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Tips for Finding Green Hotels

How do you know if a hotel’s program is truly environmentally friendly—and not all smoke and mirrors?T+L’s Andrea Bennett separates fact from fiction. By Andrea Bennett

As I write this, I’m in a hotel room on the Vegas Strip, looking out my window at the construction site of what will be the largest green hotel in the world, set within MGM Mirage’s $7.4 billion City Center. The hotel is pursuing certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, which sets standards for environmentally sustainable construction. Among the measures it’s taking: recycling 80 percent of construction waste and building a monorail to the Bellagio. But if you check in when the hotel opens in 2009, you might not notice it’s green the property’s casino (not LEED certified) allows smoking.

What Does “Green” Mean?

Photo: Ryan Heshka

Unless you stay in an eco-lodge, you’re not always likely to see a property’s efforts to reduce its impact on the environment. Sure, you might be asked to recycle towels and use a key card that controls your room’s lights and climate. But subtler measures, such as building with recycled materials and landscaping to use less water, aren’t so apparent.

You can look for some proof of certification, but dozens of countries, several U.S. states, and a number of industries have their own labeling programs with varying standards, so it’s difficult to know just how green your hotel really is. (See five of the most reputable programs at right.) To complicate this scenario, many properties are bypassing accreditation in favor of developing their own sustainability plans. The Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C., for instance, uses renewable wind electricity and purchases organic food whenever possible.

What’s Next?

Eco-construction is a growing phenomenon. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, there are now 118 hotels that have registered for LEED certification. So far, only one hotel—the Gaia Napa Valley—has earned the Gold certificate (the second highest level). Striving to be the next property to get Gold (or perhaps Platinum, the highest LEED certification, which no hotel has yet achieved), the Proximity Hotel, in North Carolina, will use rooftop solar panels, install elevators that generate a portion of their own power, and use an air-exchange system to reduce its energy consumption. And LEED is expanding to international hotels. Easter Island’s Explora Rapa Nui, set to open in December, seeks to obtain Gold status.

What Can You Do?

Every property in T+L’s “Favorite Green Hotels” filled out an eco-questionnaire to ensure that they’re meeting high environmental standards. You can put the same questions to a hotel before booking: What has it done to reduce carbon emissions and waste?How does it conserve energy and water consumption?And does it have programs that support its community?You’ll be doing the environment a favor.

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Green Ideas: Tips For Eco-Friendly Travel

Assuming your vacation is more than just a hike, you’re going to be making a carbon footprint.

That doesn’t mean you should skip your next trip though. In fact, most environmentalists agree that traveling helps raise crucial awareness and appreciation of the earth.

Whether you love to drive your Hummer, or you’re happy to pedal your bike, take these simple eco-friendly tips to change your habits while on the go.

Before You Leave
All transportation requires the combustion of fuel, so the greenest thing you can do is use public transport. When possible, take the train or bus instead of flying. If you’re driving, try to get as many people in the car as possible, instead of taking multiple vehicles.

If you have to fly, book direct.

“Taking off and landing requires a tremendous amount of fuel, so flying direct is greener than making stop-overs,” explained TreeHugger and editor, Meaghan O’Neill.

Before you leave the house, be sure to adjust your heating and cooling systems. Unplug all of your appliances and chargers.

O’Neill warned that many electronics, even while on standby, still use a huge amount of so-called vampire energy. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that vampire energy waste accounts for five percent of total electronic consumption in the United States.

Anything that recharges will continue to suck power out of the walls after they’re charged. Plasma TV’s, microwaves and chargers are the biggest culprits.

What to Take With You
Travel-size packages might seem quick and convenient, but all that extra packaging takes a heavy toll on the environment. O’Neill recommends filling re-usable containers with the products you need instead of buying additional sundries.

Take a water bottle with you. It’s difficult to find a recycling option when you’re on the go. And besides, plastic does not biodegrade. If and whenever possible, take your re-usable version with you. Many models even have a handy carry strap too!

Travel light and take only what you need. This will make it easier to take public transportation and get around. Hopefully, there will even be room left over to bring home souvenirs, which are an important contribution to local economies.

Where To Go
Regardless of where you go, choose environmentally-friendly accommodations. New green hotels and resorts, from the bare bones to eco-luxury, are rapidly popping up around the world. Check out the “Green” Hotels Association for more ideas.

Seek out destinations that practice geo-tourism. Geo-tourism, according to National Geographic, is “tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place — its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents.” So far National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations has already signed geo-tourism charters with Honduras, Norway, Romania, the Cook Islands, Arizona, Rhode Island, Montreal, Guatemala and Senora, Mexico, and is busily signing up more.

The Center for Sustainable Tourism also offers environmental scorecards. Click here how to find out how your next vacation spot ranks.

Bennett also encouraged travelers to “re-invest” in locations and avoid “drive-by tourism.”

“Slow down and invest in a single destination,” he said. Rather than spending two days in three different cities, choose one stop and experience it more fully.

On the Road
“Don’t check you green habits when you check in,” O’Neill said. Just because you might be staying in a hotel, you still need to remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room, turn off the air conditioning and not waste food.

Once you’re there, walk instead of hiring a car. Check if your hotel has a shuttle or try public transportation. If you have to rent, ask for a hybrid. O’Neill also recommended Zipcar.

Reuse your towels and sheets whenever possible.

“Hotels use a huge amount of energy for laundry,” explained green blogger Olivia Zaleski.

She also recommended letting your hotel know you’re grateful they offer greener service and encouraging those places that don’t yet have a re-use option to adopt one.

Think about your impact once you get there.

“Try to minimize extractive activities and emphasize ones that help bolster the local culture,” said Paul Bennett, a founder of Context Travel, an environmentally conscious travel agency.

For example, eating at a small mom-and-pop establishment is much better for the local economy than going to McDonald’s.

When You Get Home
Once you’re back at home, even if you feel you’ve treaded lightly, there’s still more you can do.

“Offsetting your flight is a quick and easy way to green your trip,” Bennett said.

The basic idea is to compensate for your carbon footprint by enabling an equivalent reduction in greenhouse gas by donating a carbon offset coupon. Options range from investing in wind energy to planting trees. Prices range accordingly depending on the scheme.

Bennett also recommended re-investing in your favorite destinations to ensure their future.

“Look for charities or foundations that invest in the place and medicate the impact of tourism on it,” he said. “Make a donation, or volunteer to help on your next trip.”

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Would you sleep easier in a green hotel?

It is reasonable to expect that we might be able to control our eco-behavior in the privacy of our own homes, but it definitely gets a lot tougher when you travel, especially when it is for business. Let’s start with the fact that priority No. 1 for your corporate travel department is going to be finding the cheapest price for your lodging, not whether or not a certain property conserves water or is committed to renewable energy.

But some hotels are definitely trying to do their part. A couple of years ago, I wrote about the gamble that Starwood is taking with its eco-hotel chain, Element, which is pitched as an alternative to extended stay properties such as Courtyard by Marriott. (An update on Element in a moment.) More recently, I touched on the fact that a number of really high profile companies are working together to at least try to standardize the way they talk about their impact. The effort is being spearheaded by the International Tourism Partnership and the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Now, hotels interested in operating more sustainably have some additional help in the form of a green toolkit from the United National World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The toolkit is part of the Hotel Energy Solutions initiative, focused on helping hoteliers evaluate energy consumption, source renewable power and improve their overall energy management profile. Aside from the UNWTO, other partners backing the effort are the UN Environment Program, the International Hotel & Restaurant Association, the European Renewable Council, and the French Environment and Energy Management Agency.

The toolkit was tested at approximately 100 European properties in Haute-Savoie in France, Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Bonn in Germany, and Strandja in Bulgaria. It focuses on what you might expect, helping managing when linens are laundered, ensuring that thermostats are adjusted appropriately, and controlling lighting throughout properties so they are on only when necessary. The original premise of the project was that it could help small and midsize hotels save up to 20 percent of overall energy consumption through focused efficiency measures and by reminding guests about eco-friendly behavior.

The initial target for the hotel toolkit is Europe, where something like half of the world’s 5.9 million hotels are located, but it will eventually be extended to other markets. Figures from the European Action Plan for Energy Efficiency estimate that hotels could cut their energy consumption by up to 30 percent by 2020. Overall, the sector could save as much energy as, say, the residential or transportation sector.

So, obviously, this is a European initiative. I’m happy to report that I continue to hear inklings of good ideas here in the United States. I’ll go back to Element, which I’ve been wondering about during the continued sluggish economic recovery.

After poking around a bit for some updates, I discovered that Element’s hotel in Ewing, N.J., was designated as the first New Jersey hotel certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program in May 2011. All hotels under the Element brand are striving for LEED certification, and the Element Ewing Hopewell is the fourth one to do so. Starwood, overall, now manages 15 properties worldwide that have been LEED-certified — the most of any global hospital company.

The property has 127 rooms that are all outfitted with EnergyStar-rated kitchen appliances, eco-friendly bath fixtures, and recycling bins for paper, plastic and glass. Filter systems for the drinking water help decrease the number of disposable cups. The carpets are made out of 100 percent recycled content and the paint is low-VOC. Natural lighting is used copiously; it is supplemented by compact fluorescent bulbs that save about 75 percent electricity over the incandescent alternative.

The hotel even features a ChargePoint electric vehicle charging station, which is part of a nationwide rollout by Element.

Said Perry Hansen, the hotel’s general manager:

“Our LEED certification is gratifying because is recognizes our team’s efforts to conserve resources and reduce waste. But even more important, guests keep telling us how much it means to them. There’s a real appreciation among guests for all of the thoughtful practices that have become an integral part of the Element experience.”

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Thanks to United National World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), hotels now have the much needed additional help in building a strong eco-friendliness of their property. This is considerably a major step taken in making a more sustainable future of mother earth. Kudos to UNWTO!


5 green hotels for business travelers

… welcome to the seventh installment of “Home is where the office is,” a special springtime series of posts celebrating the roughly 20 million members of the American workforce who shuffle to their dens, spare bedrooms, kitchen tables, mom caves or backyard office pods at least once a week to perform what would otherwise be performed in a soulless office block miles away.

Having tackled the basic necessities — desks, task chairs, lamps, supplies, and storage systems — needed to outfit an eco-friendly home workspace, this week, like last week when I covered laptop/messenger bags, the focus is on those very special occasions when work-from-homers put on pants (!) and venture outside of the home.

Today, I’m spotlighting a few hotel brands — ranging from LEED-certified extended stay options to eco-design-y hotspots — where traveling, green-minded work-from-homers will feel right at home. Sure, a comfortable bed, business amenities, and a substantial continental breakfast may trump dual-flush toilets, discounted hybrid parking, and vintage furnishings when it comes to booking a place to crash during work-centric trips. But thanks to serious greening initiatives within the hospitality industry, eco-conscious business travelers looking to stay at a hotel that’s just as green or greener than home, there are now plenty of options.

Below are my top five picks for mostly affordable, design-conscious hotel brands where going green is a lot more involved than a “leave your towels on the floor if you want them changed” placard in the bathroom. This work-from-homer has even spent the night at or dined in a couple of properties on the list. Do you have a favorite eco-friendly hotel that you stay at when traveling for work? Tell me about it in the comments section!

Element by Westin (Nine North American locations including New York City, Houston, Las Vegas, Omaha, Lexington, Mass.)

With locations primarily in suburban areas and near airports (a notable exception is the new Times Square West location which I recently had the pleasure of crashing at for the night), Element is a line of extended stay hotels with a twist: all locations are built “green from the ground up” to achieve LEED certification. No matter the duration of their stay, guests can expect to have a comfortable, eco-chic experience at Element — dubbed as parent company Starwood’s “green lab” — and enjoy unique green amenities/features like electric vehicle charging stations, recycling bins galore, amenity kitchens fully stocked with real glassware and utensils, and “Do Not Disturb” signs made from eco-friendly magnets instead of paper. And then, of course, there’s the presence of the oh-so-aptly named Westin Heavenly® Beds …

Andaz Hotels by Hyatt (London — Liverpool Street,  Los Angeles — West Hollywood, San Diego, New York — Wall Street, New York — 5th Ave)

Reflective of Hyatt’s impressive, brand-wide sustainability initiatives, Andaz Hotels — the company’s growing line of locale-celebrating boutique properties that are upscale but decidedly unpretentious — feature numerous eco-friendly perks. For starters, all Andaz guest rooms are of the Respire by Hyatt variety, meaning that they’re hypo-allergenic and subject to an intensive six-step process to ensure top-notch indoor air quality. In addition to numerous sustainable design elements and water- and energy-saving bells and whistles, restaurants within Andaz properties embrace the brand’s site-specific “kaleidoscope of culture” theme by offering organic, farm-fresh nibbles sourced from local purveyors.

Kimpton Hotels (Over 50 North American locations including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Chicago, and New York City)

Eco-conscious travelers can rest easy at any boutique-y (read: trendy) Kimpton properties. After all, the company was a frontrunner in bringing sustainability to the hospitality biz. It all started with a greening campaign at San Francisco’s Hotel Triton (eco-friendliness aside, “busy” doesn’t even begin to describe the aesthetics of this joint) that eventually spread brand-wide with the employee-run EarthCare Program. Considered by many to be the gold standard of hotel greening initiatives, the mission of EarthCare is “to support a sustainable world, and reflect the values of our employees, guests, and investors, by using non-intrusive, high quality, eco-friendly products and services.” One of the many green perks of staying with Kimpton: At most properties, guests who pull up in a hybrid car will receive free or deeply discounted parking.

Home2 Suites by Hilton (Fayetteville, N.C., Salt Lake City/Layton UT; more than 75 locations planned including Baltimore and San Antonio)

Much like Element by Westin, Home2 Suites by Hilton is a green-minded mid-tier extended stay hotel concept ideal for business travelers looking to tread lightly on the planet. Guest bunking at Home2’s two existing properties — many more are the on the way — will find dual-flush toilets, EnergyStar appliances, recycling stations, recycled content carpeting by InterfaceFLOR, water-wise landscaping, chlorine-free swimming pools, and other eco-friendly features. Additionally, “hip and humble” Home2 Suites places an emphasis on hangin’ out (guests are encouraged to unwind in a comfy and communal ground-floor “Oasis” at each property) and workin’ out (along with swimming pools and exercise rooms, most properties will feature outdoor walking/jogging trails).

Ace Hotels (New York City, Palm Springs, Seattle, Portland, Ore.)

Popular, parodied, and Portland-based, Ace Hotels is in the business of transforming old, sometimes down-and-out buildings (halfway houses, old Howard Johnson motels, etc.) into boutique properties where all of the cool kids want to stay/play/work. Just call them Holiday Inns for hipsters. Although Ace targets a decidedly younger demographic, guests of all ages will appreciate the mini-chain’s focus on “bohemian, organic, and hip” design where recycled/eco-friendly materials and vintage/repurposed furnishings are incorporated into guest rooms and public spaces. Sadly, while guests can’t actually rent a vintage typewriter at one one the Ace’s four buzzy locations, they can borrow a turnable and a stack of thrift store vinyl. Or play bingo. And on a somewhat hyperbolic side note, the Ace Swim Club in Palm Springs is one of my favorite places that I’ve spent an afternoon at. Ever.

Other hotel chains with notable eco-initiatives: Fairmont Hotels & Resorts; Four Seasons Hotels & ResortsInterContinental Hotels Group; Joi de Vivre HotelsMarriott InternationalNYLO; Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

For more eco-friendly lodging options, check out

Image credits: Element by Westin, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; Andaz, Hyatt Hotels; Hotel Triton, Kimpton Hotels; Home2 Suites, Hilton Worldwide; Ace Hotels.

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