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South Florida Hotels Find Going Green Helps Bottom Line and the Planet

By Doreen Hemlock, South Florida Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 26, 2007 - Indoor landscaper Judy Glaser values ecology. So when she needed a hotel in Delray Beach for a family visit, the Chicago resident checked online and booked one that's convenient and eco-friendly: The Colony Resort and Cabana Club.

The Colony offers many features typical at "green" hotels. It lets guests choose not to have their linens and towels washed daily in order to save water and energy. It places recycling bins in guest rooms and hallways. And bathrooms have push-dispensers on the wall for shampoo and other basics to cut down on packaging for individual containers.

But the 70-room inn goes far beyond the norm for even environmentally sensitive lodging. Its beach club has a waterless urinal. And rugs in the hotel lobby are made from squares of recycled material. When one square wears out, detach, recycle and replace it, without throwing out the whole rug.

Surveys show location and price remain the main reasons guests choose hotels, but environmental attributes are a growing draw. Hotels large and small are getting the message: They're going green to lure guests, cut their long-term costs and save the planet.

In Palm Beach County, for example, two hotels already boast the new "Green Lodging Certification" given by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to hotels that conserve energy, water and natural resources. They are The Colony and the 560-room Breakers Palm Beach, a landmark property.

At the luxury Breakers, the green certification push last year grew partly out of concerns that global warming could send sea levels soaring.

"If we don't do things to save the planet, our lovely historic hotel is going to be a dive site one day," said Rick Hawkins, The Breakers' director of materials management. "And everything we've done boosts profitability. The return on investment long-term is huge."

At The Colony, owner and manager Jestena Boughton started to go green decades ago before it was fashionable in business circles. A landscape architect, she values the environment and conservation, especially at a hotel her family has owned since 1935.

Boughton began replacing incandescent bulbs with energy-saving, compact fluorescents in the 1990s. And she's long been a stickler about reusing materials. She restores original furnishings. And she turns elegant, white bed spreads that rip or stain into panels that become outer curtains for showers, covers for pillows and even bed skirts.

Guests, like indoor landscaper Glaser, revel in those details. Glaser liked that the breakfast buffet had china and cutlery, not disposable foam plates or plastic forks. She found the organic cotton sheets "very soft." And she happily opted not to have her towels and sheets laundered fresh daily.

"We don't do that at home. Why change the towels every day at a hotel?" Glaser said.

A new survey finds nearly three of four hotel guests in North America say they'll take part in conservation programs, like not washing sheets daily, when they know about those efforts. But many guests aren't aware, according to a survey by researcher J.D. Power and Associates, which polled 47,634 guests who stayed at a North American hotel between May 2006 and June of this year.

Success in going green takes more than informing guests, hotel executives say. Managers also must educate staff. Employees might not place newspapers in the recycling bin if they haven't grasped the value of recycling to save forests.

The Breakers, for example, includes recycling and environmental lessons in its orientation and training programs.

"We want to set an example for different groups of people. That includes our 2,300 employees, so they can take green practices home to their families and the local community," manager Hawkins said.

South Florida tourism marketers back the green hotel trend.

Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, said more and more meeting planners now seek out locales deemed eco-friendly. They look for hotels certified green by state agencies or by the U.S. Green Building Council. No Broward hotels yet hold those certifications, although the county may require its proposed convention hotel meet green standards, she said.

Downtown Miami already offers two state-certified green hotels with ample meeting facilities: the 221-room Four Seasons and 641-room InterContinental.

Eco-pioneers like The Colony's Boughton thrill in the rising green awareness among hoteliers, travelers and officials. Gov. Charlie Crist this month touted ecology at the 814-room Hilton Orlando resort -- the 33rd hotel under Florida's green lodging program.

"It may cost to go green, but you save over time. And the guests are happy," said Boughton, standing at her cabana club near native plants that require less water and a swimming pool heated with geothermal energy. "In the end, we all come out ahead."

Booking green online EnvironmentallyFriendlyHotels.com

Greenhotels.com

GreenVacationHub.com

FloridaGreenLodgings.org

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To see more of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com/.

Copyright (c) 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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