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On the road: Where to go green

Being an environmentally friendly traveler pays off

By KEITH ROCKMAEL - Greenerati.com

Most travelers are used to seeing the green flow from their wallets and purses when they hit the road, but Northern California travelers are increasingly seeing the green aspects of eco-traveling. Green, of course, is the color of environmentally friendly practices, but it also represents the money travelers can save if they travel with the environment in mind.

Santa Cruz, of course, offers many eco-friendly events, restaurants and hotels. Here’s a sampling of what’s available in the wild green yonder.

Do you know the green way to San Jose? It’s not exactly Santa Cruz in terms of green awareness, but hybrid-driving overnight hotel guests at the lavish Fairmont can take advantage of free parking (normally $22).

“Most of our environmental initiatives are driven right here, by our hotel employees who want to do things better. And we are extremely proud of them,” says Cyril Isnard, the Fairmont San Jose’s general manager.

Further up north the more green-thinking San Francisco offers many options. The Argent Hotel encourages guests to drive to San Francisco via their hybrid vehicle by offering overnight parking for half the price ($21 plus tax). Argent general manager Brian Hughes, who uses casual carpool on a daily basis, believes it’s the responsible thing to do.

“Rising gas prices are not the only reason to find alternative ways to get around the city,” he says. “In general, I want us to do our part in encouraging things that help our environment.”

San Francisco eco-friendly sleeping accommodations wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Triton, Monaco and Villa Florence, part of the Kimpton Group chain which maintains EPA certification for all of its properties. It’s not just some fancy branding or marketing as the properties’ environmentally friendly practices include using non-chemical cleaning products and water-saving faucet, toilet and shower head upgrades.

Those who partake in the complimentary happy hour at Villa Florence will find that organic wines (Full Circle and Fetzer) hold the spotlight for two of the 12 months. During the morning it’s all about organic coffee and tea. They have even managed to find the green side of art with their new Garbino recycling can. One of the original trash cans sits in Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture and Design in New York and Kimpton just placed a branded version of these modern art receptacles in all their rooms.

With all this driving around greenheads might consider investing $49.95 in an alternative driving auto association — the Better World Club. This Portland-based club offers many of the same services as AAA (including roadside help and auto insurance). But Better World donates one percent of its revenues to environmental organizations that seek to reduce fossil fuel usage and global warming.

When a member buys a roundtrip domestic airline ticket from Better World, the group donates $11 to support programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Better World’s progressive thinking can be seen as it is the first U.S. club to offer roadside assistance for bicyclists as well as the first to cover domestic partners. The company’s travel club offers eco-travel options, discounts on Budget’s hybrid car rentals and a large collection of vacation homes for rent.

Hybrid-driving and eco-conscious Mendocino visitors took advantage earlier this year of the two-for-one-night hybrid-driving special at the romantic Little River Inn. Three years ago the owners installed solar panels, a move that resulted in an annual reduction of 20 percent on energy usage.