When The Hammocks, a 58-unit resort in Marathon, started looking for ways to conserve resources last year, it quickly found it was letting about $85,000 go down the drain.
A series of leaks in the resort’s irrigation system, combined with chronic overwatering, meant the resort was running through about 35,000 gallons of water a day, says general manager Carlos De Jesus.
The leaks apparently predated Bluegreen Corp.’s ownership of the resort, so no one noticed anything amiss until employees started going through every aspect of resort operations looking for ways to conserve as part of the resort’s quest for state green lodging certification.
When employees got to the water bill, De Jesus says, they started asking questions, like “isn’t this a little high?” It didn’t take them long to figure out water usage was way out of whack.
They started reading the meter daily and installed a calibrated irrigation clock to pinpoint the problem areas. Now, the resort has a leak-free irrigation system that’s automated to run only briefly when needed. It’s producing big savings, as the resort’s water usage has been cut to 14,000 gallons a day.
The Hammocks earlier this month became the first Middle Keys hotel to receive the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodge designation. There are 17 Keyswide.
The waterfront complex of condolike one- and two-bedroom units started as a Hampton Inn and was briefly a Best Western before being purchased by Bluegreen Corp. Bluegreen operates a vacation membership club; members buy points, which convert to stays at Bluegreen resorts. Units are also rented to the public when available.
The Hammocks’ green lodging drive came from Bluegreen, which challenged all of its Florida resorts to go after “One Palm,” the DEP’s entry-level green lodging designation.
Lisa Thornhill, director of corporate communications for Bluegreen, says the Marathon resort is one of seven resorts to receive it so far; five more properties are still going through the process.
Activities coordinator Andrea Rapach says she was out of town when co-workers volunteered her to lead the resort’s “greening” effort, a task she nonetheless embraced. She formed the DEP-required green team — made up of department heads at the 32-employee Hammocks — and got to work filling a binder with information about the resort and its resource use.
As the team quickly learned, The Hammocks was ahead of the game in many respects, because a relatively recent renovation had left the resort’s condo-like units equipped with Energy Star appliances and low-flow plumbing fixtures.
“We were already doing a lot,” Rapach says, “we just needed to fine-tune it.”
The green team:
-- Tracked down the specs of every appliance in the place to verify Energy Star ratings;
-- Installed MERV 8 filters, which are designed to remove more particulates than average air filters;
-- Instituted a program to recycle metal, paper and cardboard, finding that separating cardboard did a lot to reduce its waste stream;
-- Replaced traditional bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescent ones as they went out;
-- Made sure its cleaning products were Green Seal or biodegradable;
-- Added a page to its owners’ manual that filled future guests in on the resort’s efforts to conserve energy and water.
Things were going so well that the resort was ready for its DEP inspection in January. But inspectors found a problem with the wastewater treatment plant, De Jesus says.
That brought the process to a screeching halt, as the resort arranged to have special baffles fabricated to move chlorinated water more slowly through the plant. It set back the process by several months, but it also showed The Hammocks how seriously the state takes the program.
“They’re not going to give you certification unless you deserve it,” Rapach says.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program is a voluntary certification designed to encourage resource conservation in the state's leading industry, tourism.
Hotels that apply for certification first form green teams to determine what kind of changes to make and how to implement them. Once the property has completed its plans, DEP conducts an on-site assessment to determine if the property has met the program’s requirements. If it does, it receives certification during a public ceremony.
The lodging program is separated into three tiers, with each tier — one palm, two palms and three palms — representing an increased commitment to environmentally friendly standards. Hotels must submit data to the state and undergo annual reviews to maintain or advance their status. To learn more, visit www.floridagreenlodging.org or call Laura Comer at (239) 332-6975, Ext. 170.