More hotels seeing gold in going green

When the Banyan Resort’s assistant general manager, Julie Brown, saw an unexpected increase in her property’s water bill one month last year, she didn’t take the news lightly.

As leader of the Key West resort's Green Team for the past three years, Brown was determined to uncover the reason for the increase — not only for the sake of her 38-unit property’s bottom line, but also for the sake of the environment. She launched an investigation that uncovered a hidden water leak beneath the foundation of one of the buildings.

"Because of my involvement with the green team I've been closely monitoring our water usage for some time, so I was able to detect the problem early on," Brown said. "We saved money and water, which is really important for our island community."

Brown’s resort is one of 30 lodging facilities in Monroe County designated "green" by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging program. There are nearly 80 such properties in the South Florida counties of Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward, and more than 400 statewide. Another 80 or so in the tri-county area have applied to earn the designation.

According to local tourism and lodging professionals, the program is not only good for the environment, it's also good for business. Representatives from some area properties that have been part of the program for more than a year report savings in energy, water and waste collection. Some have also seen an increase in the number of guests inquiring about their property’s environmentally friendly policies before making reservations.

The stampede for the Green Lodging program’s seal of approval started in mid-2007 when Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order mandating that all state-sponsored meetings and conferences be held in DEP-certified green facilities whenever possible, beginning in January 2008.

At the time Gov. Crist signed that order, only two facilities in Miami-Dade met that criteria. There were none in Monroe and Broward counties.

Amy Graham, spokeswoman for DEP, said the agency does not collect financial information for properties associated with the Green Lodging program, but from the tracking data it does gather, the department estimates that each green lodge saves an average of 17 gallons of water, 14 kilowatt hours of electricity, and 6 pounds of solid waste per occupied room, per day.

Brown said the savings inspire her team to stay on top of their property’s green initiatives. They’re also spurred on by the new marketing opportunities that have come from being designated a green lodge.

DEP publicizes green lodges on its Web site and also alerts the local media whenever a facility earns green designation or has other relevant news to share.

Brown said publicity for the Banyan skyrocketed after the property was certified green by DEP.

Sterling Ivey, spokesman for Gov. Crist, said there is no way to know for certain if state agencies are complying with the governor’s green lodging mandate because Florida has no centralized collection point for data that tracks where meetings are held. But he said he is confident the agency heads have received the message.

'The executive order was sent to all agency heads and directors, and the governor's expectations for green facilities were reiterated in subsequent meetings," Ivey said. "We're confident our agencies are using green facilities whenever possible."

Ivey said the governor is pleased with what he called a "large increase in green properties statewide," and lauded the lodging industry’s response to Gov. Crist’s executive order.

"The program just continues to grow," Ivey said. "Clearly, there's gold in green."