Jim Hollister’s eyes shine when he peers into the compost bin in the kitchen at the FireSky Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“This is about a day and a half of food scraps,” he says and continues to explain how the organic waste is sealed in barrels and picked up weekly by a pig farmer in Payson, about 86 miles northeast of Phoenix.
While his enthusiasm for sustainable waste practices is venerable, Hollister isn’t a recycling coordinator or representative of Waste Management; he’s the General Manager for FireSky Resort and Spa, the only Green Seal certified lodging in Arizona.
“It was a labor of love,” Hollister says about gaining the certification. “This property is almost 50 years old. As you can imagine, changing that over was difficult.”
It is also the hotel’s responsibility to ensure it is following even the newest requirements from Green Seal, which audits the property yearly. “It can be very time-consuming,” Hollister says.
There are several basic tenets of a green hotel: lighting and energy, water conservation and waste management, including recycling and composting.
FireSky does all of the above and more – thanks to its operating company, Kimpton, which has strict guidelines that are handed down to its properties as part of the EarthCare program.
Hollister formed a committee of volunteer employees as a check and balance system to ensure Kimpton’s EarthCare programs, which include green cleaning products, recycling options and organic menus, are being followed correctly.
According to Hollister, he didn’t have much trouble getting his employees on board the green bandwagon. In fact, some of the staff members at the spa encouraged even more green initiatives. Still, he points to a training and rewards program as essential to maintaining interest in the green projects.
“It was a very slow rollout,” Hollister says. “We started with recycling first, and we were going to be the best at it.”
Last year, the property diverted 142 tons of trash through these recycling and composting efforts.
Guest Rooms and Lobby
Each of the 204 rooms at the hotel are equipped with recycling bins, low-flow showers and low-flow sinks. The toilets are to be redone as low-flow by the end of this year.
“The recycling bins were something I was really passionate about,” Hollister says. “I wanted specially marked bins. I didn’t want to just put a trash can in every room and say, ‘Look, we recycle.’”
Retrofitting a nearly 50-year-old property was no easy task. Hollister says for many of the programs, it had to go floor by floor, room by room.
“There’s this idea that to go green it has to cost thousands and thousands of dollars, but it really doesn’t,” Hollister says.
Sure, there’s an initial, up-front cost – each sink costs $1.50 to become low-flow, plus lighting changes, showerheads, toilets and other fixtures really adds up. But Hollister says the new lighting alone saves about 10 to 15 percent in energy costs, and in some cases, he actually makes money from recyclables.
The lobby area features no flush urinals in the men’s rooms, energy-efficient lighting and a special free wine hour, where guests can indulge with sustainable, eco-friendly wines.
Wine bottles from the wine hour as well as throughout the hotel, are then recycled by a local artisan, Refresh Glass, and made into drinking glasses that are used in each guest room.
Restaurant and Kitchen
Taggia is the in-hotel restaurant which features a coastal Italian menu. By definition, the menu requires a lot of seafood.
Chef James Siao receives fresh fish from California daily, adhering to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program standards. There is a focus on local, organic foods, beverages and wines. The restaurant even grows some of the herbs on site.
Menus are printed on recycled paper. The restaurant recycles all paper, cardboard, glass, wood, plastic and aluminum, and it doesn’t use polystyrene at all. All of the water fixtures are low-flow, the lighting are LEDs and CFLs and the cleaners are all biodegradable.
“We try to be as green as possible,” says Siao.
In the kitchen, there is a bin for recycling and a bin for compost. All food scraps from cooking, leftovers from plates and anything that isn’t eaten is put into the compost bin, which is collected weekly and sent to the Payson pig farm.
“It was all about getting the right tools in place,” Hollister says.
Outdoors and Landscaping
Green Seal wasn’t too excited about the fire aspect of FireSky, so it came up with a compromise. The torches, as well as the waterfalls on the property, are on timers to turn on and off automatically at optimum times.
The certification group also wasn’t pleased with the amount of grass on the property, so the hotel had to reduce its grass by 3,000 square feet and replace foliage with more drought-tolerant plants. The hotel is also experimenting with a new pool cleaning system that uses fewer chemicals and no chlorine at all.
Hollister says it was a little disappointing at first, but he got used to seeing less greenery and noted that guests can’t tell a difference.
“The green initiatives here changed my life,” Hollister says. “I didn’t even recycle at home before, but I do now. It makes me feel guilty if I don’t.”
FireSky is hosting an EarthCare Week, April 18-25, to celebrate its initiatives and Earth Day. The week will feature a special menu with sustainable foods all week, a free electronics recycling round-up on Wednesday and trade show on Thursday from 5-7 p.m. The trade show with have art, fashion, cocktails, food, music and prizes.