooms are unoccupied.
For an eco-friendly snack, head to Eno in the hotel’s lobby, a wine, cheese and chocolate “bar” that offers many local, award-winning cheeses, most produced using sustainable, artisanal practices.
As of July, 2008, the hotel’s efforts resulted in savings of nearly 8,000 kilowatt hours of energy and more than 81,000 gallons of water, proving that luxury and pampering don’t have to be harmful to the Earth.
To the west in Boulder, Colorado, a smaller hotel has also made mammoth strides in reducing its carbon imprint. (St. Julien pictured above.) It’s amazing that any hotels survive which haven’t hopped aboard the CFL light bulb bandwagon. At the St. Julien, the replacement of the hotel’s bulbs resulted in a 48,000 kilowatt reduction in energy use. Perhaps as relevant to the hotel’s owners was a monthly savings of thousands of dollars, proving that green initiatives often pay for themselves.
In addition to more predictable approaches such as less frequent bed linen changes and the use of recycled plastic, the hotel donates its worn linens to nearby animal shelters—a green initiative that’s popular with animal-lovers and the eco-conscious, as well as many a Boulder area cat and dog.
Hotel leadership stresses the importance of gaining commitment and cooperation from all staff since without their efforts any greening initiative would fall short. Particularly committed to the effort is Executive Chef Jason Rogers, who heads up the kitchen at the hotel’s restaurant, Jill’s. The restaurant has served a zero carbon wine dinner, and Rogers works with local farmers and food producers to source much of the food served at the restaurant. In addition, Jill’s composts nearly all of its refuse (having the waste removed to an off-site facility so as not to attract unwelcome guests such as coyotes.)
For a unique tour of the stunning Boulder environs, guests can book a custom (read, easy or challenging) bicycle tour led by Rogers. After a taste of fresh Rocky Mountain air, the chef will create a custom lunch upon your return to the hotel.
While both hotels are justifiably proud of their efforts, each has established a goal to become even greener in the future. The St. Julien, in fact, plans to reduce its waste by 90% by September, 2010 (for a complete list of its initiatives, check out its website).
In the end, if a luxury hotel isn’t posh, visually stunning or comfortable, it’s not worth the money. But how can staying in a luxury hotel that damages the environment feel good? Thankfully, travelers looking for fetching, posh accommodations in Chicago or Boulder don’t have to choose.
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