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How Green is Your Valet?

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Hotel Triton Green Suite

 

 

For an epicenter view of the USA's burgeoning "green hotel" movement, steer your hybrid rental car (or better yet, take rapid transit) to the Chinatown gate writes Laura Bly in USA Today.

 

A block apart in this eco-conscious city, two high-profile boutique hotels are strutting their environmental bragging rights. Like an estimated two-thirds of U.S. hotels (up from about 10% a decade ago), the Orchard Garden Hotel and Kimpton's Hotel Triton ask travelers to conserve water and energy by not having linens and towels changed every day. Both hotels have installed low-flow toilets and showerheads, switched to non-toxic cleaning supplies, and print guest bills with soy-based ink on recycled paper.

 

But in other ways, the San Francisco competitors are taking divergent paths to the same goals -- and their evolving efforts show how confusing and complex going green can be.

 

In bathrooms on the Triton's designated "eco floor," they're dispensed via refillable, wall-mounted containers rather than tiny plastic bottles destined for landfills. But elsewhere at the Triton, at 39 other Kimpton properties, and at the Orchard Garden (which opened in late 2006 and is one of only a few hotels built to meet the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council's stringent guidelines), amenities still come in individual bottles.

 

"The verdict is split," says Orchard Garden general manager Stefan Muhle. "If you're a four-star hotel and you put a bulk container in the bathroom, you're cheap. If you're an eco-hotel and you don't have them, you're hypocritical."

 

Green lodging is more than "hemp, Birkenstocks and granola," adds Muhle, who says only 15% to 20% of the Orchard Garden's customers book the hotel because of its ecological bona fides. "We're still trying to educate our guests that being green doesn't have to mean sacrifice, and we don't want to look like a YMCA."

 

If a survey released last week by Starwood Hotels & Resorts is any indication, Muhle and other green-minded hoteliers have a lot of educating left to do. Most of 1,041 travelers polled this spring said they're less likely to conserve water and electricity while away from home. Nearly 70% said they open a new mini-bottle of shampoo each time they shower at a hotel, 63% were more likely to leave the lights on at a hotel than at home, and three out of four think it's important to have their hotel linens changed each day.

 

On the other hand, a recent TripAdvisor survey of more than 1,000 travelers worldwide found that 34% would pay extra to stay in an environmentally friendly hotel (though only 9% seek them out), and a whopping 78% said they opt not to have sheets and towels changed when given a choice.

 

Yet the growing number of linen reuse programs can be ineffective because time-pressed housekeepers often find they get better tips if they provide fresh sheets and towels anyway, says consultant Kit Cassingham of Environmentally Friendly Hotels.com.

 

"These days, every hotel wants to say it's green. If a chain has an executive policy, you have little idea whether it's drifted down to the front-desk clerk or a housekeeping department," says Patricia Griffin of the Green Hotels Association.

 

There's no "gold standard" for defining a green hotel, notes Glenn Hasek of Green Lodging News, a year-old online newsletter.

 

New hotels can earn the U.S Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by curbing energy and water use, improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions. Four U.S. properties are certified now (the Orchard Garden; the Hilton in Vancouver, Wash.; Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa in American Canyon, Calif.; and Marriott Inn and Conference Center in Adelphi, Md.), with another 84 under construction.

 

At least nine U.S. states (California, Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin) have some form of green-hotel certification program, but they have varying levels of participation and oversight.

"Greenwashing" issues notwithstanding, the movement has come a long way since Boston-based Saunders Hotels, a pioneer in the field, switched to non-toxic cleaning products in 1989. Today, eco initiatives at the group's three hotels range from valet parkers at Boston's Lenox Hotel who leave gas-saving tips hanging from car mirrors to shuttle vans that use compressed natural gas at the Comfort Inn & Suites near Boston's airport.

 

"Americans are still the kings and queens of consumption, but it's exciting to see how mainstream ecology issues have become. There is a perfect storm of consumer awareness, climate change and rising energy prices," says Tedd Saunders, co-owner of The Lenox.

 

Other examples:

 

As part of parent company Accor's Earth Guest program, Motel 6's nearly 900 North American properties just launched a nationwide recycling program for batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use 75% less energy than conventional bulbs but contain mercury that can be hazardous if not disposed of properly. Motel 6 started replacing regular bulbs with CFLs last year. Among Accor's other green initiatives: organic food on hotel restaurant menus and ozone laundry washers that use cold water and reduce the amount of detergent.

 

Marriott International, which says it's on track to cut hotel energy consumption by almost 20% between 2000 and 2010, includes "True Green" tips in guest rooms. ("Removing just one 20-mile trip each week from your routine can prevent more than 1,200 pounds of greenhouse gases a year.")

 

This spring, Leading Hotels of the World launched a program (lhwgreen.com) that donates 50 cents to the non-profit group Sustainable Travel International for every night a guest stays at one of the company's 430 properties.

Sustainable Travel International invests the money, designed to offset the energy used by staying in the hotel, in conservation and renewable energy.

 

Some skeptics criticize carbon offsets as little more than "guilt trip" relievers. Leading Hotels' website concedes it "is not the best solution for addressing climate change," but defends "our first endeavor to help reduce unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions."

 

Of course, hoteliers at Leading Hotels of the World aren't the only ones making green compromises.

 

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom just banned city departments from buying bottled water, citing the environmental impact of making, transporting and disposing of the bottles. But the Hotel Triton -- whose eco-friendly, bamboo-floored Woody Harrelson suite was just remodeled into the ice cream-stocked Haagen-Dazs suite -- still stocks guest rooms with plastic bottles of California-based Crystal Geyser ($4.75 for 1.5 liters). Neighboring rival Orchard Garden, which started out with Norwegian Voss, now offers glass bottles of Saratoga ... from New York.

 

"We want to be as local as possible, and I wouldn't want to see a transcontinental strawberry on my plate," says the Orchard Garden's Muhle, who provides filtered tap water in the hotel's workout room but thinks guests want the option of bottled water. "We're not perfect, and never will be. We have to find a middle ground."

 

 

 

 
 

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