Keys hotels embrace 'green'

More Florida Keys hotels are " going green " these days, spurred on both by the benefits to their bottom line and the warm reception it gets from the guests who travel to our island paradise.

The steps can be simple, like changing light bulbs or implementing a towel-reuse program, or more complex, like installing solar or redoing irrigation systems.

It’s a journey hotels don’t have to make on their own, with programs on the state and local levels to help guide them toward a more energy-efficient, water-conserving way of doing business.

Deer Run Bed & Breakfast owners Jen DeMaria and Harry Appel can’t imagine why anyone would opt not to " go green. "

" It is an investment in our business, " DeMaria says. " Conservation equals more dollars in your pocket as a business owner. "

She points to the simple light bulb, which when replaced with a light-emitting diode will cut 70 percent of the cost to light that fixture — and last much longer.

Green is also a natural draw for the guests who stay at the vegan inn, she says.

" The fact that we are so committed here at Deer Run to a green business and green lifestyle has helped us attract much more business, especially in the form of international clientele, who tend to gravitate towards green businesses and practices. "

The Gardens Hotel in Key West was one of the first in the Keys to receive the Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging certification, and general manager Jim Marquardt says the hotel is constantly working to improve its green cred.

Launched in 2004, the DEP program recognizes hotels that make conserve and protect Florida’s resources. Participants conduct an assessment and implement a number of environmental practices in six areas across their properties.

Since receiving certification in 2007, Marquardt says the hotel has diverted 35.4 tons of waste. It has four 96-gallon bins for recycling and only three for trash.

The Gardens is gradually adding solar systems to heat the water to its rooms. Such a system already serves a few rooms, the pool bar/breakfast buffet and the laundry, which has high-efficiency top-loading washers and propane-powered dryers. " The HE machines made a big difference in reducing the water bill and the power bill, " he says.

The hotel also has a rain-fed cistern and freshwater well that handle the irrigation for its lush gardens, and its breakfast leftovers and plant clippings feed a compost bin that in turn feeds the gardens.

Marquardt says it’s impossible to rest on your green laurels.

To maintain the state’s green designation, the DEP says properties must submit water, waste and energy usage annually, as well as add two new eco-friendly practices each year.

" The training is constant, " Marquardt says.

The hotel recycles practically everything — either through Waste Management or the buckets of this or that it collects for reuse by other Key Westers.

Then there’s the nonstop search for the most effective eco-friendly cleaning products and low-waste amenities.

For those just catching on to a more eco-friendly way of doing business, DeMaria cautions against being " greenwashed, " like the time Deer Run bought " recycled " paper products that turned out to have little recycled content.

" The more green products that flood the market, the more greenwashing there is. It’s imperative to become an educated consumer. "

Getting truly eco-friendly stuff takes solid research, good vendor relationships and the guts to confront companies that misrepresent their products, she says.

Hotels in the Keys that aren’t yet part of the DEP program can participate in the South Florida Water Management District’s Water CHAMP (Conservation Hotel and Motel Program).

The district provides participating hotels with free faucet aerators and attractive educational materials that encourage guests to reuse their bed and bathroom linens, and the district’s Tom Genovese says it puts most hotels well on their way toward the DEP designation.

" Water CHAMP is a great way for hotels to get recognized for what they probably already do, " he said. " I have yet to find a hotel that didn’t already have a linen and towel reuse policy, which means that by replacing guest room faucet aerators with the 1 gallon per minute aerators that we provide free of charge, they can qualify as Water CHAMPs and save money on their water and sewer bills without spending a dime. "

Joe Harris says he’s all about treading lightly on the earth, whether at home or at his Kona Kai Resort in Key Largo, and even he was amazed by the results of Water CHAMP.

" I think you get a lot more water and rinse a lot faster and more efficiently, " he says of the aerators. " It’s more like a shower of water. "

While most participants see an immediate and substantial savings, Harris says he’ll just have to take it on faith, since he implemented the program while redoing his irrigation system, plumbing for the sewer and splitting the property from one to three meters.

But he knows one thing: " The guests love it. "

Upper Keys resident Karen Beal is working with the Largo Lodge as it pursues certification from the organization she represents, Green Living & Energy Education. Like Kona Kai, the small Key Largo resort doesn’t have the state designation, but it’s pretty darn green.

" Over the past five years, the lodge has saved over 10,000 kilowatts — according to the electric bill — by making many small changes, " she writes. Those changes include Energy Star-rated appliances in the units, CFLs and high-efficiency air conditioning.

A special roof coating " has cut an impressive portion of the electric bill, and it is great that you apply the stuff and forget about it. It continues to lower your energy use every month with no effort. "