Green Getaways: A Guide to Environmentaly Friendly Lodging

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There’s nothing quite like a getaway to restore your senses, rekindle your energy, and remind you how much you appreciate the basics: eating well and sleeping well, in parti­cular. That’s why accommodations are such an important part of traveling. Whether you’re on a weekend lark or traveling on business, it’s nice to end the day in a room that really embraces you. Organic cotton towels, sheets that haven’t been laundered with harsh chemicals, breakfasts made from organic ingredients–these are hard things to come by on the road.

Enter the Green Hotels Association, which boasts more than 17,000 environmentally conscious rooms across the country. As more travelers label themselves “ecologically concerned,” a new breed of bed and board is making itself available to both vacationers and business travelers. From big hotel chains in major cities–such as the Super 8 in Los Angeles–to quaint inns, hostels, and bed and breakfasts, it’s becoming a lot easier to sleep green.

Let’s face it, traveling uses valuable resources and creates air pollution. According to the Environmental News Network, one tree should be planted for every 1,600 miles a person flies, and three trees planted for every 2,000 miles driven. But you can make less impact by choosing your travel accommodations carefully. The lodgings featured on the following pages are high on comfort and charm but low on environmental damage. Sleep peacefully.

Madison, Wisconsin

At the spectacular Arbor House, innkeepers John and Cathy Imes promise “the art of hospitality within a model for urban ecology.” Their award-winning environmental inn combines a nineteenth-century historic tavern and stagecoach stop with a sustainably built annex that incorporates salvaged pine beams from Chicago’s Sears Building. And it doesn’t stop there. Organic breakfasts, Aveda products, skylit whirlpools, organic cotton towels, and wool/cotton mattresses are all part of the “inn-tentional package,” one that promotes pleasure preservationist-style. In fact, three of the eight rooms are named after prominent naturalists.

The John Muir room is woodsy yet tranquil, with a pine sleigh bed and a balcony facing the trees. (Binoculars are provided for bird watching.) The earthy John Nolen room features twig furniture and recycled glass floor tiles in rich honey-brown hues. Honeymooners and business travelers alike enjoy the inn’s wood-burning hearth, the outdoor flower gardens, and the warm light that proliferates in this Prairie-style home, now a national model for sustainable tourism.

“We wanted to do something pioneering,” says Cathie, who was formerly in advertising. Her husband, John, a former environmental affairs manager and hotelier, came up with the idea of environmental innkeeping as a way to embrace simplicity and to provide an example for urban ecology. The Imeses take their job very seriously. From the welcome mat made of recycled tires to the sauna partially constructed from recycled pickle barrels, the Imeses have put the environment first at every turn.

“When people stay here, they take these ideas home, and that’s exactly what we want,” says Cathie, who fields phone calls almost daily from former guests who want to replicate the inn’s green ideals in their homes. That has led the Imeses to become distributors of the wool/cotton mattresses featured in the inn’s rooms and to set up an environmental resource center and gift shop in one of the sitting rooms. “We’ve proven that there’s a different way to stay and a different way to live,” Cathie says.

3402 Monroe Street
Madison, WI 53711
Reservations: (608) 238-2981
Rates: $89-$125

Littleton, Massachusetts

Situated in the heart of apple country, just miles from Thoreau’s Walden Pond, Friendly Crossways Hostel offers solace and simplicity at a most affordable price. One of the longest running hostels in the country, this century-old barn and farmhouse became a country hostel and retreat center for nonprofit groups in 1947. Today Hosteling International acknowledges it as a Sustainable Living Center.

Run by Mary Vesenka-Turner and Keith Turner, Friendly Crossways accomplishes its sustainable mission in many ways, from low-flow shower heads and toilets in the bathrooms to family-style suppers in the common kitchen. Many cooking ingredients come from the organic garden outside the door, and all kitchen scraps are composted.

You won’t find fancy amenities at Friendly Crossways, but you will find “a good night’s rest in the quiet country,” complete with handmade quilts on every bed and freshly picked blueberries for breakfast during summer months. Guests are encouraged to bring their own sheets and towels, although these are also made available for a small fee. Using nontoxic cleaners, providing recycling bins in the guestrooms, and mulching grass clippings from the four-acre lawn are other ways in which the Turners work to preserve the environment.

And what an environment it is. Crested egrets and great blue herons are regular visitors to the property. The Harvard Conservancy, which borders Friendly Crossways, provides access to scenic trails and a large pond. At one time, the area was the stomping grounds of Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom had homes nearby.

“It’s hard to imagine what would be on this land if we weren’t here–probably a mega-housing complex,” says Vesenka-Turner. “It’s neat that we’ve been able to recycle these old buildings and give new life to the farm.”

P.O. Box 2266
Littleton, MA 01460-3266
Reservations: (978) 456-9386 or (978) 456-3649
Rates: $12-$25

Austin, Texas

You won’t find many corporate hotels that value ladybugs as alternatives to pesticides, but Habitat Suites speaks for itself. With ninety-six suites situated on two-and-a-half acres of chemical-free grounds in the heart of Austin, Habitat promotes a healthy living space for all its guests–even those with more than two legs.

Sure, you’ll find many standard business amenities in Habitat’s contemporary condominium-style setting–dual-line telephones, conference rooms, a valet service, even a luxurious pool. On the other hand, you can send a shirt to the hotel’s dry cleaning service and be assured it won’t be laundered with toxic chemicals. When you step into the onsite restaurant, you won’t find a lick of Styrofoam or a trace of aerosol, but you will find vegan and macrobiotic breakfast alternatives on the buffet. Peek into the housekeeping closet, and you’ll find bottles of vinegar instead of commercial cleaning products, along with stacks of 100 percent recycled toilet tissue and energy-saving lightbulbs. Step out of the pool, and the motion-sensitive filter automatically shuts off.

“It’s what we’re not doing that’s important,” says suites manager Natalie Marquis. “Spontaneous right action is our bottom line.” Right action, as she defines it, means relying on your conscience before thinking about profit. In the business world, that’s not always easy, but Habitat’s environmental commitment has reaped other rewards. Its water-saving toilets save an estimated 266,300 gallons of water a year, its water-saving showerheads more than a million. And guests notice. Marquis says 80 percent of the comments she receives on comment cards relate to Habitat’s environmental practices.

As charter members of the Green Hotels Association, Habitat Suites is proof that a hotel can be greened. Even though its contemporary design was achieved without ecological considerations, staff commitment has transformed Habitat into a place where all things feel right at home.

500 E. Highland Mall Blvd.
Austin, TX 78752
Reservations: (800) 535-4663
Rates: $127-$167

San Francisco, California

Fashion meets function at the trendy Hotel Triton, where guests enjoy custom velvet loungers, nightly Tarot card readings, and freshly baked cookies in the lobby. Located in the heart of San Francisco’s gallery district, Hotel Triton has devoted its entire seventh floor to the eco-chic movement. Twenty-four environmentally sensitive guest rooms feature all-natural cotton linens, biodegradable soaps and shampoos, air filtration systems, and in-room occupancy sensors to control the temperature.

“It doesn’t look any different from the other floors,” says hotel marketing manager Kristin White. “People don’t feel like they’re giving up anything. And it’s no more expensive.”

Unlike some eco rooms where colors are muted, Triton’s decor is fanciful, even dramatic. Striped headboards meet mural walls. “Zen dens” offer curvy daybeds that serve as couches. The EcoSuite, designed by ocean artist Wyland, packs an underwater wallop with blue hues, original lithographs, and a saltwater aquarium.

All the EcoRooms, which were designed for Earth Day back in 1995, have earned the Hotel Triton a reputation for creativity within the field of environmentalism. “Like anything at the Triton, things just sort of happened,” remarks White about the Eco-Floor’s inception. “We do have a commitment to the environment, and we wanted to incorporate that into the hotel.”

Over the years, the Eco-Floor has earned its devotees; some repeat travelers won’t stay on any other floor, despite the allure of Carlos Santana’s Black Magic Bedroom or the Jerry Garcia Suite.

HOTEL TRITON342 Grant Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94108
Reservations: (800) 433-6611
Rates: $179-$515