Dear Umbra,

My husband and I are Americans who own a small budget hotel in Rome, Italy. We try to be as eco-friendly as possible: our cafe is local, organic, and vegetarian, we use compact fluorescent bulbs where we can (although cannot find an alternative for the halogen lighting systems we have), we use eco-friendly cleaning products, including the old standbys like vinegar and baking soda, we recycle and use all recycled paper products, and we use vegetable-based paint on the walls.

However, I really feel we could/should do more, but unfortunately, Rome isn’t that eco-friendly. So, for example, one of our largest expenses — laundry — has no alternative other than to use the typical bleach and heat laundry services. There are no ecological laundry services here, and we have too much turnaround to do all of the laundry ourselves. We already use our poor washer to the maximum for our duvet covers as they are unbleached cotton and cannot be washed by the laundry service. We also don’t change bedding or towels every day except for midway through stays of six or more days, so that does help.

Do you have suggestions for any other things we can do to make our hotel even more eco-friendly without breaking the bank? We are a budget place, after all.

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Thanks very much for your time and consideration.

Rome, Italy

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Dearest Linda,

I can’t wait to come visit, when they finish the New York-Rome light-rail system in a few years. Meanwhile, all I could do for you is troll the sea of green-hotel information out there and try to figure what you have missed. There is quite a green-hotel movement, it seems, with various boosters and comradely organizations. If you don’t own a hotel but like to stay in them, there are groups that supply hotel-prodding literature. Ye conference organizers and attendees can find hotel-prodding literature tailor-made for your needs as well.

In green hotels, there’s always rooms for improvement.

Photo: iStockphoto

What makes a hotel “green” or environmentally progressive? For a small hotel such as Linda’s, many of the steps will be similar to those one might take in one’s own home. The practices Linda outlines above include the basics and the added effort: recycling, less-frequent changing of linens, using low-VOC paint, serving local/organic/vegetarian food, switching to compact fluorescent lights, choosing low-toxicity cleaners.

Other steps you might be able to take, Linda, are ensuring the efficiency of your appliances, composting food waste, installing various water-saving gadgets such as low-flow showerheads, and trying to improve the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems through steps like insulating the building (does one do this in Rome?). For a large hotel or a chain of large hotels, the heating and cooling systems are major aspects of their ecological footprint and will be important components of their Plan. I’m not sure your mom-and-pop organization needs to make a Plan, but having one might reveal unnoticed areas and help you feel that you are always moving toward improvement, even if you can’t think yet what that will be.

A Plan could consist of a list of goals, evaluative steps, a timeline, a set of outcomes, and a celebration at the end. You, your husband, and your employees would together set the goals, which might range from reducing water use to increasing staff education to reducing your carbon footprint. If you did decide to reduce water use, the accompanying evaluation would of course be to measure how much water you use and where the use happens. Then with data in hand you can think about ways to reduce the water use, set a timeline for when you can implement the conservation measures, and then celebrate when you achieve the goal (with a nice hot bath … ). Perhaps there are instances where you can’t measure the actual use of a resource; to continue on the water example, maybe you have no way of learning how much water your washing machine uses. Still, you could set a baseline measurement (10 full loads per week, 5 half loads per week) and work down from that baseline.

I found a random list of resources for you — I say random only because I’m not sure how I stumbled onto the page, but it does have a nice bundle of links to international and national green-hotel groups. A few are lists of eco-steps a hotel can take, others are fellowship organizations or advisers, or businesses encouraging you to join their promotional group. I also found, as I mentioned above, an interesting program that assists business and pleasure travelers with evaluating and nudging hotels, the Ceres Green Hotel Initiative. Those of you who plan conferences, or do lots of business travel, might be able to use the Ceres Best Practices Survey to evaluate which hotels should get your business. The BPS also of course gives a good list of the steps hotels should consider (motion-sensor lighting and HVAC systems, environmental purchasing, and more). I hope this is helpful.