April 16, 2012
The homepage for Portola Hotel & Spa's website trumpets its greenest accomplishment: "Monterey's First and Only LEED-EB Certified Hotel."
All told, Portola's LEED adventure created more than cleaner indoor air and a smaller carbon footprint. "For us, LEED turned out to be a culture change," General Manager Janine Chicourrat says. "I don't care what people say [about the cost]—there's a lot of return on investment."
The 83,000-square-foot, 7-floor hotel and its two restaurants were certified LEED-EB Silver in December 2010, after a two-and-a-half-year greening process. Here are some of the highlights of that journey, shared over lunch with Chicourrat, Director of Engineering Al Hittle and Newmarket Systems Analyst Jose Bautista on World Water Day.
The process took longer, cost more and disrupted business more significantly than Chicourrat had expected. When she pitched the idea to the hotel's owners, she pinned its cost at less than $30,000. The final tally: $370,992. The hotel was able to claim $30,550 in rebates for their energy- and water-saving improvements, but missed out on another $30,000 in PG&E rebates because they weren't clear on the process.
But Chicourrat says the returns have more than made up for the cost. More than 8,500 stays, valued at over $2.2 million, have been sold because of the LEED marketing, according to guest surveys. "We had no identity; we were just known as 'the old Doubletree,'" Chicourrat says of the hotel's pre-LEED days. "I wanted [Portola] to be known as 'the green hotel.'"
Guest rooms were remodeled to include 30-percent recycled carpets and 100-percent organic cotton mattresses with recycled springs, new wallpaper with low-VOC adhesives and low-VOC paint, Energy Star televisions and FSC-certified wood baseboards. The old wallpaper and carpet were recycled. Guest shampoos and soaps are all biodegradable, including the containers. The conference room has compostable wool carpet with jute backing and eco-friendly adhesive.
Portola also purchased $18,252 in carbon offsets through several carbon mitigation orgs, including Pacific Grove-based The Offset Project. The hotel's Fitness Center, though not officially a part of the LEED process, got new solar-reflective film on the windows. And more video conferencing translates to a carbon offset from reduced travel.
The little things matter in the LEED process, too, like switching to recycled office paper and ceramic coffee mugs. The employees have learned to lower their thermostats, shut down their computers at the end of the day and use Time Roman Numeral as their default font. Yep, really: Phillip Pennington, the hotel's IT whiz, figured out it was more most energy-saving than Chicourrat's favorite, Arial.
The cleaning staff now use the Ozone laundry system, which involves an enzyme-based detergent and uses less water than conventional methods. They've also switched to the Lotus room-cleaning system, which "energizes" the tap water to become hydrogen peroxide, a sanitizer, for about 15 minutes before reverting to water. Chemically speaking, it goes from H2O to H2O2, and back again. "The housecleaners really like it," Bautista said. "One said, 'I like that it's good for me.'"
But the hotel has not eliminated chemical cleaners entirely. They still use the harsh stuff for mold and sheet stains. Those ingredients went terribly wrong in mid-February, when an employee mixed ammonia and bleach. The resulting chloramine gas entered the hotel's ventilation system, forcing a Hazmat evacuation. "It was a total accident," Chicourrat says.
Portola's do-goodery extends to staff volunteer work, like gleaning with Ag Against Hunger and Del Monte Beach cleanups (on paid company time). Hourly employees called the Green LEEDers meet once a month to come up with new eco initiatives, Bautista says.
The tastiest greening, however, is happening in Portola's in-house restaurant, Jacks, and brewery, Peter B's.
One-quarter of the kitchen's sourcing dollars are spent on ingredients with some sort of sustainable element—whether they're grown or processed within a 100-mile radius, organic, or Fair Trade certified. "I want to make sure I know the lineage of what I'm buying," says Executive Chef Jason Giles.
In that spirit, some Portola staffers subscribe to a CSA box from Moss Landing-based J&P Organics. Kitchen staff are getting into the habit of separating food scraps from other waste in preparation for an eventual curbside composting program; in the meantime, the scraps go to a local pig farm.
The brewery wastes are finding other purposes, too. Giles has used spent rye grain in apple-blueberry crisp topping, and stout resistance in strawberry marinade. The mash goes to a local farmer's cows, and staff are also looking at the potential for processing it into dog bones.
Last year, staff even tried to grow their own hops at Rancho Cielo, a social services center for underserved youth in Monterey County. It would've worked, too, if it hadn't been for those munchy deer. They're trying again this year, with a fence; Portola will pay Rancho market price for the hops they grow. The LEED process also helped brewer Kevin Clark realize 40,000 gallons per year in water savings, Chicourrat says.
While checking in to see how we like our soup, made with organic white beans from Swank Farms, Giles says he's working on ocean-friendly seafood sausages for Cooking for Solutions, Monterey Bay Aquarium's three-day sustainable seafood event. Jacks and Peter B's, of course, are partners in the Aquarium's SeafoodWatch program.
And that makes the tender wild coho on Giles' organic artisan salad even more delightful.