Tips for Greener Travels

Tips for Greener Travels

Courtesy of Leanne Tobias

Business has taken me to San Francisco and environs several times in the last few months. (Clearly a spate of good luck!)  Here's my field report on greener lodging and eco-travel options for those of you who are San Francisco bound. 

(One caution:  The certification standards for the green lodging and spa labels discussed below are not disclosed in detail on the websites of the certifying organizations. Look for LEED-certified hotels if you seek a more fully vetted standard for green lodging.) 

The Global Strategic Management Institute thoughtfully booked attendees at its recent Sustainable Buildings Series: Retrofits conference at the Hotel Griffon near the Embarcadero. The Griffon has been certified by the state of California under its Green Lodging Program. Each California hotel that has been certified under the program has developed a Green Plan for energy, water and solid waste management, and has formed an interdisciplinary Green Team to lead plan implementation. 

Practices encouraged by the Green Lodging Program include recycling, the use of occupancy sensors, programmable thermostats, dimmers and efficient lighting, including compact fluorescent bulbs for lamps and LEDs for exit and other signage. Participating properties are also encouraged to install low-flow fixtures and to use eco-friendly cleaning products, guest amenities, and pest management strategies. 

During my stay, I noticed that the Griffon had indeed gone further than the now-ubiquitous request in U.S. hotels that guests advise the front desk if they want their sheets and towels changed daily. My room incorporated low-flow toilets and showerheads, and all lamps were equipped with compact fluorescent bulbs. Bottles for bath products supplied to guests were fabricated from Plastarch Material (PSM), a biodegradable material made from cornstarch.  (PSM can be used to manufacture numerous products from tableware to toothpaste to packing pellets.)

The green cleaning program at the Griffon is especially notable, because it benefits both guests and the Griffon's housekeeping staff.  Mila, the kind and energetic housekeeper assigned to my floor at the Griffon, told me that the hotel had switched to green cleaning products and that the change has greatly reduced staff exposure to chemicals.

And what is Mila doing with the time saved by reduced requests for sheet and towel changes?  She's improving the guest experience. I found my bedside table and sink area impeccably reorganized after Mila had cleaned my room. And Mila always tries to double-check with guests to ensure that they have communicated their sheet and towel change preferences to her. "People may not read the card correctly," she explains.

An even more sustainable feature of the Hotel Griffon is the care that its management, Greystone Hotels, has devoted to staff morale. All staff members at the Griffon, including front desk personnel, the bellman, the concierge and, of course, Mila, were remarkably proactive in ensuring that my stay was a comfortable and enjoyable one. 

Mila told me that she had been with her employer for 17 years and that others on the housekeeping staff have been with the company even longer. Members of the housekeeping unit work as a team, she says, with everyone extending themselves for their colleagues.

According to Mila, employee well-being was a key driver for the adoption of sustainable practices at the Griffon. Mila, who came to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico, put two daughters through college working for Greystone: One daughter is a pharmacist and the other is a lab technician. Greystone's success in building employee morale and loyalty is heartening, especially so in the high-turnover hotel industry.

An easy 90-minute drive up the coast from San Francisco is Guerneville, a classic destination for family eco-tourism in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. The lower Russian River runs through the Sonoma Valley, before emptying into a spectacular section of the Pacific Coast, just north of Bodega Bay.

If views of the dramatic coastline aren't enough to sate you, follow the river eastward as it flows through towering redwood forests. Armstrong Woods, home to some of the world's grandest redwoods, is located in Guerneville and is an inspiring spot for eco-travelers.  

Hotels and businesses in Guerneville, including the West Sonoma Inn, are participating in increasing numbers in an area program called EcoRing, which promotes eco-friendly tours, events, lodging, dining, farm products and transportation in the Lower Russian River Valley. EcoRing activities for lodging facilities encourage recycling, energy and water use reduction, composting, green cleaning and sustainable purchasing. Many local hotels have been certified by EcoRing, and others, like the family-owned West Sonoma Inn, have become members of EcoRing and are in the process of obtaining certification. 

If you're looking for more than the Edenic combination of sea, river and and woods, Sonoma is home to bountiful vineyards, produce farms, and the fine dining that they produce.

If you're a spa-aholic, head south to the tiny town of Freestone and indulge in a treatment at Osmosis, a sustainable day spa. Osmosis is a founding member of the Green Spa Network and has undertaken extensive greening initiatives. Its latest green achievement is the completion of a constructed wetlands system to recycle graywater from the spa's sinks, showers and washing machines. The wetlands purify the graywater, which is then reused for irrigation, saving close to one thousand gallons of water per day.

Top photo of Armstrong Woods and the Pacific near Bodega Bay courtesy of Leanne Tobias.
Canoers on Russian River courtesy of