How Green Are Environmental Bed and Breakfasts?

Enviro-tourism is taking on a whole new meaning.

You can now travel to an environmentally friendly bed and breakfast — in rural Vermont, or in the Caribbean — and leave worries about the workaday week, as well as about environmental waste, behind in the big city.

These B&Bs cater to customers who want to make sure that they are not enlarging their carbon footprint while they are having fun on a quick weekend get-away or a lengthy vacation trip.

"A green bed and breakfast features a combination of things," says Bruce Hyde, tourism and marketing commissioner for the state of Vermont. "They have showers with low-volume shower-heads, recycling programs, energy efficiency programs and less use of chemicals in cleaning their linens and towels. All of those things are in their operational plans."

For several years, Vermont's Department of Environmental Conservation has certified B&Bs, and some hotels, as "green" if they pass an arduous inspection program and incorporate an array of green technologies into their facilities.

Other states are joining the trend. About 300 hotels and B&Bs in eight states — California, Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina — are certified as green by government environmental officials.

"The success of the green depends not only on a movement from the ground up," says Phil Adams, a leading conservation expert and president and chief operating officer of World Energy Solutions, based in Worcester, Mass. "Top-down integration efforts are also required.

"We're seeing that happen with consumers changing their consumption habits," Adams adds, "but properties are now being built for new efficiencies, and local and state governments are buying their energy smarter than ever before."

The green B&Bs are far from cardboard cut-out replicas of each other and don't necessarily feature Birkenstock-wearing innkeepers providing bowls of granola to guests as they arrive.

"Each property is unique," says Jo Ann Jorgensen, owner of the Park Light Inn, a B&B in Chester, Vt. "You can't expect the same green features at each hotel."

Certified as Green

Hoteliers obtain certification from the state — no easy feat — by providing the government with a proposal to revamp their hotel along green lines.

The state approves the plan, and then comes back when it is implemented to inspect the facility. Costs can easily run to tens of thousands of dollars.

"There is much more focus on being environmentally sustainable in today's day and age," says Hyde. "With the whole discussion of lowering your carbon footprint and global warming, businesses are trying to have as small an impact as possible."

The Park Light Inn began its green conversion in 2004. The assessment called for several changes — new insulation, weather stripping and environmentally-friendly light bulbs among them.

• Click here to see photos.

"We also added a 450-square-foot extension to the dining room. We used recycled materials for 60 percent of the house. We completed the last of the renovations in December — it went on for three years," says Jorgensen. "Our heating bills have dropped by 40 percent. That's a testament to proper insulation. We've reduced our propane usage by 60 percent."

As an example of the how the process affects what vacationers see and feel, the Park Light Inn now features a recycling bin for each room, as well as low-flow toilets and shower heads.

"We also use organic products," says Jorgensen. "We use soap made in Vermont. We also went to wall-mounted units that dispense soap and shampoo. That reduces the disposal of plastic bottles and packaging."

There's been a tremendous savings from the change in policy on the use of plastic bottles alone, she adds.

"Customers never use the whole bottle," says Jorgensen.

There are other green features there as well. For example, the Park Light Inn uses only 100-percent cotton linens.

"We've tried to go for organic. We don't care for the blend fabrics any more," says Jorgensen. "These are 600-[thread]-count linens. They are difficult to find. They are more expensive. But we have been pleased with the results."

The B&B also recycles the magazines and periodicals it uses, sending them to a nursing home or the nearby Springfield, Vt., Hospital rather than tossing them into the trash.

"We also no longer provide bottled water to guests," says Jorgensen. "I was completely unaware of the chemicals we're exposing ourselves to. We cancelled our service that delivered bottled waters for rooms.

"Now we have hand-blown glass pitchers with a tumbler that fits it on top —- an individual water pitcher and bucket," she says. "The customers can get ice —- and we encourage them to drink Vermont water."

But these green B&Bs are not confined to the U.S.

A number of years ago, Dr. Paul Rhodes, a physician practicing in the Washington, D.C. area, discovered how much he enjoyed vacationing in Port Antonio in northeastern Jamaica.

He left his practice in 2003 when a local showed him a place nearby that was "lush, green, in many ways untouched and unspoiled."

Rhodes founded a small B&B he calls Great Huts, located on a point going out into the Caribbean. Guest quarters are in bamboo huts.

"It's a rugged piece of property right at the end of Boston Bay," says Rhodes. "It lent itself to a green resort of modest cost, and rustic style. If I were a traveler, I thought I would enjoy it.

"Through trial and error, we found people who could work with bamboo, and patch roofs, use beautiful African fabrics to decorate and line the huts we built," he adds.

The property features meandering pathways which go through unmanicured gardens, reminiscent of the jungles.

"It's green and beautiful. We let things overgrow. The most prevalent tree is the noni tree [a type of Polynesian fruit tree], from which we can get noni fruit and juice," says Rhodes. "We're perched on the end of the cliff — sea grape grows wild there."

Rather than build a swimming pool, Rhodes dug a sea pool out of a depression and used boulders and rocks from the area to enclose it.

"It's taken a fair amount of work to keep up with it," says Rhodes.

The work at a green B&B, whether in Jamaica or Vermont, is seemingly never done.

"It's an ongoing process," says Jorgensen.

Enthusiasts see the green B&Bs as part of an overall concern for global warming, and not as an isolated happening.

"Mankind has a history of solving ecological problems through the application of technology, governmental policy and economics," says Adams. "We did it for acid rain with the successful NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] and SO2 [sulfur dioxide] cap-and-trade program. We did it for the ozone layer with the Montreal Protocol. We're doing it again for global warming."

So how green are these B&Bs?

Very. Any hotel that takes the time, and spends the money, on refurbishing and recycling and rethinking its facility to obtain state certification is authentically green.