Sustainable Travel to Healdsburg, California Part 1: Staying at LEED Gold-Certified H2 Hotel

Reader Contribution by Lisa Kivirist and Inn Serendipity
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Tucked into the rolling hills filled with the vineyards of Sonoma County’s wine country, just off Highway 101 and about a two hours’ drive north of San Francisco, rests Healdsburg, California. Along with the sustainability movement taking hold in the area’s wineries, the downtown H2 Hotel has spectacularly demonstrated its commitment to revitalize, restore, and rejuvenate, championing environmental stewardship in every way, from the hotels’ innovative, artistic and ecologically-focused design to the complimentary refillable glass bottles of water they provide to their guests.

This is the first of a two-part article of my environmentally-mindful exploration of Healdsburg, joined by my husband-photographer, John Ivanko, with a focus on our stay in the H2 Hotel. Part 2 will delve into the delicious farm-to-table dining, ecotravel diversions and the plentiful opportunities to shop local in town.

Eco-Lodging at H2 Hotel – LEED Gold Certified

You know you’re in the right place when you look up and see the wavy roof with thousands of native succulents, such as the tight rosettes of the ghost plant and shrubby Cotyledon, growing on top. Welcome to H2 Hotel, a US Green Building Council’s LEED Gold Certified Green hotel in the center of Healdsburg. There are solar thermal system panels used to heat the swimming pool’s water and a small PV system on the roof, too. Nearly all of the water is cleverly captured on the roof and grounds, filtered and then used for irrigation.

From the moment we walked in, the H2 Hotel captivated us with its innovative design, sense of style, and meticulous attention to detail. Staff are friendly, quick to point out places to go for a hike or bike. There’s nothing cookie-cutter here. Instead, a fountain made with a wall of hundreds of splashing spoons welcomed us in the outside entranceway courtyard, with the spoons clinking from the gentle trickling of water. Another H2 welcome we loved seeing: a rack of complimentary bicycles offered to guests should they wish to ply the miles of trails in the area. We enter the main lobby through glass doors, but glass window walls of the lobby space, dining area and adjacent lounge let sunlight pour in and maintain a sense of connection to the natural surroundings around the hotel.

“Natural light played a key role in the building’s design,” explains Jason Farmer, H2 Hotel’s Director of Sales. “Ninety percent of all occupied spaces in the hotel have a direct view of the outside with double pane windows adding to the insulation.” 

The eco-chic H2 Hotel, opening its doors in 2011, blends eco-conscious and comfy with an impressive 85-percent of the construction building materials coming from reclaimed and recycled content. This adds up to a whimsical, wabi sabi coziness that draws you in and tempts you to lounge in the lobby with a book or a beverage served in glass made from an up-cycled empty wine bottle.

Look closely, for intentional green details are everywhere: flooring recycled from a high school basketball court in the San Francisco Bay area, dining room chairs surrounding a hand-crafted harvest table at Spoonbar made out of chicken eggshells, and cardboard clothes hangers in guest closets. For EV owners staying as guests, there’s complimentary Tesla and Universal charging stations available. A free Ashtanga yoga class is even offered on Sunday morning. What’s missing at H2 Hotel? Plastic, wonderfully so.

Each energy-efficient room — with an indoor sitting area, outside private balcony, tiled spa shower and spacious desk workspace — is smart card key activated, turning on, and off, all lights and air conditioning.

Complimentary snacks from local suppliers are restocked daily in the room; old milk bottle-styled water containers filled with sparkling and still water can be conveniently refilled in Waterbar dispensers on each floor.

Every morning, guests are invited down to a made-to-order breakfast of lox and bagel, a unique breakfast salad or egg dishes; with the entrée is a breakfast bar of locally-baked croissants, local and seasonal fresh fruit, yogurt, juice and Flying Goat coffee and tea.

“The original property here used to be a gas station and it was completely contaminated, so it took a couple of years prior to breaking ground, working with various agencies, to clean up the soil and site,” explains Farmer. “When this project started, folks hadn’t seen fish in Foss Creek, which runs through the back of the property, for years and now it’s a vibrant natural habitat.”

“The restoration at Foss creek exemplifies how this community comes together around a common cause,” adds Circe Sher. Her family brought to life a portfolio of hotels, curated to be shining example of sustainability, including H2 Hotel and the new Harmon Guest House just down the street. “The creek had been an afterthought for our community, but we rallied around a new vision and partnered with Riverkeepers to now make it a natural refuge for everyone to enjoy.”

Triple Bottom Line Business: People, Planet and Profit

As we write about in our ECOpreneuring book, sustainability can also boost your economic bottom line. “Because of the investments we made in energy conservation, H2 uses 28 percent less energy than a standard California hotel this size,” beams Farmer. That means more profit.

“Things might have been more expensive during construction, but it is so worth it in the long run,” adds Farmer. That rooftop of drought resistant succulents adds beauty and function and covers two thirds of the building, supporting the grey water filtration system. No trees were cut down to build H2 Hotel as only reclaimed wood was used. All building materials came from a 500-mile radius.

“Our philosophy is to do things sustainably and be a model for people to think about what they can apply in their own homes,” shares Sher. “Simple, smart design goes a long way in both creating a sense of place and beauty and environmental efficiency.”

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chefcookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, and millions of ladybugs.

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