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Eco-friendly travel: Hotels and the green bandwagon

Looking to pamper yourself and the Earth on your next vacation? Travel editor Peter Greenberg lists the most environmentally aware resorts in the U.S. and abroad.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

In the past few years, it seems as if every hotel claims to be doing something to embrace the words "sustainable" and "green."Many hotels now put tent cards on your bed suggesting you help in the fight to save the environment by asking the hotel not to wash your towels every day. Others boast that, in an effort to save water, they have installed flow restrictors in their shower heads.Skeptical guests (myself among them) suspect the towel-washing suggestions as nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt on the hotel's part not to save the environment, but to save on soap and energy — and money. As for the shower heads, a simple inspection of local laws most often reveals that the hotels installed the flow restrictors because it's already part of the municipal building code in their communities — they are already required to have them in place.So much for the "show" of environmental responsibility at many hotels. But there are other hotels that are going above and beyond what they are required to do, and are to be commended for their environmental contributions.Here are a few green, or at the very least, greener, hotels I've found:In New York, Kimpton's The Muse hotel offers hybrid car incentives for those driving to the hotel, and even arranges pedicabs as eco-transportation alternatives. Some other innovations:

  • In-room recycling bins
  • Housekeeping carts contain nontoxic cleaners
  • Even the hotel mini bar offers organic and shade-grown coffee
    (Organic and shade-grown coffee has preserved over 40,000 acres —18 football fields— of pesticide-free sustainable agriculture.)

At other Kimpton hotels:     •     All rooms are cleaned with environmentally friendly cleaning products      •     Recycled paper: Property-wide printing on recycled paper     •     Organic beverages: All complimentary lobby coffee is organic, shade-grown and/or fair trade     •     Towel/linen reuse: Guests have the opportunity to do their part to reduce energy and detergents required for daily washings     •     Recycling: Back-of-house recycling programs addressing glass, bottles, paper, cardboard, etc.     •     Energy conservation: Back-of-house lighting retrofitted and audited to ensure energy-efficient bulbs are in place     •     Water conservation: Implementation and auditing of low flow systems for faucets, toilets and showers     •     Best practices: At any hotel you may find environmental activities such as recycling of coat hangers, elimination of styrofoam cups, paperless check-ins/outs, organic flowers and more ...     •     In-room designer recycling bins: Guests are encouraged to participate in reducing our environmental impact.     •     Honor bar with organic food and beverage options: Honor bars include organic snacks and beverages.     •     Donation programs: Instead of being thrown away, unused amenity bottles are donated and used by local charities.      The Little Nell, Aspen, Colo.      •     In the process of switching from bottled water being made available for free in rooms at turndown to locally made carafes being placed in each room.     •     Parking garage uses t-8 linear fluorescent lighting rather than metal halide fixtures, preventing the release of 300,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide annually.     In the hotel restaurant, no commercial beef is served. Only grass-fed beef. All pork products are cured in-house  (no nitrates).     •     The restaurant buys about 50 percent of its produce from local farms during the summerThe Breakers, Palm Beach , Fla.
The “first hotel in the world” to serve rainforest alliance coffee, this resort replaced guest room cotton towels with products made of 70 percent bamboo content. It also:      •     Implemented towel and linen reuse program in guest rooms     •     Incorporated native landscaping throughout resort’s 140 acres. Examples: Sabal palm, Thatch palm, Coco Plum and Sea Grape          •     8 recycling containers collect plastic and aluminum at beachfront and clubhouse     •     Toilet paper, paper towels and tissues contain at least 40 percent recycled content     •     Energy-efficient light bulbs in public spaces; 9,000 energy-efficient light bulbs in 560 guest rooms     •      Smart thermostats in guest rooms connect to Energy Management System to control room temperature when unoccupied     •     Created employee carpooling initiative that offers incentives to team members     •     Replaced chlorine bleach with peroxide-based bleach in laundry department          •     1,100 foot-well and Reverse Osmosis Plant converts undrinkable water to irrigation water for The Ocean Golf CourseFairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Calif.
Getting married at the hotel? New “green wedding” options include recycled paper invitations complete with soy ink printing. Personalized menus highlight local organic produce, wines and coffees and house-made wedding cakes, and let's not forget transportation for the bride and groom — not to mention the other guests — by hybrid vehicles.Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies      •     Has been purchasing green power since 1999 and presently 50 percent of the property’s electricity needs is met by a blend of wind and run-of-river electricity generation.            •     Purchases local produce sourced within 250 kilometers of the hotel, thereby making a contribution to reducing the number of food miles and resulting greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.     •      Offers complimentary overnight parking for guests who drive hybrid vehicles.   At other Fairmont hotels:     •     Redistributing wine corks from Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York to the local Girl Guides’ “Bag a Cork Program” where they are converted into everything from flooring to floats, clothing to coasters.     •     Making use of all those half-used bars of soap! The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth gives them new life at Laboratoire Dermoderm, a local company that mixes them with natural volcanic stone to produce an effective cleaning cream that removes grease, paint, pine gum, ink and tar from the hands of mechanics, gardeners and artists.     •     Uneaten scrambled eggs from The Fairmont Algonquin become tasty treats for feathered friends by diverting daily leftovers at the breakfast buffet from the garbage bin to the peacocks at Kingsbrae Gardens in New Brunswick. Similarly, Switzerland’s Fairmont Le Montreux Palace packs up leftovers for the local pig farmers to help feed and raise the bacon served at their breakfast tables.     •     An even more creative use of organic waste is The Fairmont Algonquin’s redistribution of coffee grinds, which are transformed into golf course tee-off mounds.          •     The Fairmont San Jose converts used-up fluffy towels to make a “recycled champion bootie” for their housekeepers for dusting the rooms.   The Lenox, in Boston     •     This is the first hotel company to offset the air pollution and carbon emissions of 100 percent of its electricity.And here's something cutting-edge at the Lenox:     •     Waterless urinals annually save 180,000 gallons of water.Tiamo Resorts, Bahamas      •  The shining achievement at Tiamo is their electricity-generating system. Tiamo has a large solar field, with a daily electricity-generating capacity of over 130,000 watts and a battery storage facility totaling 4,075 amp hours. Tiamo is the first full-service resort utilizing 100 percent alternative energy for its electrical needs, including a commercial kitchen.      •  Gray water waste undergoes a natural treatment process. All of the wastewater from the showers, sinks and laundry is filtered for large particles and sent through a dirt, sand and rock filter system for cleansing. They also use biodegradable, phosphorous-free soaps for further protection of the land and water resources on South Andros Island, The Bahamas.     •  Black water waste (one of the most detrimental wastes to near-shore tropical aquatic ecosystems) is dealt with by using low-flush composting toilets. These are normal toilets — a nice ceramic bowl using a one-pint, low-flush system. Composting toilets take advantage of the natural talents of microorganisms. They break down waste into a healthy organic peat.

Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Baja California, Mexico

  • Rancho Tres Estrellas Organic Garden —  3.5 acres are actively cultivated to provide herbs, fruits and vegetables for Rancho La Puerta's dining hall. The garden produces more than 250 different varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
  • An on-site waste treatment facility provides gray water for the drip irrigation system and composted solids for landscaping fertilizers.
  • A biological marsh captures gray water from a cluster of guest cottages; the resulting clean water is returned to a creek that runs through Rancho La Puerta.
  • The resort has also replaced propane-fueled heat with cleaner-burning natural gas.
  • Water oxygenating technology keeps swimming pools and hot tubs clean with only a minute application of chlorine.  
  • Tubular skylights provide high-quality natural lighting in guest rooms, gyms and spa facilities.
  • Guest-room showers and non-composting toilets use "low-flow" water conservation technology.
  • Rechargeable batteries are used throughout the Ranch, and there is a recycling program for staff to bring in expended batteries from home to be sent to a certified recycling facility.
  • Wastebaskets in the rooms and offices are lined with "Bio-Bags", 100 percent compostable bags made of a cornstarch-derived material.
  • Buildings are designed to fit into the natural contours of the land, resulting in minimal grading.
  • Patches of land that are disturbed during construction are stabilized using biodegradable fiber mats and native plants.
  • Rancho La Puerta's drip-irrigation system uses gray water from the on-site waste treatment facility.
  • A biological marsh captures gray water from a cluster of guest cottages; the resulting clean water is returned to a creek that runs through Rancho La Puerta. Gardens are fertilized using composted organic matter from garden trimmings and solid waste from the waste treatment facility and the composting toilets. Minimum commercial nitrogen fertilizers are used for lawn care.

Oh yes, one more thing. None of these environmental initiatives negatively impacts visitors. Guests actually have a good time there, and some report having an even better time once they know about these conservation policies.

Peter Greenberg is TODAY’s travel editor. His column appears weekly on Visit his Web site at .