STOWE, Vt. -- In a chilly wilderness filled with pleasant inns in which to cozy down for the night, the Brass Lantern is a modest and relaxed B&B on the outer edge of town. Folks come here for the quiet hospitality, the charming hand-pieced quilts, the eye-popping view of Mount Mansfield, and the knowledge that when they pack up and go they will leave little behind.
Not "little" as in slippers forgotten under the bed, but "little" as in little garbage in the landfill, fewer chemicals in the air, less water down the drain. As a certified "green hotel," the Brass Lantern is a pioneer in an emerging movement to make places that provide accommodations as accommodating to the environment as possible.
At the Brass Lantern -- as at the Appalachian Mountain Club's new Highland Center in Crawford Notch, N.H., and a few other New England inns -- that means most of the light bulbs are fluorescent, paper products are recycled, showers and toilets are low-flow, soap and shampoo come from a dispenser one squirt at a time, towels and sheets are washed only when requested, cleaning products are free of harsh chemicals, and recycling bins are in each guest room.
And that is just the start. "About 85 percent of what we do, our guests never even see," said Brass Lantern owner Andy Aldrich, a former science teacher who has been described as an ambassador for Vermont's green hotels. "If you do too many things that jump out at you, then you detract from the overall experience. You don't want to upset people's comfort levels."
The folks sitting around steaming plates of waffles with strawberry and rhubarb sauce in the inn's stenciled dining room on a recent Sunday morning certainly didn't look uncomfortable.
"Green Hotel Association? So what's that?" asked Paul Hale of New York, who was staying at the inn with his two sons for a weekend of skiing.
Turns out, Hale had used the recycling bins and kept his towel for more than one night, but wasn't aware the inn had gone through an inspection to be certified as a green hotel in the Green Mountain State.
Managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Vermont green lodging program is one of the strictest in the country. Participants go through an assessment, draw up an environmental management plan, and are recertified every three years, according to program director Doug Kievit-Kylar. The specifics, however, change from place to place.
"The properties really go their own ways," said Kievit-Kylar. "We purposely chose not to be so descriptive that every property had to hang the same 'Do not change' sign above the towel bar in the bathroom."
Just how they do comply is as varied as the accommodations themselves. Hotels have put in indoor air purifiers and basement recycling centers. They're running hotel vans on compressed natural gas, donating food scraps to farms, recycling empty oyster shells for roadways, heating with wood.
This concept of greening came from Europe, where hotels have been reducing energy and water use for a generation. There's no one standard on just what makes a hotel "green"; the goal is to use less and re-use more.
"Really, all it takes is the commitment of the hotel's management to save water, save energy, and reduce solid waste. How they do it is up to them," said Patricia Griffin, president of the Houston-based Green Hotels Association, which lists 32 member lodging properties in New England.
At the AMC's new Highland Center, the entire, sprawling, three-story lodge is warmed by a giant wood-burning boiler in a shed located outside for safety.
"A lot of folks wonder, 'Why would a bunch of tree huggers burn wood?' " said Eric Jackel, the center's sales manager. "Well, we tell them, 'Oil is not a renewable resource. It took millions of years to make a gallon of oil, but it only takes 100 years to make a tree.' "
The center, with private and shared rooms and myriad outdoor and environmental programs, is also designed to capture as much daylight as possible, uses carpeting made from recycled plastic soda bottles, has super-insulated walls and $1,000-a-pop, triple-paned, gas-filled windows.
In contrast, the historic, gabled Eastern Slope Inn nearby in downtown North Conway is also on the Green Hotel Association's member list, but there, the only "green" program is recycling and reusing sheets and towels. "I would like to do more environmentally," said Donna Allan, the inn's general manager. "It's not the lack of interest, it's a lack of time."
Even little changes can yield big benefits, however. Hotels where guests re-use their towels and sheets reduce water and detergent use by 30 percent, according to Griffin, whose organization tracks such statistics across the country. Recycling programs can reduce what goes to the landfill by 50 percent or more, she said. And those soap dispensers? They save millions of tiny plastic bottles from going to the dump.
"Honestly, anything they do is better than what they were doing before," Griffin said.
One of the forerunners in the green hotel movement is the Colony, a regal, four-story resort on the coast in Kennebunkport, Maine. Not only does the Colony take all the obvious conservation steps, it also has a director of environmental programs, a recycling chief, and a manager of environmental operations as well as biologist-led conservation programs for its guests. The Colony uses no Styrofoam or plastic trash can liners, cuts used office paper into notepads, offers a "green meeting guide" for business groups, and saves kitchen scraps for birds.
"We've been doing this for so long now, it is second nature for us," said Janet Bird, director of sales and marketing and environmental issues, who has shared details of the inn's program with resorts all over the world. "When we first started it, nobody was doing it, but then people started realizing it's good. We've done surveys, and 85 percent of our guests totally agree with what we are doing. We don't use any toxic cleaning products, and that is one thing our guests really appreciate -- even people who don't care about the environment."
Farther up the Maine coast in the snug, seaside community of Belfast, innkeepers Bruce and Susan Madara recently bought and renovated the stately 1840s Alden House with antique furniture and down featherbeds.
The Madaras have glass-topped dining tables without linens, they compost table scraps, grow their own herbs, buy chemical-free cleaning products, and save kitchen waste water for the plants.
"Even before we purchased the inn, it was something we knew we wanted to do," said Susan Madara. "It is something we have been involved with for most of our lives, anyway. I am just really surprised there aren't more of us."
Back at the Brass Lantern, guests are asked to participate in the inn's ecological programs only as much as they wish. For instance, while the inn has natural bath products in dispensers, baskets with individual bottles of the same products are outside guest's doors, for those who prefer them.For the most part, however, guests participate willingly.
"I think it is great," said Hale, as he and his sons finished their breakfasts and prepared to hit the slopes. "Everyone should do as much as they can, especially in a place as beautiful as this."
Meadow Rue Merrill is a freelance writer who lives in Bath, Maine.