Environmentalism Meets Luxury for the Holidays: An Interview with Rauni Kew of Inn by the Sea - Cape Elizabeth, ME

by Antoinette Bruno with June Miller
Antoinette Bruno
November 2010

Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Maine, Inn by the Sea embraces its mandate to “preserve, protect, and inspire.” Carbon Neutral since 2007 (through carbon offsets), the Inn by the Sea is the first hotel in New England to install dual flush toilets and the first in Maine to heat using biofuel. 

Responsible luxury spreads throughout the Inn. Five acres of gardens are pesticide free, due to the hardy indigenous perennials, and filled with wildlife. Solar power is used to warm the saltwater pool. The spa is built with recycled sheetrock and cork floors. Head here during the holiday season with your kids or dogs and they’ll both be made to feel welcome, where green meets luxury, with dedicated doggy menus and housing for Fido that’s as plush as the digs for his human side-kick (that’d be you).

With changes both large (a multi-million dollar renovation) and small (the removal of all incandescent light bulbs), the Inn by the Sea is a model of sustainable hospitality. Rauni Kew, the Inn’s public relations director, talks about how the hotel balances environmentalism and comfort.

Antoinette Bruno: To what degree is the Inn by the Sea green/ sustainable/ organic?
Rauni Kew: Inn by the Sea is committed to both outstanding hospitality and environmental preservation. We strive to blend luxury, service, and an exceptional guest stay with sustainability, minimizing the impact of hotel operations with eco-friendly initiatives and an appreciation of all things local.

Delectable farm-to-fork dining at Sea Glass celebrates Maine fare, guests are surrounded by an indigenous garden which provides food and habitat for wildlife, and our rooms are cleaned with non-toxic, Green Seal products. Room amenities are natural, in recycled bottles and displayed on recycled glass trays. Our sheet and towel program helps protect the endangered monarch butterfly.

We safeguard the earth’s resources through reforestation, energy and water conservation; we recycle and use post-consumer paper products. Our cardio room has recycled rubber floors; our spa [has] recycled sheet rock walls and bamboo towels. We heat the Inn with biofuel and the pool with solar panels. The Inn has dual flush toilets, we recycle 100 % of cooking oil into cars and waste food goes to a pig farm. We recognize the value of our community by supporting local not-for-profits, environmental agencies, and food banks.

We are a Maine DEP certified Green Lodging, have LEED certification for the SPA addition, and are a certified wildlife habitat and a designated butterfly way station.
AB: Is that challenging?
RK: Being sustainable is not more difficult, nor do you have to give up on style or design to be sustainable—it is just a different way of doing business. Purchasing has a lot to do with being sustainable. If you search for products that are local, natural, and come without packaging, you are already doing a lot. We have learned that using greener alternatives often adds value to a guest’s stay by being healthier, fresher, and celebrat[ing] the location [of Inn by the Sea].

AB: How long has the hotel been in operation? Did you start out with a green operation?
RK: Inn by the Sea has been operating in its present mode for about 20 years, but has been traveling a green path for about nine years.

AB: How do your guest rooms reflect the Inn by the Sea’s green-luxury hotel concept?
RK: Guest rooms are cleaned with Green Seal-approved cleaning products, have natural amenities displayed on recycled glass trays, dual flush toilets, all paper products are recycled, and savings from our sheet and towel reuse program are donated to support environmental concerns, such as the endangered Monarch butterfly.

AB: Do you find it difficult to balance being a luxury hotel with being a sustainable hotel?
RK: Being sustainable does not mean giving up on luxury; guests enjoy the nectar gardens put in for butterflies as they add beauty to the property. Also, eating seafood and produce fresh from the sea and nearby farms adds a great deal to the guest’s culinary experience.

AB: What are some of the design features you’ve incorporated that are green?
RK: Design features such as low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paint and carpeting or air-to-air heat exchangers create a healthier air quality. Not blanket-spraying lawns and gardens with chemicals means healthier lawns for children and dogs to play on. A salinated pool system means guests’ eyes are not burning with chlorine and it is healthier for all to swim in. Children and adults love the educational classes on “How to Plant for Wildlife.”

AB: How does a sustainable business benefit your guests?
RK: Working towards sustainability only adds to the guest experience. Guests enjoy a real sense of place through the local food and also special programs that celebrate a coastal experience. For example, in the spa a guest can take a Sea Waves massage on an undulating bed, with surf surround sound, with natural marine-based products for the ultimate in coastal spa experiences. Guest can walk around the Great Pond or enjoy the wildlife in the bird sanctuary

AB: Are the company cars hybrid?
RK: We have no cars.

AB: You mentioned the wildlife sanctuary and the beautiful gardens on your property during my visit. Do tell me more about them.
RK: The five acres of the landscape at the Inn by the Sea are indigenous and planted to create habitat and food sources for local wildlife. We give classes on “How to Plant for Wildlife” to adults, and for children we teach them about eco-systems in a “Bug’s Life Class.” Children learn about the endangered Monarch butterfly, they visit the nectar gardens, and learn about eco-systems from a bug’s viewpoint.

AB: In what ways does the hotel give back to the community?
RK: Inn by the Sea is very involved with the community all year long, but one of the highlights is the Holiday Giving Tree where guests are invited to keep paper ornaments made by school children in exchange for warm clothes for community members who are less fortunate. We have dinners to support various causes such as the Haiti relief dinner we did this year. We work with Hospitality for Habitat and offer 50% off room rates in the month of May for guests who will write a $35 donation check for Habitat for Humanity projects in Maine, to name just a few.

AB: What advice do you have for someone in an urban area who wants to do a project like this?
RK: Work towards sustainability and help to define a hotel’s sense of place—that is, give a guest a real sense of your location by celebrating food, culture, tradition and all that makes your location special. This can be done in a natural setting such as the one the Inn by the Sea inhabits, or just as easily as in an urban setting. Preserving a sense of place, as well as putting design features in place to lower your impact on the environment, is important anywhere!

AB: How are people reacting to the Inn by the Sea?
RK: Guests, whether eco-minded or not, enjoy the natural beauty of the beach and the inn’s lovely location. Having all the fun and activity of Portland only seven miles away is also a plus—guests can enjoy the best of both worlds!

AB: What sort of business do you do during the holiday season?
RK: We are happily busy during the holidays. We have special menus, with both traditional and local specials for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s that are popular. Sea Glass celebrates New Year’s with steak, lamb or lobster, Truffle Potato Gnocchi and a Rainbow Baked Alaska. We expect about 300 covers at Thanksgiving during the course of the day, Christmas Eve will be celebrated in Sea Glass with about 110 covers and an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner will be served to about 80 diners.

AB: Is it mostly families with children? Couples? Singles?
RK: Sea Glass enjoys a mix of family business over Christmas and New Year’s, but as the hour gets later, and for New Year’s Eve, the restaurant will be taken over largely by couples.

AB: Tell us a little about the doggy menu and dog-friendly programs. Are there a lot of customers during the holiday season who take advantage of that?
RK: The very popular gourmet dog menu can be enjoyed by the fireplace in the lounge or in a guest’s room serving up “Meat Roaff” with hearty ground beef, or a Doggie Gumbo with Angus beef tips. The holidays bring families to the Inn, and pets are definitely part of the family. Couples often travel with their beloved pets as well and all are treated to over the top pampering at the inn.  Of the 57 suites and rooms at the inn, 17 are pet friendly and we expect they will be filled over the holidays.