Green Hotels: Unusual eco initiatives that make a difference

The toilet-top sinks at the Good Hotel conserve water with each flush.
The toilet-top sinks at the Good Hotel conserve water with each flush.

These days, almost every hotel asks guests to save the planet by reusing their towel. But a growing number of properties are taking their environmental friendliness way beyond the bare minimum: Eco initiatives like graywater systems, cooking oil recycling, and -- one of our favorites-- toilet-top sinks, are paving the way for a greener future in the hospitality industry. Below, we've outlined ingenious eco initiatives that the average hotel guest has probably never heard of -- yet.

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Toilet-top sinks: Although water-efficient measures like low-flow toilets, showers and faucets are becoming increasingly common ( you can find them at the Residence Inn Washington, D.C. , the Crosby Street Hotel, and the Lenox Hotel, among others), Good Hotel in San Francisco has implemented one of the most inventive water-efficient fixtures we've ever seen: A toilet-top sink. Each flush prompts a stream of clean water from the toilet-top faucet, which flows for a full minute and drains into the bowl to be used for the next flush.

Staff uniforms made from recycled bottles: We love it when hotels use recycled materials, like the pillows made from old hotel blankets at the Good Hotel, the disposable cups made from compostable corn at the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui, and the recycled teak wood furnishings at the Nu Hotel. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua even dresses some of its employees in recycled materials: Uniforms for the front of house staff at the are made from recycled bottles.

Cooking oil recycling: At the Aura Restaurant at the Seaport Hotel in Boston, the oil used to cook your food might later power your biodiesel engine. The kitchen recycles its cooking oil -- a waste product that too often ends up in sewers -- to be used to make a cleaner type of biodiesel fuel.

The Seaport Hotel recycles its restaurant's cooking oil to be used for biodiesel fuel.
The Seaport Hotel recycles its restaurant's cooking oil to be used for biodiesel fuel.

Wash, rinse, repeat: Properties like the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco and Hotel Shangri La in Santa Monica have graywater systems to purify and reuse recycled water. Hotel Nikko resuses water from second and third cycle washing machine rinses in its laundry system, and the Shangri La purifies water from washing machines, dishwashers, sinks, and showers for irrigation.

Wind energy use: Hotels save energy in a number of ways, from the the motion-sensored HVAC systems at the W San Francisco to the energy-efficient light bulbs at dozens of properties, including 70 Park Avenue in New York. But we're especially impressed with hotels that not only use less energy, but use renewable energy: The Residence Inn Washington, D.C. has solar panels on its roof, the Hotel Shangri La and the Palazzo Resort have solar panels to heat their pools, and The Lenox Hotel purchases renewable wind energy, which allows it to offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions and air pollution from electricity use.

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