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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Boston's Green Hotel

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski reports on the efforts of a Boston hotel to "green" its slice of the hospitality industry. The hotel has bought a million dollars’ worth of energy-efficient windows, installed low-flow shower heads and eliminated single-portion bathroom supplies. It has also adopted a new and effective public relations campaign.


CURWOOD: The summer tourism season is in full swing, and for people who worry about their impact on the environment, travelling, like cleaning your house, can also be a test - especially staying in hotels. It's the little things, from those tiny plastic containers of shampoo and lotion to the mounds of linen that are cleaned every day, whether they need it or not. But here too, the green wave has begun to gather momentum. In Boston there's now a hotel that offers a blend of elegance and environmental responsibility that its owners call the "ecological travel alternative." The hotel is Boston's Park Plaza. Our reporter is Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski.

(Street sounds, entering hotel)

MOTYLEWSKI: The Boston Park Plaza Hotel stands in the heart of the city, surrounded by trendy shops, theaters, and the carefully-manicured Public Garden. Stepping in off the busy street, the vaulted ceiling of the lobby rises up over dark wood paneling, marble floors, and a crystal chandelier. It's a classy old hotel, to which owner Tedd Saunders has brought some new thinking.

SAUNDERS: In the lobby we've made changes in the way we clean the carpets. We ue a bicarbonate soda mixture, which lifts the dirt out of the depths of the carpet, and then is shampooed with a biodegradable carpet shampoo.

MOTYLEWSKI: Saunders has made over a hundred ecologically-conscious changes here in the last few years, many of which you'd never notice without a guide.

SAUNDERS: We've put dimmers on the chandeliers, so that we can decrease the amount of energy being used in the chandelier increased the life of the bulb.

MOTYLEWSKI: Saunders' environmental campaign began with a commitment to use less water, energy, paper, and toxic chemicals at home. Now his family's hotel business is environmentally renovating the Park Plaza and their two other Boston hotels.

SAUNDERS: We're trying to redefine the term 'eco-tourism'. Every company and every hotel and travel service can have a dramatic impact on their local environment.

(Sound of footsteps down hotel hallway)

MOTYLEWSKI: The door to Room 1064 dates to an earlier time, with its valet service compartment, but the windows inside are brand new. Saunders has spent over a million dollars to replace all 1700 windows at the Park Plaza with energy-efficient ones, making it his biggest eco-investment to date. But the windows will do more than save energy. They'll save enough in heating costs to pay for themselves in ten years; after that they'll be making money for the hotel.

SAUNDERS: It's no good if we're environmentally sound but out of business, so it's very important that the hotel benefit on the bottom line. Let's go into the bathroom and I'll show you some of the changes we've made.

MOTYLEWSKI: In the bathrooms, wall mounted dispensers filled with luxury soap and shampoo have replaced the 2 million teeny plastic bottles the hotel used to throw away every year. Housekeepers use biodegradable cleaning solutions, and plastic shower caps are supplied only on request. As with the windows, Saunders says these measures are all cost-effective, but with Boston's water prices skyrocketing, the biggest savings in the bathroom will come from water conservation.

SAUNDERS: All of the showers have been switched over to low-flow shower heads, and there are 1100 bathrooms in the building. The original shower heads in this building were 7 gallons per minute and we've gone to a 3.5 gallon shower head.

MOTYLEWSKI: New bathroom fixtures and ice machines have saved about 17 percent of water use so far. But Saunders passed up the additional savings of a 1.6 gallon shower head, because guests didn't like them.

(Sound of shower water stopping and draining)

MOTYLEWSKI: This same concern has kept Saunders from installing energy efficient light bulbs in guest rooms. Compact fluorescents use 75 percent less electricity than conventional bulbs, but Saunders says the quality of light they give wouldn't meet his guests' standards. However, the absence of this basic energy-saving equipment has led some customers to question the seriousness of the program. Despite these gaps, the green initiative at Boston Park Plaza is among the most ambitious in the industry. Jim Post, a professor at Boston University's business school, says there are good financial reasons to be so ambitious.

POST: Certainly in areas like water and energy costs, it's certainly reasonable to think in terms of 10, 20 percent savings in virtually any hotel property that hasn't been doing this. Spending in the area of solid waste, there it's possible through aggressive recycling programs to eliminate at least 50 percent of the solid waste removal costs.

MOTYLEWSKI: Post says hotel companies and other businesses need to think and invest long-term in order to get these savings, something Leland Lewis says they're not very good at doing. Lewis manages the environment program at the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans.

LEWIS: I think most companies are very bottom-line oriented and they're working on annual financial budgets that are just that, they're annual. And I think that's the most difficult hurdle that hotels and other businesses face with this environmental thing.

MOTYLEWSKI: But the industry as a whole is starting to move. Eleven major hotel chains recently signed an environmental charter, and they plan to use their strength to move other hotels towards higher environmental standards. Meanwhile, Tedd Saunders enjoys a comfortable marketing advantage over his would-be competitors. The program at Boston Park Plaza has brought in over a million dollars in bookings from environmentally-conscious groups, and lots of publicity. And Saunders is constantly coming up with new ideas. The hotel recently began sending its food waste to a local pig farmer. A scheme to recycle laundry water could nearly double his water savings in the next few years. And, Saunders says, he'll keep looking for the perfect fluourescent bulb. For Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski in Boston.



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