John Ivanko uses wind power, solar power, and a wood stove to meet the energy needs at his bed-and-breakfast, Inn Serendipity. He serves food from his organic garden and composts the leftovers. Even the bath tiles at the inn were chosen with the environment in mind - they were produced from recycled windshield glass.
As a result of all this, the two-unit inn in rural Browntown, which Ivanko runs with Lisa Kivirist, was listed as one of the "top 10 eco-destinations" in North America last year by Natural Home & Garden magazine.
It's not easy being green, but such efforts are about to be recognized further through an environmental certification program called Travel Green Wisconsin being created for Wisconsin lodgings, restaurants and other tourism businesses.
"This will help Wisconsin set itself apart from equally impressive states because it is the first," Ivanko said.
Martha Honey, executive director of The International Ecotourism Society, said she wants to see other states follow the lead of the Travel Green Wisconsin program.
"We hope that it will spread," she said.
Every guest at Ivanko's inn is offered a tour pointing out the B&B's "green" features - from the organic farm where strawberries are grown for breakfast pancakes, to the solar panels on the roof that heat the shower water.
Some people, like recent guests from Japan, stay at the B&B specifically to learn how the place is run. Others, like those who travel the 150 miles from Chicago, come to escape urban life while enjoying the rolling countryside, the bike trails and the region's culinary offerings, from cheese factories to Swiss-German cuisine.
"It gives them a chance to experiment with a slightly different way of living," Ivanko said.
Wisconsin has been at the forefront of the environmental movement over the years as the home of famed naturalists John Muir and Aldo Leopold, and the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, said state tourism secretary Jim Holperin.
Creation of the certification program by his agency, working with the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, can keep the state's environmental tradition alive, he said.
"We believe this will provide a way to market state businesses that are working toward leaving a smaller footprint on the land," Holperin said.
Colette Corwin, 65, of Alva, Fla., stayed at Ivanko's inn in January and said she plans to consult the list the next time she visits Wisconsin.
"A lot of people can call themselves green," she said. "But we went to one hotel in Florida that called itself green and we couldn't see anything green about it."
The tourism department contracted with Wisconsin Environmental Initiative - a nonprofit organization that works with business, government and citizen groups on environmental issues - to create the certification process after that group developed a similar Green Built Home program with the Madison Area Builders Association.
Plans call for a tourism certification program to begin in about five communities and, if successful, for it to expand statewide, Holperin said.
Businesses seeking certification will have to submit what they have done or expect to complete within six months in categories including waste reduction, recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, wastewater management, air quality, and wildlife and landscape management.
The Department of Tourism will eventually list all certified businesses on a Travel Green Wisconsin Web site, Holperin said.
Ivanko, who has written a book with Kivirist on the environmentally conscious lifestyle entitled "Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life," said he believes the Travel Green Wisconsin program will appeal to the traveler "who wants to have a great time but doesn't want to destroy the planet in the process."
To offset the environmental impact of the car and plane travel his guests undertake to reach the inn, Ivanko even donates a portion of each guest's lodging fee to Trees for the Future, which plants trees around the world.
"We are a part of nature, rather than apart from it," he said. "If you ruin the area which people are coming to see, you won't have it any more."
If You Go:
INN SERENDIPITY: Browntown, Wis., about 150 miles from Chicago; (608) 329-7056. Rates: $100 or $115 a night, including tour and vegetarian breakfast.
GREEN HOTELS: Lists "green" hotels around the world.
TREES FOR THE FUTURE: (800) 643-0001