It’s not easy being green

Posted on 02 Feb 2006 at 10:07pm
By Andrew Collins – Contributing Travel Writer


El Rey Inn in Santa Fe is one of many gay-friendly properties to cater to travelers who put a priority on environmental responsibility.

Gay travelers have long been choosy about where they’re willing to stay, often seeking gay-owned or gay-friendly accommodations. But lately, they’ve been getting green as well.

What does it mean for a hotel to be environmentally friendly? Some hotels take fairly modest steps to reduce stress on the environment, such as recycling bottles and plastics and using energy-saving light bulbs. Others go all out, installing ultra-efficient heating and air-conditioning systems and using nontoxic cleaning products.

Some have taken an especially active approach to environmental responsibility. The Green Hotels Association unites hotels interested in promoting environmental issues, such as supplying “towel rack hanger” and “sheet changing” cards, which are placed in hotel rooms and ask guests to consider using their towels or linens more than once. (Of course, it’s up to individual guests to decide whether they’d like to participate.)

Members of the association range from luxury resorts to intimate B&Bs and include properties with a strong following in the gay community.

Perhaps the best known are the Atlantic Shores Resort and Pearl’s Rainbow (one of the country’s top women’s guesthouses) in Key West and Austin’s funky and retro-hip San Jose Hotel and the lesbian-owned Park Lane Guest House.

Other gay-friendly B&Bs and small hotels that belong to the association include the Briar Rose in Boulder, Colo.; the Rochester Hotel in Durango, Colo.; the Arbor House in Madison, Wis.; the Volcano Inn on Hawaii’s Big Island; Emerson Inn and Spa in Mt. Tremper, N.Y.; Hotel Parisi in La Jolla, Calif., and the El Rey Inn in Santa Fe, N.M.

Among larger properties, consider Los Abrigados Resort in Sedona; the Best Western Capitol Skyline in Washington; Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires in Massachusetts; the Hyatt Regency in Boston; and the Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa in Houston.

Some hotel chains have developed extremely ambitious plans to reduce the stress their properties cause on the environment.

A leader in this regard is the gay-popular upscale boutique hotel-and-restaurant chain, Kimpton Group. Based in San Francisco, Kimpton has dozens of hip hotels across the country, in cities that include Boston, Denver, Chicago and Washington. In 1985, Kimpton launched the EarthCare program, stipulating that all of its hotels and restaurants use environmentally friendly products and practices.

Kimpton uses green cleaning agents and energy-efficient lighting throughout hotels, soy-based inks and recycled paper for print and ad materials, low-flow plumbing systems in bathrooms and organic coffee in minibars.
If you’re especially ardent about helping the environment, book one of Kimpton’s eco-rooms or eco-suites, which are available at several properties. These rooms have such green amenities as air- and water-filtration systems and biodegradable toiletries, and they’re cleaned using nontoxic supplies.
Some of the eco-suites have been co-designed by celebrities noted for their pro-environmental stances, such as author and TV host Danny Seo, actors Andy Dick and Woody Harrelson, Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When making a reservation at any Kimpton property, request the “TPL rate” and Kimpton will make a $10 donation to the Trust for Public Land, an organization that works to refurbish city parks, community gardens, and playgrounds all around the country.

Hotel owners and innkeepers face one major obstacle in attempting to institute more environmentally friendly policies: consumer preferences. But getting customers to forgo daily linen and towel service has actually gone relatively well. The Green Hotels Association reports that about 70 percent of guests typically participate in this program.

But travelers paying big bucks enjoy feeling pampered, and they sometimes balk at some eco-minded initiatives. Many properties have tried installing soap, shampoo and lotion dispensers in guest bathrooms, doing away with mini-bottles and bars of soap. But hotel guests tend to appreciate high-quality toiletries they can take home with them. Those wanting to pitch in might consider leaving behind toiletries provided by hotels, or only opening those they truly plan to use.

Other tips seem obvious when we’re at home where we tend to think carefully about energy-saving measures we rarely follow on the road. So when staying at an inn or hotel, turn all the lights and appliances off when you leave the room, turn down the thermostat in cooler weather and turn it up (or off) in warmer weather.

Helping the environment doesn’t require an all-out, no-exceptions commitment. Just reusing your towels and flipping off the lights can make a huge difference, especially if you spend quite a few nights a year in hotel rooms.

Gays have made a significant impact on the hotel industry over the years, voting with their checkbooks to favor properties with gay-friendly employment practices, sensitivity training and gay-targeted ad campaigns. The next time you plan an overnight trip, consider how the choices you make about where to stay can positively affect the environment. Every little effort contributes to a greener planet.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 3, 2006

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