With persistent energy costs turning green habits from trend into standing policy, environmental measures that would have dazzled just a few years ago are becoming as expected and unimpressive as compact fluorescent light bulbs. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Motel 6 or truck stop without some level of green certification.
In a bit of a shock, this year’s Sustained Excellence award winner from the Environmental Protection Agency went to New York City’s downtown Marriott. Yes, that Marriott—in the sweltering asphalt of Manhattan’s Financial District. Insiders, however, weren’t surprised. Marriott announced a company-wide policy to cut energy consumption (not just costs) by 25 percent by 2017; they've also debuted “spudware,” biodegradable cutlery made from potato and soy, and turned golf courses into Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.
With corporate titans making very public efforts to go green, it's little surprise that some self-described Friends of the Environment aren’t what they claim to be. One hotel whose brochure claimed to be “eco-friendly” was backed up in practice by nothing more than an optional recycling program. Such puffery—called “green-washing”—is hampering the industry and the larger environmental movement. It always pays to double-check a hotel’s credentials and give so-called green thumbs the white-glove treatment.
Still, even in the last year, great strides have been made. Going green now entails more than unwashed towels and unlikely flavors of organic toothpaste. Sustainability is an important criterion for eco-conscious travelers—and not just for visitors from San Francisco and Vermont. At the Wyland Waikiki in Hawaii, for example, guests are treated to the largest collection of work by renowned marine artist Robert Wyland, whose murals of sea life are meant to inspire environmental preservation.
For your inner pedicured cowboy, Montana’s Bison Quest Sanctuary and Spa reconnects guests with wildlife through encounters with a buffalo herd. “We’ve had a bison herd for well over a decade," says Pam Knowles, wildlife biologist and founder of the private sanctuary, "and it has become obvious to us over the years that people are fascinated with bison in a natural setting.” The 480-acre private ranch plans on staying small and sustainable in Big Sky country. “We currently have one cabin and two tipis, with the second cabin slated to be finished this fall,” Knowles says. “We don’t plan to ever be bigger than that.”
Though staying green is often about staying small and sustainable, many big urban hotels (like the Marriott) are getting in on the act. The Seaport Hotel in Boston, for example, boasts chemical-free, electrolyzed water instead of bleach for cleaning. Management also composts food waste with the first BioX decomposing system in New England and uses its purchasing power to encourage other industries to go green by buying from environmentally sound suppliers. And by cultivating an on-site herb and vegetable garden, they reduce their dependence on outside suppliers even more.
Clearly, if straight-laced Boston can be just as environmental as flowery San Francisco (where the Hotel Triton, a Kimpton hotel, has led the eco-charge), environmentalism is gaining traction in the public awareness. The same could be said for Arkansas, where the Lookout Point Inn in Hot Springs has got it going on, ecologically speaking. There, old sheets and towels are donated to charity and unused paper products are given to the staff. Having a natural hot spring to take a warm soak in also helps cut heating costs.
Heating costs may be low by default in sunny Key West, but the Banyan Resort still goes green with a solar-powered pool, a deck made from recycled lumber and grounds that are xeriscaped. That is, landscaped with water-conserving plants. Throughout the country, hotels' growing array of eco-innovations provides inspiration to hoteliers and guests alike.