Renewable Energy Gets Boost from Chicago Hotel

intercontinental-hotel2.jpgWhen trying to make your lifestyle more sustainable, there are lots of smart choices you can make around the house to lighten your ecological footprint. But what about when you’re away from home? When traveling for work or pleasure, you can’t be certain that the same eco-smart choices you make at home will be made in your hotel room. Is the cotton in your sheets is grown organically and washed in an way that conserves water? Is your garbage being recycled? Are the lights you turn off before going to sleep utilizing the energy efficient CFL bulbs you have in the lamp on your nightstand at home? The fact is, when you check into a hotel, you may be signing up for temporarily increasing your personal impact on the environment in a way you would never choose otherwise.

The good news is that more and more hotel chains are taking up the challenge of incorporating the values of sustainability into their operations. One example is the Hotel Intercontinental in Chicago, which last week announced plans to begin supporting renewable energy in a big way.

The agreement between Intercontinental Chicago Hotel and electricity supplier Constellation NewEnergy is a good thing for the environment, but it takes a little bit of explanation to understand why. That’s because the hotel won’t actually be using wind, solar, or hydroelectric power in its golden domed building on Michigan Avenue. Instead, it will support the operation of power plants that create green energy by purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) equal to 50% of its total electricity use. Not every business is able to change its operations to run on green electricity, but any company can buy RECs. For every certificate purchased, a unit of renewable energy is produced and fed into the power grid. The more renewable energy placed onto the grid, the less nonrenewable energy (such as coal, nuclear, oil, and gas) is required to fill the country’s energy needs.

In the press release announcing the deal, Intercontinental Chicago Hotel highlighted the deal as part of the hotel’s overall commitment to sustainable practices. Since 2006, parent company InterContinental Hotels Group has worked to “minimize its greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the effects of climate change–including new hotel designs, management tools, water conservation and energy efficiency projects, as well as climate change awareness campaigns with partners and guests.” That kind of progressive commitment seems fitting for a hotel housed in a skyscraper originally designed with a decorative docking port for dirigibles back in 1929.

As the above announcement makes clear, when it comes to greening your hotel stay, there are lots of elements that can be considered. Energy management, waste management, water conservation, the use of recycled materials, and locally sourced food supplies are just some of the ways that conscientious businesses in the hospitality industry are working to match the conservation-minded values of a growing segment of their customer base.

At the same, though, greenwashing is prevalent in the hotel industry. According to experts, the words “green” and “eco-” have been co-opted by many companies that aren’t at all commited to conservation. There is no accepted standard for what constitutes a “green hotel,” and of the many associations that promote such practices don’t audit their members. In short, when you see any hotel promoting its earth-friendly practices, the rule is caveat emptor.

So what’s an eco-minded traveler to do? As this Green Options Tip of the Day points out, it pays to do some research and to ask questions. Some online services, such as Environmentally Friendly Hotels, compile user ratings and reviews on the ecologically sound practices employed by specific hotels. And don’t be afraid to complain to management if your towels wind up washed after you follow directions on the placard in the bathroom to put only the “needs laundering” items on the floor or in the tub. Some hotels need to be reminded that their guest expect them to follow their eco-pledges to the letter. In the hospitality industry, where the customer’s needs are top-priority, making your priorities known loud and clear may have an impact long past your stay at that particular inn.

Photo credit: TravelPost.com

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