Making Green Going Green

Monterey, CA – Steps from Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf, the design of the Portola Hotel and Spa takes advantage of its prime location. On clear days, sun streams through the lobby's domed-glass ceiling, bathing the rows of Fichus trees in light. This focus on nature can also be found behind the scenes.

The noisy laundry room in the back of the hotel is packed with massive industrial-sized washing machines. Here, the daily routine includes washing towels, sheets and other linens for nearly 400 guest rooms. That's a lot of water and detergent.

So when hotel management decided it wanted to go green, this was one obvious place to start. They invested in a $25,000 laundry system that injects a reactive compound called ozone instead of detergent into the wash water. In a washing machine, ozone grabs onto dirt and pulls it away from the cloth without using hot water. After a rinse, the soil is washed away and the ozone turns into regular oxygen.

While the machine cost a lot up front, Director of Engineering Al Hittle figures it saves 750,000 gallons of water a year. "The payback on it in terms of reduction in heat energy, reduction of detergent use and purchases, and the reduction of water consumption, we have about a six-month payback," Hittle said. That term payback' is often used to describe sustainable business decisions -- how long before the money saved pays for the green upgrade.

But sometimes the green options cost about the same as the traditional choices. Hittle says as they've replaced incandescent bulbs with LEDs and traditional carpet with a recycled variety, they've noticed a relative lack of sticker shock.

"Sustainability is really about the triple bottom line," said Nancy Zavada. Zavada is the founder of MeetGreen, a company that helps other businesses become more sustainable. In her view, making an organization more sustainable requires a three-pronged approach that takes the economic, social and ecological aspects into consideration.

"It's a three-legged stool," Zavada added. "Without any one of those legs, it's not going to survive, and it's not going to be sustainable. So if you do all this environmental stuff and you don't have the money behind it, you're not going to sustain your business. You have to have all three of those things in order to have a viable business in the future."

At the Portola Hotel and Spa, General Manager Janine Chicourrat said she wants the hotel to be a model of sustainability in the hotel business, which is the social component of that triple bottom line. She's hoping to legitimize their efforts by having the hotel LEED certified, the standard in sustainable building codes.

"I really thought it was important to have a 3rd party provider come in and assess you, as opposed to doing self-assessment," Chicourrat said. Although the certification process is still underway, Chicourrat said their green efforts are already being legitimized by an increase in business and that's the economic component.

In the last two years, the hotel has invested more than $300,000 into greening, and management estimates it's garnered nearly $900,000 in business just because of that move toward sustainability, which benefits more than just the Portola. "Some of that is business that would have never come to Monterey in the first place," Chicourrat added.

Despite the apparent financial benefit, everyone involved in greening the Portola shares a common sentiment. "You always got to keep in mind, environmentally, it's the right thing to do," said Hittle. The hotel's LEED certification could come through any day.