September 15, 2008

For Maine’s Hospitality Business, ‘Green’ Model Has STAYING POWER


For David Swardlick, there was no question that environmental practices would be key in choosing the location of a conference he is helping to organize. He insisted on maximizing the use of locally produced foods and minimizing waste that would go into landfills.

"It was a requirement for us as the convenors and the promoters of the conference - just important to us as organizations and individuals," said Swardlick, president of the Portland-based Swardlick Marketing Group.

Consumers are increasingly seeing things from that perspective, and businesses are responding by switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, using biodegradable cleaners, installing lower-flow toilets and more.

In recognition of that shift, a growing number of hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts are joining a state program that encourages environmentally friendly practices and helps them flaunt their green credentials.

The number of lodging participants in the Environmental Leader Certification Program is up 70 percent in recent months. Thirty- four properties have joined the three-year-old Department of Environmental Protection program this year, bringing the total to 87.

Peter Cooke, a pollution prevention program manager, expects that number to rise through the rest of this year.

"It's not just a little fad. This is actually a paradigm shift in American business," Cooke said.

To qualify for certification as an Environmental Leader, a lodging business must fill out a workbook about its environmental practices. Point values are assigned to various practices in categories like housekeeping, waste management, water conservation and environmental education. The use of ozone washing machines, for example, is worth 10 points; composting is worth five.

A first-time certification requires a total of 100 points, and recertification requires 130 points. Businesses that fall short can get technical assistance from the program to improve.

Environmental Leaders receive promotional flags and decals to display, and listings on tourism Web sites.

Meeting planners are increasingly interested in venues that meet green standards, said Kim Monaghan-Derrig, director of convention sales and events for the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland.

"There's definitely been a surge," she said.

Monaghan-Derrig said that for many, green remains a preference rather than a requirement. It's a top priority for events centered on environmental issues, and she has noticed that education and health care groups are following suit.

The conference that Swardlick is organizing is about creating partnerships between nonprofit organizations and corporations. Some of the participants are from environmental organizations, while many are not. Swardlick believes the audience will be concerned about the sustainability practices of the event.

Government also is trying to encourage green practices. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a policy that gives preference to facilities that meet its environmental standards. Florida requires state government conferences to use properties certified green by its state program.

Tamara Kennedy-Hill, executive director of the national Green Meeting Industry Council, said her organization used to meet with skepticism when it tried to educate the lodging industry. Now, those businesses are hungry for information about what their practices should be and how they can measure their performance, she said.

"There's definitely been a shift. It's definitely reached a tipping point," she said.

Tina Hewett-Gordon, general manager of the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, knows that the Environmental Leader designation has helped her events business.

"They've commented to our director of sales that's one of the reasons they book here. They like the idea that we try to be a better property for the good of it all," she said.

The change also is apparent among leisure travelers.

"We begin to see more and more people that are interested in having less of an impact on where they're vacationing," said Vaughn Stinson, chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association.

Rauni Kew, marketing director for the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, said guests appreciate things like the use of nontoxic cleaning products, the prominence of recycled materials in the new spa and the chance to offset their travel-related carbon emissions with donations that benefit tree-planting projects.

They also like the garden of indigenous plants, designed to create wildlife habitat and serve as a place for seminars, Kew said. The garden went in seven years ago, replacing an earlier version that was filled with exotic plants and required blanket spraying.

"If you don't protect the local ecosystem, there's no reason for people to visit," she said.

Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, has seen strong interest from his members. He said some businesses are motivated by environmental values, others see great marketing opportunities and some realize they can save money in the long run.

The Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit has built a new wing with green construction materials and solar panels that heat water for 32 rooms. Sarah Diment, the owner, is concerned about the environment but also expects her investments to pay off over time.

Diment is filling out her Environmental Leader application, which she said is a great source of ideas for further improvement.

"Being an Environmental Leader is important to allow us to showcase what we've done, and it allows me to be with a great group of people who are also making the same kind of stance," she said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]

Originally published by By ANN S. KIM Staff Writer.

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