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Green is BIG among local businesses in the Valley

Eating and sleeping is hospitable and sustainable in the Valley

Owners Steve Hartmann and Laura Glassover of The Nereledge Inn Bed and Breakfast in North Conway. Rachael Brown. (click for larger version)
December 31, 2009
"Mount Washington Valley is our most focused area in [sustainable] lodging and we are trying to build the restaurant side," says Michelle Veasey, New Hampshire Sustainable Lodging and Restaurant Program's (NHSLRP) manager. Veasey who has headed the program since its inception in 2005 works with the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association (NHLRA) and the state's division of Travel and Tourism to both promote and certify sustainable or "green" establishments.

"Our program began in March 2005 with a very limited reception. At first it was the leaders in environment and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) that got involved," says Veasey.

AMC's sustainable commitment

AMC's commitment to environmentally friendly practices can be seen in the building construction of the Highland Center in Crawford Notch.

"We wanted to build a model facility with green systems, green practices and offer green tours. It's a mountain classroom, focusing on natural sciences," says Rob Burbank, public affairs director for the AMC. "We invite the outside in, we are about the outdoors," he adds.

The use of energy efficient triple glazed argon filled windows helps bring the outdoors in. The Highland Center also heats using an ultra-low emissions boiler system, uses composting toilets, landscapes with native plants, uses green cleaning products and utilizes reclaimed timber. The Highland Center has achieved Environmental Champion status, the highest certification from NHSLRP.

The NHSLRP has grown since 2005. "We have reached a membership of 80 now. This has grown into a respectable group — most of this in lodging — since we started the restaurant just two years ago," says Veasey.

The New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Department also recognizes green practices and has recently partnered with NHLRA to help define green lodging. There is a search feature for green lodging on the state's Web site and even AAA is putting out a new green guidebook in 2010, explains Veasey.

The NHSLRP is free to all. A business does not have to be a member of the NHLRA to join; however, NHLRA members do enjoy some additional benefits such as reduced conference fees.

Veasey explains the program: Interested applicants are asked to share their commitment to green practices and the environment with guests and employees. New this year is a point-based system where applicants can attain three different levels of sustainability by practicing sustainability in these focus areas: Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation, Waste Reduction, Hazardous Waste Reduction and Education. Veasey says the points-based system helps get people involved. The three levels include: Endorsing Partner, Environmental Partner and Environmental Champion.

Nereledge Inn sets great example

AMC was an early adopter of the program and right here in the Valley, the Nereledge Inn Bed and Breakfast followed. Owners Steve Hartmann and Laura Glassover have been with the program since the beginning. For them, sustainability was more of a life style than a business decision.

"We gravitated towards recycling paper in work and everyday life; we promised ourselves we would incorporate regardless of the cost," says Hartmann. For Hartmann and Glassover, recycling was a natural. You see, they came from New York's Long Island, where recycling is mandatory.

The couple purchased the inn in 2004 and immediately went to work replacing old chemicals with earth friendly products.

"We use Vermont Organics for our cleaning products," says Glassover. "We replaced all the little shampoo bottles with large bottles and use liquid soap that's refillable instead of bar soap," she adds. Glassover says this helps with preventing cross contamination and it is only every so often that guests ask for "real soap."

"This cuts down on a huge amount of packaging. I see a direct correlation — the guests appreciate this," says Hartmann. He adds that they have replaced all the light bulbs with compact fluorescent and that anything they replace is done so with more energy efficient products, like washing machines and refrigerators.

Making the effort to become sustainable is not hard. Hartmann and Glassover have been members of the Mount Washington Valley Green Team and belong to the Mount Washington Valley Bed and Breakfast Association, where they are registered as a sustainable property.

"Most of us [in the association] were surprised at how well we were already doing recycling; most were doing something like changing out light bulbs," says Hartmann. "It is really not a big expense. Everyone thinks you have to do this overnight and have to change your lifestyle, but it is really the simple things that make a difference," he says.

Local restaurants go green, too

Green is on the menus for local restaurants, too. Though not too many restaurants have participated in NHSLRP, some are practicing sustainability on their own and the big food suppliers are helping, too. Local food sourcing is big; so big that according to a recent poll by National Restaurant Association, of the top 10 trends for 2010, half fell into the organic and sustainable categories.

Locally, Jonathan Spak, chef/owner of the Oxford House Inn in Fryeburg, has green on his menu and like Hartmann and Glassover he says the choice is a lifestyle decision first.

"Doing this [being sustainable] for our customers is a secondary benefit," says Spak. "We have always had a garden, it has been easy to adapt and we buy our produce locally from Weston's and Sherman Farms," he adds.

Spak says they buy 90 percent of their produce from the local farms. His menu reflects the commitment to local food sourcing and notes that his wife, Natalie, crafts this message on the menu: "As many of our ingredients as possible are sourced from local farms, including fruits and vegetables, beef, eggs, honey, maple syrup, cheese, milk and even potato vodka. We work closely with Weston's, Sherman's, Green Thumb, Peppermint Fields, Fly Away, Burnt Meadow and Ram's farms to keep us in supply of fresh and natural ingredients."

There are challenges to providing locally sourced foods. One is the seasonality of products and the other is sourcing bulk supplies. Spak says that he can get tomatoes from Kathy at Sherman Farms until November and then it's time to use the produce he has been able to freeze.

Corn freezes well. "We have a freezer full of corn — it's amazing, we roast it, cream it and it's great," he says. Spak says that when he needs 60 racks of lamb, it's hard to source this locally. That's where the big suppliers come in and because of chefs like Spak the suppliers have been paying attention to local food sourcing, too. "Because I can't get some things locally, I have beat up my suppliers," he says.

And beating suppliers up works.

The big suppliers like Sysco Boston and Performance Foodservice (PFG) NorthCenter (Maine) have been paying attention and realize that sustainability is a lasting trend.

Sysco Boston, which supplies to southern New Hampshire and parts of northern New Hampshire, not only supplies its customers with locally sourced products, but also has reduced their own energy consumption.

"We have saved over 500,000 miles driven by our trucks by using an XY delivery system," says Ralph Freije, director of sales in northern region Sysco Boston. He explains that the delivery system cuts out criss-crossing, is more streamlined and customers get all their products delivered on one truck. Freije notes that the company sources tomatoes from Backyard Beauties in Madison, Maine. Sysco is committed to green practices and has gone as far as changing the Y in the Sysco logo to green and leaf like.

The other big supplier, PFG NorthCenter, also recognizes green practices. Allen Acker, PFG NorthCenter's corporate chef, shares a personal and professional interest in local food sourcing — this is a focus of his. Acker consults with local restaurants about menu profitability and also works with the manufacturers who want his company to sell their products.

"We are a member of the Mount Washington Valley Originals [restaurants] and our focus is with the independent restaurants and regional chains," says Acker. NorthCenter is a broadline supplier of food goods and hard goods, Acker says of the 9,000 products they supply, 1,100 are locally or regionally sourced. Like Spak, he notes the challenges of the seasons in the North Country and even though items like lettuce have to come from California during the winter, the company makes sure they never send trucks cross country empty either way. "The biggest disconnect [in getting local products] is the distribution," he says.

PFG NorthCenter buys as much as they can locally. "For us and/or me, it is important to know where the food is coming from. We do as much as possible with vendors within a 300-mile radius," says Acker. PFG NorthCenter buys fish from a local fish monger at the Portland, Maine docks, and has added Grandy Oats out of Brownfield, Maine. Grandy Oats is popular with their college and university accounts. It was the interest in sustainability on the part of colleges and universities that got PFG environmentally conscious, explains Acker.

Like Sysco, PFG NorthCenter is working to reduce their carbon footprint.

"I believe we are the first broadline distributor to use 100 percent wind power. Reducing our carbon footprint may cost us more money upfront, but the effect is unmatched. We try to lead the way," says Acker.

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