|By Lisa M. Krieger, San Jose Mercury
News, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 24, 2009 - By Lisa M. Krieger
The most Earth-friendly getaway, of course, is none at all. Leave the car in the driveway, open a (recyclable) Odwalla and bask in the afternoon's free solar power.
But for those aching for the more exotic, the Bay Area offers several guilt-free "green" escapes. These hotels go far beyond simply reusing towels. They are designed, constructed and outfitted to reduce human impact in a place world-renowned for its natural splendor.
The U.S. hotel industry came late to environmentalism. European hotels, faced with high energy costs, long ago embraced conservation. A survey by California's Waste Management Board found that the state's average-sized hotel purchases more products in one week than 100 families do in a year and uses 218 gallons of water per day per occupied room.
But even the most modest hotels have now taken simple and cost-effective steps, such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and suggesting that guests sleep more than one night on the same bed linens.
The most ambitious hoteliers have launched much more innovative programs. Seeking a niche, but also a clean conscience, they're adopting a range of environmentally friendly design elements, from low-flow toilets to wall insulation made of recycled denim.
The gold standard -- look for its certificate in hotel lobbies -- is the so-called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. It is sponsored by the
U.S. Green Building Council, which ensures that the facility has been evaluated for energy efficiency, water savings, materials use and other sustainability-related criteria.
Nationwide, 18 hotels have earned LEED certification; of those, six are in California.
There are assorted other labels, none as coveted or as hard to achieve as the LEED. Hotels that reduce their energy consumption earn an "Energy Star" label from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Energy Star" hotels use, on average, 35 percent less energy than the average building. The Green Seal Environmental Standard for U.S. Lodging Properties strives to minimize waste, water use, energy and hazardous substances. The Green Leaf program was created by the environmental marketing agency Terra Choice. California has a database called the Green Lodging Program, but its list of certified hotels is dated and woefully incomplete.
Most of these Northern California hotels either have already earned their LEED rating, or have one in the wings. All are state-of-the-art -- and inspirational.
Rustic Sausalito: Cavallo Point
Set at historic Fort Baker, it's easy to envision Cavallo Point's grassy rotunda once again filled with young Army officers playing touch football. This lodging deeply honors our past, both cultural and natural.
It conserves in the truest sense of the word. Its century-old structures are leased from the U.S. Park Service, and so could only be restored, not replaced. Blonde maple floors are worn by decades of use. Ceilings feature antique pressed-tin tiles, each returned to its original color. (A creative contractor discovered that if the tiles were frozen, then shook, seven coats of lead-based paint fell loose.)
Its former wood-slat officers residences now hold 68 rooms, renovated yet still featuring large old windows, steam radiators, wood stoves and fireplaces. Behind them on a hill, with a view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge, are 74 contemporary lodgings. Replacing non-historic structures, all were constructed to LEED standards (though the property is still going through the certification process). Their rooms are heated through energy-efficient radiant coils and insulated with Levi's denim scraps. Bath amenities are in stainless steel containers, rather than disposable plastic bottles.
With cars discouraged, a former parking lot has been replaced by a state-of-the-art kitchen, featuring beef from Point Reyes, lamb from Sonoma and quail from Vacaville. Seafood is identified by its vessel and source ("Petrole sole, f/v Mr. Morgan, Half Moon Bay").
Even the centerpiece of the lodge's "wine room" is restored local history: A giant walnut tree, felled by a fierce Marin County winter storm, serves as a tasting table.
Guests from environmental nonprofits get 10 percent off room rates. Cavallo Point is also home to a new environmental organization, the Institute at the Golden Gate, a joint project of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the park service.
Details: www.cavallo point.com.
Downtown San Francisco: The Orchard Garden Hotel
This hotel offers an oft-overlooked green feature: sidewalks. It's walking distance to the Financial District, Union Square and Chinatown Gates, with a cable car or bus just a few blocks away. Not only is driving not recommended, it's pure torture.
Inspiration for the hotel comes from its 83-year-old owner, S.C. Huang, who lost both her husband and daughter to cancer within three years. Passionate about clean environments, she devoted herself to creating a toxic-free lodging.
The first hotel in California to achieve LEED certification, it uses recycled textiles for its draperies, carpets, upholstery, bedspreads and shower curtains. They are machine-washed to avoid the chemicals of dry cleaning. Organic citrus-based products keep the hotel clean. In appreciation of nature's bounty, in its foyer is a soothing fountain featuring Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Decorated in earth tones of sand and green, each room offers natural wood boxes to separate trash from recycling. Well-insulated, little street noise penetrates its walls. (Sleeping still a challenge? Each room comes equipped with a "Deep Sleep" music CD "proven to conquer insomnia.") Water faucets and toilets are "low flow." The omnipresent plastic bath bottles are here, as well -- but they hold organic shampoos and are recycled.
There is a high-tech touch, as well: Orchard Garden debuts San Francisco's first "key card energy control system," a simple but elegant system long common in Europe and Asia. Upon entering the room, your card flips on the lights, heat or air conditioning. Departing? It shuts them all down. (Happily, one outlet remains running, for charging laptops, cell phones and other battery-powered devices.) This system saves an estimated 20 percent in energy consumption.
A sister hotel, the Orchard, also on Bush Street, has also achieved LEED certification.
Details: www.theorchard gardenhotel.com.
Napa Valley: Gaia Hotel & Spa
In southern Napa Valley's American Canyon, the eco-conscious 133-room Gaia Hotel & Spa features wood from sustainable forests; recycled materials for carpets and bath tiles; and solar panels, which provide 12 percent of the lodge's electricity. By each bed, next to the Bible, is a copy of Al Gore's treatise on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth."
During construction, Gaia selected recycled tiles for its restrooms, and every piece of lumber was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes responsible forestry. Electricity-reducing tubular skylights are used throughout the hotel including conference rooms, lobby and the hallways. In the spa, saunas have been altered to conserve use of heat and water. Outdoors, a koi pond uses recycled water. Landscaping is fertilized with natural and chemical free products. Even the uniforms worn by the staff are organic.
Gaia strives to educate, as well. Guests can visit "GreenTouchscreen" kiosks, which monitor how much the hotel is reducing water use, electricity and carbon dioxide emissions.
Details: www.gaianapa valleyhotel.com.
Big Sur: Post Ranch Inn
Perched on the cliffs over the Pacific, the Post Ranch Inn is a longtime favorite of affluent nature-lovers seeking luxury, serenity and drama. Recognized by TripAdvisor.com. in 2007 as the No. 1 green hotel in the country, the Post Ranch Inn recently added 10 new hotel rooms, with radiant heated floors and old-growth redwood siding from old wine vats. Additionally, it just turned on the largest hotel solar system in California -- with 990 solar panels -- providing the hotel with virtually all of its electricity.
Details: www.post ranchinn.com.
Moscone Center, San Francisco: Intercontinental San Francisco
This vast 550-room hotel sparkles silver and blue, not green. Adjacent to the Moscone Center, the new 32-floor building towers over the city's gritty South of Market district.
But it uses technology to conserve, and it aims to have LEED certification by next year. In guestrooms and meeting spaces, motion sensors shut down power in unoccupied guestrooms; automatic sensors on sinks and toilets conserve water; digital "reader boards" throughout the hotel and in meeting spaces reduce paper use.
Floor-to-ceiling windows offer an abundance of natural light and reduce the need for electricity. They're double-paned to reduce UV exposure, noise and temperature fluctuation.
Every Saturday morning, restaurant chef Dominque Crenn -- winner of Esquire Magazine's 2008 Chef of the Year -- can be seen at the Ferry Building's Farmers Market, buying fresh ingredients for dinner.
Details: www.ichotels group.com.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at email@example.com or 408-920-5565.
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