|By Benjamin N. Gedan, The Providence
Journal, R.I.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 1, 2007 - Forget high thread counts and room service. Show me your biodegradable soap and herb garden.
A survey is being unveiled today to identify the state's most environmentally progressive hotels, part of a campaign to nudge hoteliers to voluntarily go "green."
The initiative is being organized by the state Department of Environmental Management and organizations that promote the hospitality industry. It will be announced at the annual meeting of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"I'm hoping the business community embraces this," Martha J. Sheridan, the bureau's president, said yesterday. "It is an important concept."
The final survey is not complete, but organizers recently sent a draft to 20 of the state's largest hotels.
The 17-page questionnaire delves deeply into hotel operations. Owners are asked whether they recycle computer disks, buy milk and cheese from local farms, compost kitchen waste and donate leftover food to food pantries.
Each question lists a point value. Hotels that keep chemicals out of the garden, for example, earn 5 points. Relying exclusively on compact fluorescent bulbs is good for 15.
Modeled after a program in Maine, Rhode Island officials will reward "green" hotels by certifying those that accumulate at least 100 of the nearly 600 possible points. That recognition includes an "environmental leader" sticker for public display, a listing on a state Web site and state assistance in pursuing environmental improvements.
"This is moving quickly," said Dale J. Venturini, president of the Rhode Island Hospitality and Tourism Association, who will speak at today's gathering. "It is very encouraging."
The DEM director, W. Michael Sullivan, will speak at the meeting, advertised on postcards showing a green leaf cradling a raindrop and bearing the slogan, "It's easy going green."
The event is scheduled to start at 11:45 a.m. at the Feinstein IMAX Theatre at the Providence Place mall.
Terrence Gray, assistant director for air, waste and compliance at the DEM, said the survey could be modified before it is more widely distributed, after the responses of the initial participants are reviewed.
"This is kind of a prototype," Gray said yesterday. "Is it too expensive, or too confusing or too much?"
But organizers are moving swiftly to implement the rankings system, in part to reward business owners who have already invested in "green" strategies.
At the Renaissance Providence hotel, for example, the office staff uses recycled paper and in the hotel gym, bottled water is being replaced by a water cooler to reduce waste.
The release of the final survey is scheduled for January, when organizers will host training sessions for innkeepers.
State officials say they hope to approve the first certifications in April, on Earth Day. Those announcements would be followed by random inspections, and the gradual raising of the minimum standard for recognition, Gray said.
Restaurant owners will also be offered training sessions early next year, and a similar ranking systems could eventually be introduced.
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