|Environmentalism Meets Luxury: An Interview with Roger Young of Bardessono, Yountville, CA
Bardessono, a hotel in the heart of California’s wine country, was built green from the ground up. It’s a rather Spartan-looking box of a building covered in corrugated steel, but there’s something special about that utilitarian design—it conserves energy and insulates—and there’s no shortage of luxury once you’re on the inside.
More than just a trendy catchphrase, sustainability permeates through everything Bardessono Hotel does. Roger Young, the general manager of the property, has made it his mission to develop an environmentally friendly, community-focused luxury hotel—which is no easy feat.
Under Young’s watchful eye, Bardessono goes beyond even composting all food waste and recycling: they don’t have a single piece of plastic in the guest rooms, there are no paper bills, and there are no curtains (instead they have electric, external shades that come down automatically depending on time of day and temperature). And perhaps most important to Young, the green hotel is developing a relationship with the community, through service work and education.
Katherine Martinelli: Are you 100% green/sustainable/organic?
Roger Young: It depends on how you define 100%. We built our hotel through design, architecture, and construction as a LEED building, and we are striving for LEED Platinum. We have a number of credits we still need to obtain to achieve LEED Platinum. We’re working on achieving a green business certification, which exists in Napa Valley. For design and build-out, we obviously have a great deal of interest in achieving something that is very unusual in the industry today. We compost everything. Even further is what we do with our habits on a day to day basis.
KM: Is that challenging?
RY: The challenge is obviously to change the habits of our day to day workers. We buy organic food, and we work with local foragers and farmers, and local vendors in close proximity to the property. But we have practices we need to overcome to achieve greatness on an operational level.
KM: Like what?
RY: Making sure the people who work here are separating bottles from our waste, utilizing our food scraps and putting them in the Earth Tub [composter]...it’s habits. Do we use two sides of paper? Do we save a piece of paper and use it again? Do we buy in bulk? Do we work with our local vendors on packaging and pick-up issues? Do we separate our waste? It’s a really tough process, but we’re working on all kinds of initiatives.
KM: How do your guest rooms reflect Bardessono’s green-luxury hotel concept?
RY: The guest rooms are very different. [There are] no curtains and no carpet. It’s about the purity of the room—no allergens. We only have three carpets in the whole hotel. We have only exterior venetian blinds, so when the sun is shining and causing the air conditioner to work harder, the blind comes down. At certain times of the day the shades automatically come down. When you leave, if you leave the TV and fireplace on after 20 minutes it turns off but then it comes back on when you come in.
We don’t have any plastic in the guest rooms. We have glass milk bottles and use a sanitary plastic cap, and save the caps. It’s a lot of work. The amenity products we use in the guest rooms are certified organic. We use 300-count organic linens. It’s a number of things we’re trying to do to be environmentally friendly.
We do a chef’s water at night as opposed to chocolate so there are no foil wrappers. Some people love our slippers because they’re easy to clean and you can reuse them, but some people want slippers that are plush and you throw away. We’re in a learning curve. One of the things people ask us is why don’t you have a health club, and it’s because we have a great one across the street run by a local person from Yountville.
KM: Do you find it difficult to balance being a luxury hotel with being a sustainable hotel?
RY: Using the milk bottles instead of water bottles has been tough. You need to have someone who washes them, refills them, caps them, and puts them in the rooms. You’re still using water to wash and sanitize the jugs. So you can look at it a million different ways, to have a fair balance in luxury and to be sustainable. How much are people willing to pay for things that are non-traditional?
We don’t cut flowers; we don’t have vases; we have a vertical garden at the entry with live plants that are very cool. We don’t even have a front desk (there are people with tablets—almost a virtual front desk). When you check out you only get a paper bill if you ask for it. We have door bells and do not disturb alerts, but there’s no hotel guide; everything is on TV. It’s all about eliminating waste but serving the guest. It’s a lot of fun; we’ve had a lot of great feedback from people.
KM: Are the company cars hybrid?
RY: We’re working on our Toyota Prius partnership with Toyota. Our courtesy cars will be Prius. We’re still working on that. We have an electric flatbed truck to get to our farm. We have a farm that’s off our property, about a quarter mile away. We have another electric cart that we’ll use for getting around. The reason we don’t have the post office come here is because we feel we can go get our own mail. But then people ask you why you’re not walking.
We try to encourage carpooling. We have special parking spaces closer to the hotel for people who carpool or drive a hybrid. We don’t have an “employee of the month” parking spot; instead it’s for carpoolers.
KM: You mentioned the vineyards on your property...
RY: Yes, we have organic vineyards. We have a gentleman by the name of Doug Hill who manages them. We planted Cabernet Sauvignon and we have a great partnership because we use part of the land off the property for our farm. Eventually when the vines produce grapes, we’ll come up with an innovative way to use those grapes. Part of our partnership in building this property was to define our role as stewards in the community. So often you just take away and never give back. Some of our core values and goals are to give back to the community.
KM: In what ways do you give back to the community?
RY: We try to give back and do community service. We work with a non-profit called Focus; we do Meals-on-Wheels; we do a cemetery clean-up. We really try to encourage our staff to help the community and thrive as well. Yountville is really a culinary mecca of Napa Valley, so we feel like there’s a part of Yountville that shouldn’t be forgotten, and that’s the people who live here every day. And that’s hard too because there are times when we don’t do something and the community expects us to. But we’re having fun.
KM: Is it a hard time to open a new hotel right now?
RY: We’re going to survive. We have a lot of great employees. We’re doing everything we can to drum up business. We’ve been pretty steady on business; our weekend business is steady. We’re a new brand hotel, just six weeks old. A new hotel opened up across the street, another one is opening down the street. We’ve got all kinds of competition, but it’s good competition.
KM: When is the peak season?
RY: Traditionally this is the time people start coming to Yountville. It’s driven by weather. When it’s nice most of the hotels in the area are full because everyone wants to get out of the city and the Bay Area.
KM: What advice do you have for someone in an urban area who wants to do a project like this?
RY: Don’t be afraid to try it. We’re working with the Napa Valley [Green and Sustainable Practices] Committee. There’s an advisory council who works on sustainability in Napa Valley. So we’re working with them on the guidelines they’re putting together. We try to take a document and influence it however we can. We try to educate. We do interpretive tours on the property. We do educational programs for fifth, sixth, and seventh-graders. They go on a tour of the property, all the plant material, etc.
KM: How are people reacting to Bardessono?
RY: It’s been a real interesting road for us because it’s really new for people; they don’t know how to react. Even in our courtyards we don’t have any garbage cans. So people are like where do I throw my bottle? We don’t want them to throw it in the wrong bin, so we do it for them. The way we dispose of waste is very important to us. We try to educate people about what we’re doing.
6526 Yount Street
Yountville, CA 94599