Fuel Costs Aren’t Making Airlines Eco-Friendly

As discussed in an article in The Economist today, airlines should theoretically be becoming more and more “green.” Fuel costs are normally the largest single cost for airlines and rising fuel costs aren’t good for the airline or the customer. One might assume that airlines would pursue fuel efficiency with their bottom line in mind, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, at least not with the most profitable domestic Airline (2009-2011), Allegiant Air. Allegiant was found to actually be the least fuel efficient airline for the year of 2010 in a report recently released by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).
While it is certainly counter-intuitive that the most profitable airline can also be the least fuel efficient, there are other factors that play into the sometimes ambiguous cost/profit setup of airlines.

Still, The Economist asks the question that I have to echo: “If the bottom line cannot force airlines to be more fuel efficient, what can?” One of the many possible answers to that question is fleet, since almost one-third of the efficiency gap between airlines can be attributed to differences in fleet. Here’s to hoping for the employment of greener planes down the road.

[Thanks, The Economist]

High Fuel Costs End Carriers' Longest Routes

#OnTheRoad On Instagram: Lake Placid, New York

When driving from New York City to Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains, it’s hard not to be struck by how green everything is compared to the urban jungle of Manhattan. And now, this corner of the Adirondacks is promoting another kind of greenness in its quest to earn the title of America’s most environmentally friendly travel destination. This Earth Day and week, I’m exploring this fascinating region, as well as the components of an eco-conscious vacation. It’s not just about hanging up your towels if you don’t want them washed; it’s a whole state of mind. Feel free to follow my #OnTheRoad adventure on Instagram at @GadlingTravel.[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Culture Shock In Green California, Where Even Homeless People Drink Craft Beer

homeless drinking beerI live in a very left-leaning community just outside of Chicago, a city that would sooner elect a Martian than a Republican to office. But even though I’m accustomed to mingling with people who listen to NPR’s “Car Talkin order to feel like honorary members of the proletariat and cast stink eyes at people who fail to bring their own bags to Whole Foods, traveling to California, the state that invented cool, still presents a kind of culture shock.

We went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, traveling in a carpool lane for much of the way, and noticed that all the best parking spots were reserved for hybrid cars. On our Africa tram ride at the park, our driver gave us a lecture on how to drive (slow down, come to complete stops, use proper tire pressure) in order to help us be more green. Afterwards, we repaired to a nearby mall to get my sons, ages 3 and 5, slices of pizza and noticed a Caucasian family all eating with chopsticks in the food court.

I approached the mother and told her I was impressed that her children, who ranged in age from 4 to 15, were using their sticks so deftly.kid eating sushi“They’ve been eating sushi and using chopsticks almost since they were babies,” she explained. “The trick is to tie them together with rubber bands for them to practice.”

My son, James, is such a bad eater that he actually nibbles around the exterior of McDonald’s chicken nuggets so as to avoid eating the stuff that is supposed to resemble chicken in the middle. If we can’t find pasta, pizza, mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese, McDonald’s or peanut butter, my kids are in trouble, but these kids eat sushi for God’s sakes?

In Laguna Beach, we had dinner at a fast food Mexican place called La Sirena Grill and when I asked the cashier why the food was so good, I got another dose of eco-California.

“Everything is all natural,” he said. “The fish is wild, sustainably caught. The mixed greens and the rice and beans are all organic. The meats are humanely raised and even these containers are made out of corn.”

We stayed at my brother’s home in North County and noticed that he has three cans for different types of garbage and recycling provided by the city. And if you’re anywhere near the Pacific, you’ll see legions of surfers, cyclists using bike lanes and nary an overweight person in sight. (Although there are a startling number of people in this state who supposedly need medicinal marijuana for various health problems!) Chain restaurants in California are required to display the calorie count next to menu items and many other restaurants do so as well.

waterless toiletIn San Diego, our hotel encouraged us not just to keep our same sheets and towels but also to decline housekeeping altogether. And in a La Jolla cupcakery (organic, of course), we encountered an eco-friendly waterless toilet. Is it any wonder that 7 of the country’s top 30 greenest cities are in California?

And if you’re looking for a psychic, a tarot card reading or some kind of eastern style wisdom seeking, California is certainly the place for you. In Encinitas, I saw this enormous complex with golden domes (see photo) and a sign advertising “Self Realization Fellowship” and thought, only in California.

One of the other things a traveler can’t help but notice in California is that there are homeless people everywhere. A 2011 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness put the total population of homeless in California at 135, 928, while other estimates put the figure at closer to 200,000.

self realization center encinitasAs a traveler who covers a lot of ground on foot, I’ve encountered dozens of homeless persons every day so far in my travels around Southern California and it isn’t possible to help them all. Southern California’s mild climate makes it about as good a place as any for homeless people in the United States but it’s hard to know if most of the homeless here are native Californians, people who moved here on a wing and a prayer to follow a dream that didn’t work out, or people who were already homeless and moved here to take advantage of the warm climate.

Whatever the case may be, at least some of them apparently still retain their good taste in beer. I saw a young, heavily tattooed and pierced homeless man drinking early in the morning in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and at first I thought he was drinking some kind of cheap 40-ounce beer. But upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a 22-ounce bottle of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale.

Along that same brighter culture shock angle, it’s practically illegal to drink Bud Light or other bland, mass-produced beers in San Diego and other parts of Southern California. In hipster circles around the country these days, it’s socially acceptable to drink either very, very bad cheap beer, like PBR or Old Style, or craft beer, but certainly not Bud, Miller and the like. There might be people drinking bad beer in San Diego, but I certainly haven’t noticed them.

Last night in San Diego, I was in the mood for some good beer, so I did a quick Google search of brewpubs in the area and found that there were at least 32 to choose from. It’s no wonder that Men’s Journal named San Diego the best beer town in America. I ended up at the Coronado Brewing Company, which serves up a pretty damn good English Brown Ale, but the dizzying selection of places almost had me feeling nostalgic for the days when cities had just a handful of places to drink good beer and it wasn’t so hard to figure out where the hell to go.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, eyeliam and Darin Barry on Flickr]

Ritz-Carlton to put environmentally-friendly water bottles in hotel rooms

There’s a human element to hotels that often goes unnoticed by its guests. Beyond the check-in desk and past the steel “Staff Only” doors are employees with real feelings and concerns about the communities in which they live, and those emotions are apparent in the social efforts made both inside and outside the hotel. From clean-up programs to rescue efforts, hotels have consistently offered ways their staff and guests can give back. Simply put: I love when good brands do good deeds.

The Ritz-Carlton announced today it will offer environmentally-friendly water bottles at its North American hotels and select properties in the Caribbean. This news comes at a time when many travelers are seeking information on the oil spill clean-up efforts, and is another example of how the hospitality industry is working hard to help build social awareness around our top environmental issues.

According to a statement from the hotel, an estimated 5 million, 16oz-plastic water bottles are used every year at Ritz-Carlton properties. Armed with this information, Simon F. Cooper, president and chief operating officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, challenged his team to find a more environmentally-friendly solution.”Four years ago I realized that we were sending 10 million plastic bottles to landfills in North America, and we have been working with suppliers ever since to change that,” Mr. Cooper told me.

Fast forward to today, and guests at Ritz-Carlton’s North American hotels and select properties in the Caribbean will now drink from a 16oz all-natural water bottle made entirely from plants. The co-branded water bottle, part of a new partnership between The Ritz-Carlton and Prima, can decompose in 30 days in a commercial composting facility, or can be reprocessed and remade 100 percent into new bottles.

Manufacturing the new bottle requires 49 percent less fossil fuels, 45 percent less energy, and 75 percent less greenhouse gases than a classic plastic water bottle. The renewable Prima water bottle is made from Ingeo, a performance plastic comprised of 100 percent renewable resources.

“Plastic bottles are made from crude oil, take a significant amount of energy to produce, and less than 20 percent are sent to recycling facilities. Even when recycled, these bottles cannot be used to make the same quality of plastic,” Cooper said.

Earlier this year, Marriott International (which includes The Ritz-Carlton Hotel brands) announced the launch of a water conservation project in China. The new Prima water is expected to transition to all North American and select Caribbean properties within the next few weeks.

Hotel Review: The Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico

Formerly a Holiday Inn (and long before that, a 60’s era tennis club and hotel), the Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico underwent major renovations as it transitioned from chain to independent hotel. The local ownership remained the same, but the decor, attitude, and commitment to the environment is all new.

The vibe here is young – both the GM and the chef are the youngest to hold those titles in any hotels in the San Juan area. The sleek lobby features a colorful hanging chandelier as its focal point, and the bar, Coladas, is full of the hip and sexy people until late every night. The rooms have been completely redone, with the addition of mini-fridges, LCD TVs, iPod docks, better-quality bedding, and organic bath products.

Additional green features have also been implemented. The staff uniforms are made from recycled polyester, the used cooking oil from the kitchen is converted to biodiesel, the stationary is both recycled and recyclable, and the water used in the kiddie water park adjacent to the pool is reused. In the year that all lights have been replaced with LED lights, energy consumption has decreased by 50%.

We recently stayed at the Verdanza Hotel and discovered that, while the vibe is sleek and sexy on the surface, traces of the old Holiday Inn still seem to linger. The parking lot clearly visible from the pool’s green vinyl lounge chairs suggest its former incarnation, while the white and orange pod-like chairs in the Eighty 20 Bistro and the complementary wired internet access point to the future. The added services and special events go above and beyond what you’d find at any Holiday Inn as well.

Over breakfast, the hotel’s Director of Public Relations, Lorraine Ortiz, explained that the goal of the 222-room Verdanza Hotel is to provide the feel of a smaller hotel with a more personalized experience. Services like custom-made picnic baskets, free pedi-cab rides to the beach (which is less than a five-minute walk away) and special events like Art and Friends, a monthly exhibition of works from young artists, do just that.

The Verdanza Hotel is located one mile away from the airport – just look to the left as your plane lands and you’ll see it – in the Isla Verde district. While it’s close to the beach it is not conveniently located for those who wish to explore more of Old San Juan. A 20-minute 75-cent bus will take you into town from the hotel, but to get back later in the evening, you’ll need to spring for a $20 flat-rate taxi back. Rates at the Verdanza Hotel range from $160-200 per night, so if your goal is to spend time in Old San Juan, you’d be better off staying in in the city and saving money on transportation each day.

The Verdanza Hotel offered a media discount on the room, but the views expressed are entirely my own.