What Maine hotels and B&Bs are doing to raise the bar for the lodging industryby Jenna Quartararo
[Feature article from the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Green & Healthy Maine]
The rains have just fallen, the trees are in bloom, and Maine is turning all shades of green as it readies for another summer tourist season. Luckily many options abound for accommodations that work to conserve all that is wonderful and worth visiting. Here are three places that have proven their commitment to being eco-friendly with tireless effort.
The idyllic Maple Hill Farms Bed & Breakfast Inn sits amidst 130 acres of land in Hallowell. Maple Hill boasts the title of being Maine’s first certified “Environmental Leader” lodging facility, a status that was awarded to them in November of 2005 by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
There are currently over 100 certified lodging businesses throughout the state. According to the Maine DEP website, that averages out to a savings of over $7,000 per business per year in energy efficiency and waste reduction.
For Scott Cowger, co-owner of Maple Hill Farms B&B, being eco-friendly is about lowering the hotel’s carbon footprint, something he believes can be done in part by sourcing products locally whenever possible. “You don’t know where your money goes with chain hotels,” says Cowger.
Pull up a seat at the dining room table for Eggs Benedict Arnold, cooked by co-owner Vince Hannan, and glimpse just how far that local support extends. The eggs come from the big red barn outside, the potatoes are picked up at a local farmer’s market, the coffee is from Carrabbassett Coffee in Kingfield, and of course there’s Maine maple syrup. Hannan sources a difficult-to-find light amber syrup from northern Maine.
Even the art on the walls is curated from a variety of local artists, all residing within 30 miles of the inn.
Maple Hill produces about half of their energy supply from renewable sources—none of which is more apparent than the majestic 100-foot wind turbine that rises up behind Maple Hill. Purchased in 2003 for $70,000, the turbine has a 30-year payoff.
“Even though we’ll only break even at the end, it has a meaning far beyond monetary for us,” says Cowger. “Being green is part of my own deeply held set of personal beliefs.” Cowger is a former state legislator and also served on the chair of the natural resources committee.
Maple Hill has ample skylights that keep them from using artificial lights, uses bulk product dispensers in the bathrooms and uses no paper or plastic cutlery and napkins in the kitchen. But you won’t find a “please reuse towels” sign to put on the door.
“The towel thing has been done for so long. Initially it was just done to save money, not to be green,” says Cowger. Maple Hill believes that when people are on vacation it’s nice to have clean linens each day.
An up to the minute tracker on Maple Hill’s website keeps a record of just how much CO2 emissions they’ve avoided since 1997. That number is currently at just under 100,000 lbs. (99,085 to be exact, or roughly the equivalent of the pollution the average car emits over 3,618 days).
Back in the kitchen, now that it’s spring, Hannan is cooking up two more favorites, dandelion greens and fiddleheads.
“If you pick dandelion greens before they’ve blossomed and steam them, they are absolutely wonderful with some organic Maine butter!” says Cowger. “How much more local can you get!”
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In the southern part of the state, a stay at Ogunquit’s first E.L. certified hotel, the Meadowmere, means taking your pick of scenic wonders: Perhaps a serene start to the day with a sunrise walk along Marginal Way which winds around the rocky coastline, or maybe an afternoon stroll through their terraced gardens while keeping an eye out for butterflies from the nearby bird sanctuary.
Just be sure to also take a peek into the basement. Director of sales and marketing, Allyson Cavaretta, would be glad to show you.
While looking behind the scenes at hotels is often thought of as taboo, “we are proud to let people see what makes up our green practices,” says Cavaretta.
Meadowmere provides eco tours that allow guests to glimpse their sustainability efforts that extend beyond the recycling bins in their rooms. One such way is through Meadowmere’s use of “ozone laundry,” a process wherein ozone is injected into cold water as the washing machine fills. (Note: ozone is oxygen with an extra atom of oxygen added. It forms naturally during lightning storms and is nature’s way of purifying the atmosphere.) In the laundry, ozone helps to dissolve soil on contact and is effective in cold water washing. It uses less water, chemicals, and energy and even requires less drying time.
“Often, changing over a hotel’s laundry facility is a daunting and scary thought,” says Cavaretta. “We were able to switch over in our peak season and saved so much water that the return on investment was under six months!”
Cavaretta sees being green in the hotel as an opportunity to pay things forward. Their gently-used mattresses are given a second life at local women’s shelters and bars of soap are donated to the Global Soap Project, a non-profit that collects discarded soap from hotels and reprocesses them into new bars that are then distributed to African refugee camps.
“We started off by just changing all the light bulbs,” says Cavaretta. “Those small steps have led to bigger changes. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I’d be writing a grant proposal to the USDA.”
If approved, that grant would significantly increase the Meadowmere’s solar hot water capacity and provide 30% of the electricity needs for the building.
It also only makes sense to Cavaretta to become involved in projects that help to protect and preserve the coastline the hotel sits along. Meadowmere gives a portion of each “Om and Foam” package, which includes a surf lesson, board and wet suit rental, and post-surf yoga lesson, to the local Surfrider chapter, a non-profit dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches.
For World Ocean Weekend this past June, the Meadowmere hosted an event with local watershed experts that celebrated Ogunquit’s beaches with onsite information, ecoeducation and live entertainment.
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Up the coast in Rockport, Country Inn owner Bill Hahn looks out his office window on a Monday morning to the greenhouse in the backyard filled with this year’s seedlings— mostly annuals but also some tomatoes and peppers. Later this summer those will be combined with eggs from Bowden’s Egg Farm and Pineland cheese for quiche.
“For me, a lot of being green is conservation. If you’re in business it just makes sense from an economic standpoint,” says Hahn. “My green philosophy is that it’s the right way to do things [ethically] as well.”
In 2008, the Country Inn was the first hotel to receive the Environmental Leader certification in the Camden/Rockland area. That was also the year Hahn, who built the hotel himself in 1994, installed 24 solar hot water panels, made possible with the help of a 30% tax credit for the $80,000 investment. The panels provide about 60-70% of the hotel’s domestic hot water.
Hahn, who has a background in mechanical engineering, has been drawn to energy conservation for years. Back in the ’70s when the Maine Solar Energy Association was formed, Hahn was one of the first to join the panel.
These hotels realize there’s still a ways to go, and that being green is a process. Both the Country Inn and Meadowmere plan to delve into composting next. Cavaretta will be anxiously awaiting news of her grant proposal. Maple Hill will soon be converting all of their lighting over to LED. And the Country Inn is researching additional renewable electricity sources.