Green Rooms

New Baltimore Hotels Cater To The Eco-conscious Traveler With Recycling, Rain Barrels And A Reliance On Earth-friendly Products

July 26, 2009|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

Visitors to the new Fairfield Inn & Suites in Baltimore may not realize that many of the design materials are recycled or that the staff is wearing uniforms made from old plastic bottles. But there are some other more obvious elements making the hotel a bona fide green building.

There is the giant rain barrel, once used by the former beer brewery owner to store grain, that collects roof water runoff in the courtyard. There are the mountain bikes available in some rooms and dual-flush toilets. And there is a skylight that pivots to capture the most sun.

The Fairfield is on track to become the city's first LEED green-certified hotel, and officials are banking that travelers will appreciate the designation. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is something of a gold standard issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, a group that promotes sustainable building practices.

The first hotel certified anywhere was the Inn & Conference Center at the University of Maryland in 2005, and others in the region and around the nation are seeking the status or taking smaller steps to green their rooms.

The green label means travelers won't have to leave their environmental beliefs behind while they are on the road. It also means the hotels will rack up lower utility bills - the Fairfield expects to use 25 percent less energy and 10 percent less water. The hotels also will be afforded bragging rights that may help sell them during a recession-induced travel slump, provided the trend doesn't touch on so many hotels that it loses it eco-cachet.

"It was a snowball thing," said Patrick R. Leary, the Fairfield's general manager, about how the hotel started going green. "Now, we've totally changed our philosophy. As a general manager, I used to ask suppliers what does that cost. Now I ask if it's a green product, where it came from, what's the company's sustainability policy."

Others lining up for an official green stamp include the Starwood hotel brand Element and hotel giant Marriott. That Bethesda-based company says it will "green" 30 of its hotels, open or planned.

Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton-brand hotel opening its doors this week in downtown Baltimore, also aims for the eco-conscious traveler. The hotel has green features including in-room recycling, eco-certified cleaning supplies, energy-efficient lighting and paperless check-in. But it's biggest claim to greenness is its shell. The hotel's new location reuses a Beaux-arts style building that dates to 1906 and once was the headquarters of the B&O Railroad. The historic building retains many of the original features including marble floors and Tiffany-glass windows.

Mike Damion, the general manager, said Kimpton has always had an environmental ethic but formalized it in 2005 with its EarthCare program. The hotel is working toward Green Seal certification, which, like LEED, is only for products and services.

"We have all eco-friendly products and services," Damion said. "We look for vendors in the local area that are bound by the same beliefs. ...We've done surveys and found 57 percent of our guests had a great concern for the environment, so this is something they sought."

Five hotels have a Green Seal, including the Hotel Monaco in Chicago, and others are working toward the certification. The Green Building Council now counts more than 5,300 buildings among its LEED-certified, including office buildings, retail shops and hotels that earned points for using green materials, designs, water and energy systems.

The Green Hotels Association has about 450 American hotels on its membership list that have taken some steps to make their operations more energy efficient or green in some way. There are no standards for membership in the association, but the group president, Patty Griffin, said greening saves the hotels money so most have taken at least some steps, though few go to the expense of actual LEED certification.

The association started in 1995 with the now ubiquitous cards that asked visitors to forgo daily sheet and towel changes. They then developed 15 pages of other green practices focused on water, energy and solid waste. The book is now 150 pages. Griffin said she noticed the group was getting a lot more interest from hotels beginning in 2007, something she attributes to media attention given to global warming and other environmental topics that made guests more aware of conservation efforts.

"The linen thing was such a no-brainer because none of us use new sheets and towels everyday at home," Griffin said. "These days, marketing yourself as a green hotel is also a no-brainer because guests want to participate. Staff tends to be happier because they're healthier. ... Everyone gets something in the deal. It's a win-win situation."

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