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When good hotels go green

Going green used to be something people only did on St. Patrick's Day, but, for many local hotels, going green is something they do 365 days a year.

For instance, Hotel Parisi in La Jolla dramatically reduced its carbon footprint in 2008 by becoming the first and only hotel in San Diego to replace all of its electricity with wind power by committing to purchase 294,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy credits.

That's enough to offset all of the electricity consumed in its facilities.

The hotel also has implemented other unique, green features such as a keycard activated light system where guests use their room key to turn on their lights to ensure that the lights are turned off when they leave; organic and sulfite-free bath products; sky lights, energy-saving light bulbs and UV-resistant glass windows to conserve energy.

The hotel also offers a reusable linen program for guests who'd like to make their stay even "greener."

Al Gore's Oscar-winning movie "An Inconvenient Truth" helped put the wind in the sails of "green" businesses, but Sue Wagener, director of operations at Hotel Parisi, is proud that her hotel was green long before it became a cause celebre.

Hotel Solamar in the Gaslamp received the 2006 National GeoTourism Award for its eco-friendly practices.

"We thought about how we could be environmentally friendly even before we built the hotel 10 years ago," Wagener said. "Before being green became a big deal."

Namara Mercer, executive director of the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association, doesn't have specific information on how many area hotels are converting to green practices, but she concedes that "becoming more green is an important goal of many in the hotel industry."

These days, at least 12 area hotels have been certified green by the California Green Lodging Program, including the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, the Bristol Hotel, Hotel Indigo and the Doubletree Hotel Golf Resort San Diego.

In addition, at least 32 more are in the process of obtaining that coveted title.

It is still unclear if certification benefits the bottom line, and Wagener admits good feelings, rather than big profits, drive the decision to be green.

Hotel Parisi in La Jolla is one of at least 12 area hotels that have been certified green by the California Green Lodging Program.

However, Jim Gross, the general manager of Hotel Solamar in the Gaslamp Quarter, believes the hotel's commitment to eco-friendly practices adds to the pleasure and well-being of all its guests.

There have been other benefits as well, he says.

"Hotel Solamar is the proud recipient of the 2006 National GeoTourism Award presented by National Geographic Traveler and the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA)," Gross said. "This award celebrates the hotel's standing as a superb eco-friendly luxury hotel where service is not sacrificed in the realization of our social and ecological ideals."

Although going green can have positive public relations benefits, hotels that do it have to think long-term in order to recognize the financial benefits. Wagener also recommends they pay close attention to the organizations providing the certification.

"It's important to determine which organization to be connected with and to do the research on who can provide the correct certification," Wagener said.

Gross said it's also important to make sure that all policies regarding being green are implemented on all levels.

"Anyone can use recycled paper -- which is a great start -- but our EarthCare program works because all the employees are making critical behavioral changes on a daily basis," Gross said.

Back in the 1980s, Solamar's parent company, Kimpton, started implementing recycling trash, phones and batteries, buying organic coffees and teas and serving organic wines at the evening wine hours.

Gross said that was the easy part, but "educating the cleaning staff to use green products took an entire year, a water engineer and weekly meetings with EarthCare champions in every hotel and restaurant.

"That was the hard part, and Kimpton did it in six languages," he added.

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