Two hotels in Durango go green

Improvements benefit not only environment but also bottomline

The word green, which took a new meaning with the advent of the environmental movement, now is being applied to hospitality.

Green hospitality is what travelers find at the Strater and DoubleTree hotels under rating systems that look at how well they meet environmental standards.

The Doubletree has been listed at the silver level by Green Seal, a nonprofit, third-party certifier in Washington, D.C. The Strater has been designated as meeting Energy Star standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kristin Nielsen, director of sales and marketing and green team leader at the DoubleTree, and Rod Barker, the third-generation owner of the Strater, shared their green practices Wednesday at a Green Business Roundtable lunch and in earlier interviews.

“We had to meet 40 categories of criteria, each with substeps,” Nielsen said. “We worked for one year beginning in early 2009 getting ready for our inspection. Then we did six months of tweaking to fix things to become Green Seal-certified.”

Nielsen has been at the DoubleTree for eight years and with the Hilton chain for 14 years.

Green hospitality means recycling, energy efficiency, elimination of chemicals and volatile organic compounds, low-flow showers, toilets and sinks, and contracting with suppliers whose business practices are shades of green, Nielsen said.

“We recycle everything,” Nielsen said. “We compost food waste and take it to a local ranch. Extra food and amenities such as unused soaps and shampoos are given to Manna Soup Kitchen.”

All paper products are postconsumer, a euphemism meaning recycled, Nielsen said. Toilet paper, tissues, paper towels and all stationery, either used by the administration or for guest-room courtesy, have been through the pulp mill before, Nielsen said.

The hotel is saving 26 percent on its energy costs, compared with pre-2009, Nielsen said. All lights in low-occupancy areas such as laundry rooms and loading docks have timers; offices and halls are lighted with low-energy bulbs an other areas such as restaurants and guest rooms have energy-efficient lighting.

The DoubleTree has thrown away its aerosol cans and paints containing volatile organic compounds and has a saline swimming pool free of chemicals, Nielsen said.

“We give preference to suppliers who take back packaging and use recycled articles themselves,” she said.

Barker, whose grandfather acquired the Strater in 1926, started to upgrade the infrastructure in 1984.

“The first thing we did was to make the boiler room operate more smoothly,” Barker said. “The goal was to make the equipment last longer and to reduce the energy bill.”

Air conditioning bills were sky-high, and the equipment was wearing out every couple of years, Barker said. So he moved the boiler room, which was outside the hotel, into the basement.

Moving the source of power closer to areas that needed to be cooled, produced better results and gave equipment a 10- to 12-year life instead of one or two, Barker said.

The next move was to take advantage of the heat that was vented into space from the air-conditioning system, Barker said. He installed a 5,000-gallon storage tank and, with a heat exchanger, produced hot water.

“The result is that we cut the amount of natural gas we were using to heat water,” Barker said. “We cut our energy bill again.”

All this was accomplished long before the “green” movement captured attention, he said.

Barker has installed pipes under the sidewalk on the north side of the hotel but not yet connected them in order to use heat produced from ice-machine operations to melt ice.

“Initially, our goal was to make the bottom line look better,” Barker said. “But one thing led to the next, and we were able to cut costs and save energy.”

Among other measures Barker mentioned were:

Replacing ancient single-pane windows with thermal panes.

Replacing linen less than daily with the consent of guests.

Switching 400 7.5-watt decorative light bulbs on the roof for bulbs of less than 1 watt.

daler@durangoherald.com