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TRAVEL INSIDER

Will your favorite hotel get greener?

January 13, 2008|James Gilden | Special to The Times

They plunk down hotels in the middle of some of the nation's most beautiful settings: Santa Barbara's East Beach, Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay, the Florida Keys.

The reasons are clear, but the environmental footprint can have a significant negative impact on the very surroundings we find desirable.

Many hotels have been working for more than a decade to lessen that impact through such simple steps as giving guests the option of not having their linens changed during their stay. But now, some states are taking a more active role in identifying what constitutes a "green" hotel.

Here's why:

An average-size hotel buys more household products in a week than 100 families will buy in a year, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board. That generates as much as 30 pounds of waste per room per day.

On top of that, the California lodging industry generates 112,000 tons of food waste a year, 2% of the state's.

A pound of room linen takes about 2 gallons of water to wash, according to Hilton Hotels Corp., and a typical occupied room uses 11 1/2 pounds of linens a day. One large, fully occupied hotel, with a typical guest stay of two nights, can use more than 34,000 gallons of water just to wash the linens.

The "greening" of travel is a hot topic within the industry as well as with travelers. More than a third of those surveyed in April by the travel advice website Tripadvisor.com said that environmentally friendly tourism was a consideration when they're on the road.

Hotels play a key role in making green policy, of course, but states' waste management boards increasingly are playing an important role.

Rhode Island this month became the most recent state to join the green hotel movement. Its Department of Environmental Management has launched a green hospitality and tourism certificate program, based on a successful venture in Maine.

Besides Maine and Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts are working closely on green hotel programs.

"We're trying to coordinate with the other New England states," said Terry Gray, the Rhode Island department's assistant director for air, waste and compliance. "All six of us are doing it in one form or another."

Other states also are getting on the green bandwagon as well.

"There are probably 30 . . . states that are aggressively going about their own green initiatives," said Ernie Wooden Jr., executive vice president of brand management for Hilton Hotels. "Many of our hotels are currently getting certified."

But California, which has had a green hotel program since 2004, is hoping to get out of the business and transfer it to stakeholders, such as the Green Hotels Assn., said Beatriz Sandoval, spokeswoman for the California Integrated Waste Management Board. (The association is a Houston-based group of about 300 hotel members that has promoted ecological consciousness in the industry since 1993.) "There is not enough staff to maintain the program," she said.

Becoming state certified typically involves a hotel completing a questionnaire about its environmental policies. In many states, the property is inspected to make sure it meets standards.

Part of the challenge for the hotel industry is to educate travelers and make them active participants in reducing their environmental impact during their stay.

"I've always considered the hotels to be educators" on environmental issues, said Patty Griffin, president and founder of the Green Hotels Assn.

The next big leap for travelers may be those little plastic bottles of amenities.

"Those things ultimately end up in the dump somewhere," Wooden said.

Hilton is researching traveler's tolerance for using bulk dispensers for amenities, similar to those you would find in the shower at the gym. The dispensers are widely used in European hotels; however, American hoteliers worry that U.S. travelers might miss their little bottles.

So, how can a traveler know where to stay and be green? There's no single website that tells you all hotels that are green, partly because standards vary. The Green Hotels Assn. (www.greenhotels.com), for example, lists only its members.

Until there is a better option, travelers can do a Web search on "green hotels" and the destination. And then ask the hotel what steps it takes. You may not save the environment, but you may sleep better.

travel@latimes.com

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