Better World Club

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Greening of Luxury Hotels

by Alan J. Shannon

Multi-star hotels have a well-deserved reputation for pampering guests, offering numerous perks and all sorts of luxuries. But many of these come at an environmental cost. While some pricey hotels have spurned the concept of greening, claiming that guests don't want to give up anything during a stay at a deluxe hotel, others embrace it, discovering that guests have responded positively as has their bottom line.

The sins of hotels are manifold. Changing bed and bath linens daily for hundreds of rooms and washing them uses resources and produces detergent-laced water that has to be subsequently treated or ends up in local water ways or in the case of Midwest hotels, as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.

While plenty of hotels no longer launder room linens every day (if they actually follow the practice, since in my experience even if you follow the prescribed procedure for reusing bath linens, housekeeping staff usually wash them, anyway), leading hotels have realized that in order to be truly green, they need to do much more. Two hotels, the Hotel InterContinental on Chicago's Magnificent Mile and the St. Julien in Boulder, Colorado, strive to be green leaders for the hotel industry and have found numerous other ways to be more earth-friendly.

For starters, converting light bulbs to low energy using CFLs can save bundles of energy, while reducing utility costs. At the St. Julien, the replacement of the hotel's bulbs resulted in a 48,000 kilowatt reduction in energy use. As of July 2008, similar efforts at the InterContinental's resulted in the savings of nearly 8,000 kilowatt hours of energy and water-saving efforts resulted in an 81,000 gallon reduction in water use.

In addition to more predictable approaches such as less frequent bed linen changes and the use of recycled plastic, the hotels uses earth friendly paints and cleaners. And if that weren't commendable enough, the St. Julien donates its worn or frayed bath and bed linens to nearby animal shelters, a green initiative that's popular with animal-lovers and the eco-conscious, as well as many a Boulder area cat and dog.

Meanwhile, the hotels' restaurants have also pursued environmentally friendly policies. The St. Julien's restaurant works with local farmers and food artisans whenever possible, while the InterContinental's wine, cheese and chocolate restaurant and tasting bar offers many award-winning local cheeses.

It's not surprising that a new wave of green hotels have a lot of other things going for them. Check out the web sites for both hotels: Hotel InterContinental and St. Julien Hotel.

In the end, green efforts are for naught if a stay at a deluxe hotel isn't posh-feeling. These hotels, as well as others found prove that it's easy and can feel posh to be green.

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Better World Nominated for a B.I.G. Award!

There's Nothing Notorious About It - Awards Honor Environmentally Responsible and Sustainable Businesses

Better World Club has been nominated for the first-ever Ideal Bite Best in Green (B.I.G) Awards, an awards program that will annually recognize those companies, products and services that are true leaders and innovators in the green space.

Ideal Bite offers bite-sized ideas for light green living - ideas for real people who lead busy lives and want to make small changes that add up to big results. Daily Tips cover everything from biodynamic wine to eco-pet products to organic cosmetics. The mission of Ideal Bite is to create a more sustainable world by connecting enlightened companies with responsible consumers who are ready to make small changes that add up.

Winners of the 2008 B.I.G Awards will be announced at the B.I.G. Awards Party in December 2008 in New York City.

Click here to learn more about the awards.

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BWC Members Demanded it, and the EPA Complied:

They Got the Lead Out (Of the Air We Breathe)

However, New, Stricter Lead Emissions Standards Aren't Being Enforced the Way they Should

It's no secret that lead isn't good for you. Ingestion of lead can cause nerve damage, slow brain and nervous system development; it can affect the cardiovascular system, kidney function, the immune system, and the reproductive system.

Despite all this, national pollution standards for lead had not changed since 1978. The EPA has finally come out with an updated ruling on lead emissions standards, reducing the allowable amount from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter to 0.15 micrograms.

We're proud to say that Better World Club members helped the EPA reach this decision.

Just two years ago, the EPA even considered delisting lead as a pollutant altogether. Once again, Better World Club members made their voices heard and let the EPA know what a bad idea that was.

It's great that lead standards have been tightened based on science instead of the wishes of entrenched special interests (yes, we're talking about you, Battery Council International). However, the new ruling does have some controversial aspects.

The first version of the new rule stated that any facility that emitted a half a ton of lead or more per year would need to be monitored. The White House Office of Management and Budget objected to this standard and forced the EPA to back away from it. The final version of the EPA's ruling doubles that standard, allowing lead-emitting facilities to spew up to one ton of lead per year without monitoring.

So while we're pleased that EPA Administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, listened to his own scientists (and BWC members!) and tightened lead emissions standards, we're not so pleased with the watered-down way the new rule is being implemented.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Government Gives $25 Billion to the U.S. Auto Industry

You Think That's Bad for Taxpayers?

What Does It Mean for Conservatism?

by Mitch Rofsky, BWC President

The next time I want to sneak something past my wife, I'll ask the US auto industry to help me out.

While all eyes were on Wall Street over the past two weeks, the auto industry walked off with $25 billion in government money. Apparently, automakers are paying double digit interest rates - when they can get credit - and that's preventing them for re-tooling for the next generation of automobiles.

This isn't the first time that American car companies have come knocking at the door of the U.S. Treasury. Back in 1979, the Chrysler Corporation needed government funding to avoid bankruptcy...

And I was working on that legislation as an attorney for Ralph Nader's Public Citizen. Boy, have things changed over the past 30 years. (And I'm not referring to disco.)

Then, the Chrysler bailout was hugely controversial. The legislative process took months. If my memory is correct, we were the only liberal opponents of the bill, joined by a number of conservative/business groups. The bailout narrowly passed the Senate 53-44.

This bailout passed on a voice vote.

This is despite the fact that this bailout was of a completely different scale. Chrysler ended up receiving about $1.2 billion, or about $3.5 billion in current dollars. Today's bailout is $25 billion and is being described by many Michigan legislators as merely the first step. They are looking for as much as $25 billion more.

Back in 1979, the Dems were in control and were determined to help Chrysler--or, more correctly, the United Auto Workers--out. As the loan was going to be approved, we also pushed for a fair deal for the U.S. taxpayer. After all, the government's funding was more of an investment than a loan, so the government deserved an investment rate of return.

That's the next difference, the public had an upside: back in 1979, the government received warrants and actually made $400 million (over $1 billion today). Now, the government is about to give the Big 3 and a number of suppliers a low interest loan which may have no upside return. (Details are not in the legislation and may depend on the rules developed by the Bush Administration.)

And there were other conditions on the Chrysler loan, requiring Chrysler to operate more socially responsibly. Little of that here--although the loan is supposed to be aimed at re-tooling for the next generation of more fuel efficient automobiles. Let's hope the Bush Administration's rules assure that this is the case.

There are better ways to help the auto industry. For one, its health care costs are huge and put it at a competitive disadvantage to many of its overseas competitors. If the industry needs relief, how about its leaders spearheading a fight for universal health insurance?

Apart from the details of how this ''rescue'' is structured, it raises an interesting question in tandem with the Wall Street bailout: what happened to economic conservatism?

Liberals and conservatives divide on a long list of economic issues, but the biggies are commercial regulation, countercyclical efforts to support the market--including deficits, and government activity in the marketplace.

Conservatives generally oppose regulation and deficits, support the market through investment--rather than consumer--incentives, and oppose any government replication of marketplace activities.

But in the past few weeks, Republicans have undermined these traditional positions. Long ago, they let go of balanced budgets. Now, their efforts at deregulation appear hopeless as the current financial crisis establishes the need for sound regulation of the marketplace.

Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain has also announced a massive subsidy for home owners--consumers. Supporting consumers rather than investors is liberal turf. Meanwhile, the government is increasingly active at assuming both lending and insurance roles--as part of a plan devised by a Republican administration.

It's one thing for conservatism to lose an election. It's another thing to lose its reason for being.

In a two party system, the pendulum has to swing back eventually, although, in the U.S. progressive policies virtually never roll all the way back (despite who's in power, we still--fortunately--have the New Deal's programs, Medicare, the Civil Rights Laws, et cetera, et cetera).

Hey, maybe disco will make a comeback as well.

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