Going (and Earning) Green: The Business of Eco-Hospitality

by Emily Bell
Antoinette Bruno
May 2011

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

Inn by the Sea - Cape Elizabeth, Maine

That’s why a hotel like Inn by the Sea, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, is a rock star archetype of green hotels. Carbon neutral since 2007, Inn by the Sea is the kind of hotel that isn’t just trying to salvage any scrap of environmental accountability for marketing purposes; they’re putting “place” and “practice” on the same pedestal. The fact of best environmental practices translates into the most authentic representation of a hotel’s terroir, if you will. And Inn by the Sea goes above and beyond to not only preserve, but also highlight and concentrate the essence of its environment. From farm-to-fork dining (including the fruits—and veggies—of an indigenous garden) and a saline pool to comprehensive waste reduction and planting classes for kids and adults, Inn by the Sea practices what it preaches—and its practices are all about 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

Hotel Felix - Chicago, IL

Both hotels reflect the kind of progressive urbanism of cities with environmental currents (not to mention abundant nose rings and craft brewery obsessions). For its part, Hotel Felix combines luxury with sustainability, embedding green initiatives enough to equal Silver LEED certification, into a classy, luxe 1920s décor hotel with no-holds-barred downtown panache. Its in-house spa uses only the “purest plant and flower extract,” essentially to protect “the sacred earth and ourselves”—all part of Felix’s “leave you feeling Happy-Naturally” initiative.

It’s no surprise Portland’s Avalon Spa & Resort also goes the “green meets luxurious” route at its Lake Oswego hotel. The first Oregon hotel to receive Silver LEED certification, Avalon works out of an “ultra-green” city, meaning its out-of-town clientele expect a benchmark of environmental responsibility with the sophistication of urban accommodations. And Avalon doesn’t fail to deliver. Pervasive recycling and energy-reduction practices (like no incandescent light bulbs) follow Green Seal 33 Indoor Air Quality Standards and place an emphasis on natural light (the jaded traveler’s luminescent Prozac) and a hotel-wide sustainable purchasing policy. And topping it off is a “Green Team” that meets monthly to maintain sustainable standards at the hotel.

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.