Wisconsin has developed a green certification program, and the Pinehurst Inn in Bayfield continues to quietly go about its Earth-friendly ways.
I plopped down my bag in the room at Pinehurst Inn, a bed and breakfast on an old spacious estate in Bayfield, Wis., and surveyed my surroundings. Outside the window, flowers bloomed on an expansive lawn. Wicker chairs with plump cushions flanked the fireplace. A quilt and billowy pillows topped the high bed. And the bathtub sported more jets than a military air show. I knew I was going to like it there.
Then I looked around for the little plastic bottles of pampering products I so enjoy -- the luxurious shampoos and lotions I like to stash in my bag and call on to reproduce that vacation feeling back home. There was none. Instead, a ceramic liquid soap dispenser made by a local potter sat by the sink, and in the shower a wall-mounted contraption held lavender-scented soap and shampoo.
It was the first indication -- and one of the only -- that I was not at a typical bed and breakfast.
I was at a green inn.
Hotels across the country have shown their environmental awareness for years simply by suggesting that guests re-use towels to save water and energy used in laundering. Now, many are upping the ante and flaunting a vast array of green programs.
The Lodge at Sun Ranch in Cameron, Mont., plants 10 trees in the Amazon for every guest stay. The Hilton in Naples, Fla., is growing a vine garden on part of its roof to help keep the building cool; the garden is watered with condensation from air conditioning units. Boston's upscale Lenox Hotel and the Comfort Inn and Suites at Logan Airport, both owned by the same company, invest in Midwestern wind farms to counterbalance the carbon dioxide used in generating their electricity.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association recently launched a "Green Best Practices" resource guide on its website, and it quickly became one of the most visited places there, said Jessica Soklow, the association's manager of media relations.
Clearly, the environment is on the minds of hoteliers, and for good reason. According to the Travel Industry Association, more than half of all U.S. adults say they would be more willing to select a hotel that demonstrates environmental responsibility.
Wisconsin tests 'eco' claims
"Putting the 'eco' in front of your name gets attention," said Ted Martens, director of outreach and development at Sustainable Travel International, a nonprofit organization that educates travelers and travel providers about conservation.
"Many places make claims of environmental stewardship without backing them up," Martens added. The practice is known as greenwashing. More than 70 groups worldwide, including Martens', have developed certification programs to combat that problem and help consumers separate fact from wishful thinking.
Wisconsin is among them. After a pilot program, which included the Pinehurst Inn, Wisconsin launched its own certification effort in January 2007 for places that tourists visit, such as hotels, restaurants, state parks and convention centers. It was one of the nation's first state-sponsored programs.
Called Travel Green Wisconsin, the program -- which is voluntary and relies on self-reporting -- rates businesses on criteria ranging from energy efficiency and recycling to educating visitors and employees about green practices. Nearly 200 businesses have been certified statewide already.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Travel Green Wisconsin has bolstered the state's $13 billion tourism industry, said Kelli A. Trumble, secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Tourism.
"Research shows that there is a growing number of people across the nation who are looking [at] and drawn to businesses that they believe are sustainable and green," Trumble said. In a study by the Department of Tourism, 45 percent of participants in the Minneapolis market felt that having environmentally friendly lodging was an important factor in their decision to travel, she added.
Feeling good at Pinehurst Inn
That statistic should bode well for the Pinehurst and its owners, Nancy and Steve Sandstrom. The B&B is Travel Green Wisconsin's top-rated lodging establishment, scoring 131 points. Technically, there is no maximum score; among the 75 lodgings certified, the average score is 69.
Despite its high marks, the inn seems like any upscale B&B, with five rooms in the original 1885 home and three in the newly constructed "garden house." "We want to show that you can be green and still have all the luxuries, whether at a hotel or at home," Nancy said.
The sheets feel satiny-smooth; they just happen to be made of organic cotton. The water that roars into the whirlpool tub is warmed by the sun. The apples that fill the muffins? Picked at a nearby orchard.
Behind the scenes, the couple's dedication to protecting the environment is even more noteworthy. Tanks and tubes make one corner of the garage look like a mad scientist's studio. It's where Steve converts vegetable oil he picks up from local restaurants into biofuel, which the couple use to fuel their cars. Solar panels heat not only water for the garden house but the ground beneath the vegetable garden, so they can enjoy a longer growing season.
When the Sandstroms built the garden house in 2002, they used plant-based paints on the walls. Wood for door and window trim came from a stand of trees on nearby Madeline Island; individual trees distanced from one another were selected, felled by saws and pulled out by a horse, reducing the impact on the forest.
After a tour of the inn with the Sandstroms, I sat on a swing hanging from a tree and contemplated the Energy Star appliances, the biodegradable cleaners and the green tabs purchased to make the inn essentially carbon-neutral. I felt good -- good and green -- and a bit like I should have arrived in a Prius rather than my loaded-down Outback.
Then I rocked the swing, turned toward the garden, watched a wren flit by, and I felt good -- good and carefree -- as any guest of a comfortable and welcoming B&B would.
Kerri Westenberg • 612-673-4282