In this series, SEE Change talks with society’s respected corporate citizens about their efforts to make a difference.
For the environmentally conscious traveler, leaving one’s values at home is becoming less and less acceptable. Why should green choices be put on hold simply because one is away from home, is the typical argument. But eliminating your vacation out of principle is not necessarily the answer either.
Thankfully, alternative options for the enviro-minded are becoming more commonplace as hoteliers, restaurateurs and other suppliers in the travel industry adapt to the changing needs and demands of their patrons – and their own evolving sensibilities.
The Orchard Garden Hotel and its sister property, the Orchard Hotel, can certainly qualify as leaders of the pack in their city of San Francisco and beyond. As the city’s first LEED-certified hotel (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), and only the third hotel in the U.S. to become designated as such, this trailblazer can teach companies a thing or two about running a business without leaving one’s conscience at the door.
While on assignment in San Francisco recently, SEE Change co-founder, Elisa Birnbaum had the opportunity to sit down with General Manager, Juan Bueno and Director of Sales, Lydia Rubalcaba to discuss their green initiatives and how the hotelier established a reputation as pioneers in the space. That they met on Earth Day—as the hotel was busily preparing for a special community event—added a special significance to the discussion.
Where did the green initiatives originate?
Juan Bueno: The inspiration came from the hotel’s owner, Mrs. S.C. Huang. After her daughter and husband passed away from cancer, she believed environmental factors were the cause. So she decided to dedicate the sister hotel – Orchard Garden Hotel – to her passion for clean environments. She became devoted to creating environmentally safe and sustainable hotels.
How important is a green hiring process?
Lydia Rubalcaba: It’s very important for us to have our employees knowledgeable about green issues. Even during the interview process, we ask them questions to ensure they understand the issues and practices.
What types of initiatives have you adopted?
JB: Our uniforms – made by Twin Hill, a subset of Men’s Wearhouse – are fabricated out of recycled plastic. Every room in the Orchard Garden has recycling bins that sit next to the trash bins. And the drapes, flooring and furniture are all made from sustainable material, with 22% of building materials manufactured within 500 miles of the the hotel.
Housekeeping staff use green cleaning products and all fabrics are selected for their low chemical emissions. They are machine-washable to avoid the use of dry cleaning chemicals. And we offer guests the option of requesting their sheets and towels not be cleaned daily. (Interestingly, most guests choose not to change them. Sign of the times, to be sure).
Credit: Orchard Hotel
The sales brochures and literature at Orchard Hotel are printed on recycled paper and management buys carbon offsets to ensure they remain carbon neutral. Plus, instead of buying boilers, the hotel buys steam for hot water and heating and purchases gas from a place in Montana.
(One of the hotel’s innovative features is the key card, vital to their energy-management system. Guests activate the room’s lighting and mechanical systems by inserting the card into a box near the door. Upon leaving their room, the card is removed and all systems are thereby turned off except for one, which is used to charge cell phones or the like. The system apparently saves nearly 20% in energy costs.)
LR: The Orchard hotel is also home to Daffodil Restaurant, which specializes in local, organic fare. And, in line with our sustainable practices, the Orchard Garden Hotel replaced their roof patio with an environmentally friendly option.
Talking about future plans, how does the hotel ensure it retains its status as a forward-thinking pioneer of environmental sustainability?
LR: We’re always trying to enhance our eco-friendly practices, always looking for ways to improve. For example, we’ve been beta testing new dispensers for the showers (so as to reduce the waste of individually wrapped soaps and single containers of shampoos and conditioners). We’re trying to figure out the best way to do it.
JB: We’re also trying to reach a higher level of LEED, a designation that comes with more stringent measures.
Today you’re celebrating Earth Day. Community engagement is a big part of your practice too. What are some of the initiatives you’ve adopted in that vein?
LR: We donate to the American Cancer Society. We support local activities like the CAAM Film Festival, the San Francisco Film Festival and Jazz Festival, whereby we donate rooms. It’s about helping support our local communities. For today’s Earth Day we’ve invited partners, vendors and guests for a fun event featuring a guitarist and the raffling of prizes to sustainable wineries.
JB: We make sure guests maintain a high standard of environmental consciousness even when they leave our hotel. For example, for every review of our hotel that someone submits on TripAdvisor, we plant a tree.
Credit: Orchard Hotel
Want to picnic in San Francisco?
Stay at the Orchard Hotel or Orchard Garden Hotel from April 1 through August 31, 2013 and receive a picnic lunch for two, to be enjoyed at any of the city’s beautiful parks. Visit: www.theorchardhotels.com. And use the rate code PicnicSF to find out more details.