I am a college student who worked for Xanterra Parks & Resorts at Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2013. I was a room attendant for their housekeeping department—you know, the person who you ask for more towels or an extra roll of toilet paper? My fellow employees and I were all trained with a lecture by Dylan Hoffman, Director of Sustainability, on Xanterra’s green practices. In spite of this, during my day-to-day work I didn’t think too much about whether or not the procedures I followed were green—and if they were, why?
Then, in January 2014, I came to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) as an intern. I discovered that Connecticut has a program which allows hotels and inns to become certified “CT Green Lodgings.” To complete this process, the CT DEEP, in partnership with the CT Tourism Office, provides a 15-section workbook with categories and point values that businesses can fill in. Reading through the workbook, particularly the sections on “Housekeeping” and “Guest and Staff Rooms,” which pertained to my work in Yellowstone, I found that I was familiar with a lot of the recommended practices.
So, to what standard does the national park hold its concessionaire? To what standard do we in the real world hold ourselves? How do we compare to this symbol of preservation and undomesticated woodland? The CT Green Lodging program asks that applicants earn a minimum of 100 points in the workbook before they can be certified—there are more than 1,000 possible points to earn. Additionally, the state certification expires after two years, and in order to be eligible for free recertification, businesses need to increase their point total by 30 points. In this way, businesses are encouraged to strive for improvement all the time.
Water Bottle Filling Station Installed
I chatted with Dylan Hoffman to learn more, and learned that Xanterra’s efforts in continuous improvement never cease. This year, two new in-room projects are underway for the first time. At the historic Mammoth Hotel, a water bottle filling station has been installed in the lobby to encourage guests not to buy throwaway bottles. Xanterra is also putting reusable water bottles in guestrooms.
The other new in-room project is starting at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, a beautiful rustic style building near the famously punctual geyser. Instead of putting single-use plastic cups in guestrooms, Xanterra uses reusable glassware, but Hoffman says that recycling glass has always been a challenge in their rural location. Now, there’s a solution: repurposed wine bottles. Wine bottles will be cut halfway down to be reused as water glasses. Branded with a sustainability message, these recycled cups will be available in some guestrooms and also in retail for anyone who desires to bring a token of reuse into their own homes. “This way, we can take something that is seemingly a waste product and turn it into something not only useful, but beautiful,” Hoffman says.
Both of these projects are geared toward conservation, but also toward guest education—section 10 of the CT Green Lodging workbook, and one of the best ways to create a sustainable business. “Xanterra has an annual goal of 100 percent employee awareness of the Environmental Management System, Ecologix,” according to the company’s 2011 Sustainability Report, and from experience I can say that every employee knows about Ecologix. Education for both employees and guests is the most important element in perpetuating knowledge about sustainability, and can also be used to help showcase the ways that a business is going green.
Towel & Linen Reuse Approaches
Educational placards can be used to encourage guests to help businesses with their sustainability initiatives. One example is a Guest and Staff Room policy suggested by the workbook that guests must request to have their towels and sheets changed during a long stay, rather than automatically being washed and replaced daily. This initiative reduces water, energy use and detergent waste. In a Yellowstone hotel room, guests are informed via a hangtag of Xanterra’s policy—towels and sheets will be replaced every four days, unless the guest requests more frequent washing. The option of reducing energy and water waste is explained, so that guests can make a conscious and informed choice. Other initiatives that are both recommended by the workbook and followed by Xanterra employees in Yellowstone include using recyclable key cards and Green Seal-certified cleaning products, as well as refillable amenity dispensers that reduce the waste of the common hotel-size shampoo and conditioner bottles.
As important as guest education is, there are many more ways to go green behind the scenes. “We wash over 2.5 million pounds of laundry over the season,” Hoffman explains. “We go through a lot of linen.” Hoffman told me there are ways to turn even that into a resource instead of a waste. Old towels are dyed and used for terrycloth for cleaning staff in housekeeping and the kitchens. Used sheets are repurposed into laundry bags and dust covers for the furniture in the off-season. Old ribbons from the laundry are being used with repurposed sheets to create reusable uniform bags for employees, replacing thousands of plastic bags used every year. Down at the laundry in Gardiner, where all fresh-faced new employees like me started the season by getting fitted for our uniforms, they fix things, they mend clothing. “They give everything a bit of an extra life,” Hoffman explains, “instead of going along with this increasingly throwaway culture.”
Of course, one of the biggest issues at any facility is waste management. The CT Green Lodging workbook gives points for a number of Waste Management initiatives. Recycling is, of course, a big factor. Xanterra provides recycling containers for guests in both public areas and their private rooms, and employees recycle and compost during all mealtimes and in their living quarters. In 2013, Xanterra’s facilities in Yellowstone diverted nearly 75 percent of waste from landfill disposal through composting and recycling—for operations on this scale, that’s about 4 million pounds. In addition to the common plastic, glass and paper recycling though, TV and mattress management are encouraged, as well as proper Universal Waste disposal. Xanterra doesn’t use televisions in guestrooms, so that makes it simple to not have to deal with disposal. Once, a guest asked me why we don’t provide televisions in our hotel rooms. I spent three months without a TV living in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I had no idea what to say. The concessionaire can’t get around needing mattresses though, so they donated 60,000 pounds of their used mattresses to nonprofits and businesses last year.
Xanterra Purchases RECs
Another big area to consider is energy. Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents and using Energy Star rated appliances, hybrid vehicles and alternative energy sources are only a few of the ways for lodgings to earn big points for energy efficiency in the CT Green Lodging workbook. Yellowstone does the first three, but producing alternative energy was a bit harder. Because on-site generation of renewable energy can be quite challenging within the boundaries of a National Park, Xanterra has included the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) in their environmental portfolio. This is a good way to reduce impact for electric use if there is no way to produce alternatives on-site. Overall they’ve reduced annual energy use by about 2.3 million kWh (or 12 percent) since 2000.
Some of the other areas of the workbook include Landscaping and Maintenance, Air Conditioning, and Swimming Pools and Spas. Xanterra’s minimalist approach reduces the need to make these systems more efficient. With a backyard of high mountains and incredible valleys, there isn’t much need to apply sprinkler systems, with the single exception of the Fort Yellowstone Historic District at Mammoth. In this case, the flat green lawns historically seeded with Kentucky bluegrass enhance the historic value of the location, in concert with the old stone military buildings now in use as park facilities. Even so, there have been upgrades in water monitoring to irrigate the area in the most water efficient way possible. With the naturally cool temperatures occurring at Yellowstone’s high elevation, natural air circulation is all that’s needed to keep rooms sufficiently cool, and so air-conditioning systems aren’t provided. There are no manmade pools in the park, as some of the natural water features are available for public use.
This might be considered the luck of operating in a naturally beautiful landscape, but in any effort towards sustainability minimalism is key. Using native flora instead of grassy lawns and taking full advantage of natural circulation and water features can be useful in reducing both impact and expenses.
We consider Yellowstone a symbol of the natural splendor of this country not yet spoiled by the hands of man—but in order to conserve places like this, we need to implement green practices in lodgings and businesses that are close to home as well. Every citizen of the United States has a stake in the future of Yellowstone, and all the national parks. They belong to us, and we have to make it our responsibility to protect them.
Amy Martin is an intern at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in Hartford, Conn. She is a junior at the University of Connecticut studying Environmental Writing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.