When a traveler checks in to any hotel, chances are he or she is thinking more about thread counts than energy-efficiency or waste-reduction practices. And the fact is, there’s a good chance your hotel isn’t thinking about Mother Nature first and foremost. The majority of hospitality hubs are far from the LEED-certified few (and proud) “Green” hotels—largely due to cost and fundamental infrastructural changes, though likely not a permanent dissuasion from environmentalism. But with leaders in the industry implementing local, sustainable, and environmentally responsible practices, it’s inevitable that more and more mainstream hotels—from efficiency to ultra-luxe—will learn to incorporate green practices. Not because they’re hip or sexy or entirely cost efficient (for the most part, they are). They’re a truer, more essential representation of place—and what traveler isn’t looking for reinvention (or in the case of the weary traveler, resuscitation) in a new place.
Inn by the Sea - Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Bardessono—in French Laundry bosom Yountville, California—has a similar definitive, environmentally-defensive destination feel to it. What the austere, geometric façade hides is the hotel’s intimate relationship with local terroir. Beyond its (extremely rare) LEED Platinum certification, Bardessono is totally environmentally transparent, meaning its practices are thoroughly, and naturally (which is to say, casually, without interrupting luxury) green. The hotel uses all nontoxic, nonallergenic building materials, as well as organic products in the spa and restaurant. Rooms have sensors that detect a guest’s presence in a room (and shut off the power and fireplace accordingly), and the hotel boasts a 200-kilowatt solar energy system that provides almost half of Bardessono’s electrical energy requirements.
Modern, rustic Hotel Arrebol in Puerta Varas Chile was built largely from salvaged materials, and it runs on geothermal energy, reuses rainwater, and processes its own waste. Best of all, the hotel blends seamlessly into nearby mountainside scenery, making its footprint—visual, carbon, and otherwise—as small as possible. Another Chilean gem, Hotel Antumalal in Pucón, has hosted international dignitaries and celebrities for decades. It’s fish-camp-chic décor isn’t glamorous, but it’s the hotel’s lush grounds and incredible scenery—all visible through floor-to-ceiling windows—that guests come for. Secluded paths, pristine gardens (that double as a farm), a stunning lakeside beach, and waterfalls connect guests (heads of state and common travelers alike) with nature.
The Galapagos Islands are a hotbed for ecotourism, and beachside Iguana Crossing in the Isabella Islands grows all of the vegetables used at its restaurant and exclusively uses local proteins (non-endangered species only). Inside a national park and home to a hopping iguana population, the hotel has to maintain the highest eco-standards. Royal Palm in Santa Cruz sits on 200 hectares of land adjacent to a national park, but the hotel uses only 10 hectares of land for its villas. Right now it’s working to rid its land of non-native species (like pesky blackberries) to preserve the natural authenticity for which the Galapagos Islands are known.
Of course, luxury doesn’t always meet eco-responsibility in an emphatically “environmental” setting (e.g., Yountville or Portland, ME). Increasingly—and fortunately—green is going urban. It’s likely no surprise that eco-conscious cities like Chicago and Portland (Oregon, that is) are home to two marquee green hotels, the Hotel Felix in downtown Chicago and Avalon Hotel & Spa in Portland.
Hotel Felix - Chicago, IL
Hotels looking to (slowly) incorporate green practices should check out the Green Hotels Association for information and tips on how to combine the expected comforts (from homey to luxurious) with green (read: increasingly desirable, locale-intensifying, money-making) initiatives.