Bringing in the green: Hotels become eco-friendly

Environment Friendly Living

It is a suite business and one increasingly going green. Hotel and motel managers, casting an eye on savings and benefits while boosting their eco credentials, are seeking savvy travelers who are environmentally aware, including state employees who use the state’s Green Lodging Program.

Courtyard by Marriott in Vacaville is among the latest hotels to partner with the state program, carrying out practices that reduce the hotel’s impact on the environment. The 120 Nut Tree Parkway hostelry has been granted a coveted “leadership level” designation by the state program, operated by the Department of General Services.

By using less electricity, saving water, offering “green meetings” in linenless conference rooms and buying recycled products, the hotel not only helps the environment but it also generally affects the business’ bottom line, said Karen Sprague, director of sales at the Vacaville Courtyard. The 123-room hotel is part of the worldwide chain owned by Marriott International, which boasted $10.9 billion in revenues last year, down from $12.9 billion in 2008.

In an interview, she and general manager Andrea McPeak ticked off a series of changes that prompted the state to certify the hotel’s green philosophy. For example, they said, each room comes equipped with motion-activated thermostats, energy-efficient light fixtures, low-flow toilets and showers and notices about the room’s recycling features, among them a waste basket for recyclable plastic, glass and paper.

Additionally, the Vacaville Courtyard offers “green meetings” for its three meeting rooms and executive boardroom. Besides linenless tables, the features include recycled note pads and pens, china and glass choices instead of plastic and organically grown food from local farmers markets. Kelly May, administer of California’s Green Lodging Program, started in 2004, encourages hotels owners and managers to buy “environmentally preferable products,” making them at least 50 percent of all their purchases.

To that end, the Vacaville Courtyard buys “a minimum” of 35 percent post-consumer goods, among them napkins, facial tissue, biodegradable plasticware, stationery, paper cups and cardboard insulating sleeves for hot drinks. Buying recycled goods costs the hotel more “but we’ve held our position,” said Sprague.

The hotel, always wanting to improve conservation efforts, regularly holds “green committee” meetings among staffers, she said. Some results, Sprague noted, were to adjust the hotel’s landscaping so that it uses less water, place recycling bins in public spaces and offices, use off-site paper shredding services and the recycling of all discarded paper.

Perhaps not as visible as some of the hotel’s ecologically minded efforts, 50 percent of all cleaning products and detergents at Courtyard Vacaville are the least toxic available.

“The majority of our cleaning detergents are biodegradable” and do not contain NTA (nitrilotriacetic acid or chlorine bleach), said Sprague.

As many hotels do, the Vacaville Courtyard encourages travelers to re-use bath towels and hold off on replacing bed linens each day.

Echoing Sprague’s concerns, a spokeswoman for Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, Melissa Goldberg, said Meritage uses natural cleaning products that are less harsh than those more commonly commercially available.

Additionally, housekeepers at the Bordeaux Way hotel clean with reusable microfiber cloths and mops that use less water than conventional mops.

Like the Courtyard Vacaville, the Meritage places recycle bins in public places and each room. Meeting planners may choose to use recycled paper products, biodegradable flatware and plastic cups and plates rather than traditional plasticware, noted Goldberg.

Among the first hotels in California to go green, Gaia Napa Valley Resort and Space, off Highway 29 in American Canyon, seeks to cut down its use of electricity, water and product usage. It also uses natural fiber linens, drapes, towels and carpets, all recyclable, in its rooms.

In an interview with ZDNet.com, hotel developer Wen Chang said low-flow water fixtures and skylights and so-called “solar tubes,” which allows the hotel to shut off overhead lights during the day, translates into $50,000 to $70,000 in savings annually.

Additionally, every 15 minutes, monitors in the hotel lobby gauge the hotel’ s carbon, electricity and water usage, allowing for managers to effectively use resources.

May, of the state’s Green Lodging Program, said the program’s goals include diverting waste from landfills, conserving energy and water and improving indoor environmental quality.

The program’s Web site, www.travel.dgs.ca.gov, which provides a database of certified green hotels throughout California, also cited several facts that might give travelers, eco-minded or not, some pause: Average-sized hotels buy more products in one week than 100 families do in a year; consumer waste can be as high as 30 pounds per room per day; and as much as 80 percent of these materials can be recycled; the hospitality industry spends $3.7 billion a year on energy; and electricity use accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the utility costs of a typical hotel.

“We’re trying to wrap our arms around green travel,” said May. “We encourage state employees to stay at environmentally friendly hotels when they’re out there. It benefits the travelers, the hotels and the environment. It’s a win-win-win for everybody.”

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