Eco-conscious travelers attending this weekend’s Green Living and Energy Education Expo have several resort and hotel options they can feel good about, thanks to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging certification program.
Less than a year after the first Keys lodging facility earned it’s green stripes from the program, 26 properties have either applied for certification or have actually been certified as green – and the program’s coordinator is pleased.
“Things are really moving along, especially in Key West,” said green lodging coordinator Laura Comer. “Key Largo is starting to get motivated, and we have high hopes for Marathon to come along, too.”
There are currently 10 properties in the Keys — nine in Key West and one on Big Pine Key — that are designated green. Another 16 — seven in the Upper Keys, four in Marathon, and five in Key West — are on the path to becoming certified.
Florida’s green lodging program encourages lodging facilities to implement environmentally friendly practices to protect the state’s natural resources. Once a hotel or resort has the support of its owners and management, the staff forms a green team to facilitate the application process and begin implementing conservation measures from a menu of options provided by FDEP.
The agency then conducts an onsite assessment to determine if the property meets the program’s requirements. If it does, it becomes a certified green lodge and must submit data to the state annually to maintain or advance its status. The program is separated into three tiers – one palm, two palms and three palms – with each tier representing an increased commitment to implementing environmentally friendly standards.
Hoping to earn its first palm this week is Mariner’s Resort Villas & Marina at mile marker 97.5 in Key Largo. State green lodging personnel will tour the property on Tuesday during an onsite assessment of the resort’s compliance with program standards.
If Mariner’s passes the test, it will become the Upper Keys’ first certified green lodge.
General manager Rob Bulkiewicz said he and his staff are looking forward to the site assessment. He is particularly excited to show off the recycling program at Mariner’s, which is made up of 118 town homes and villas.
“We’ve had the recycling in place for three months and it’s been fantastic,” Bulkiewicz said. “I would say we get close to 100 percent participation. Education is the key — it has to trickle all the way down to the guests. We educate them about the program at check-in.”
Once Mariner’s earns its certification, it will join the list of green lodges headed by the Banyan Resort in Key West — the first Keys property to earn certification. Assistant general manager Julie Brown said the year has brought challenges, but overall it’s gone well, and she hopes her property will earn its two-palm designation soon.
“We’re continually trying new things. We’re composting now, and that’s been an adventure,” Brown said. “We’ve got staff coming in with green ideas of their own, which is exactly what we hoped would happen.”
State-certified green lodges receive additional promotion at both the state and local levels. The DEP’s green lodging program features certified hotels and resorts on its Web site and in other marketing materials, and GLEE has been promoting the properties to Expo attendees and workshop participants.
Brown said the Banyan’s Web site received a substantial increase in traffic after earning certification, and the property is also listed on several green sites.
Kimberly Hayden, general manager at Banana Bay Resort & Marina at mile marker 49.5 in Marathon, looks forward to the marketing boost her 61-room property will receive from both GLEE and the DEP. Banana Bay recently applied for certification.
Hayden said she is also looking forward to the day Banana Bay will be able to host state meetings and accommodate state employees. Since Jan. 1, all state meetings must be held at certified green lodges whenever possible, in accordance with a mandate from Gov. Charlie Crist last summer.
Banana Bay has already made strides toward its green certification, including starting resort-wide recycling and linen reuse programs, and replacing burned out light bulbs with energy efficient ones, according to Hayden.
The resort will soon stock its janitorial carts with environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, and is investigating automatic shut-off devices that cut power to air conditioners when a room’s sliding glass doors are opened.
Hayden said staff education is one of the program’s most important components, and everyone working at the resort is contributing to the effort. She said Banana Bay’s visitors are embracing the green initiative, too.
“It’s going over very well with guests,” she said. “They’re separating the garbage from the recycling in their rooms and setting aside their newspapers for recycling. They’re going along with it. I’ve heard good comments from them.
“We’re committed,” Hayden continued. “We think it’s a fabulous way to go.”
Green lodgesThese are the Keys properties that have earned their green lodging certification: