Sustain-Ability: St. Julien Hotel & Spa

Judith Weinraub - July 22nd, 2014

Sustainability is an issue chefs, restaurateurs, and hoteliers can no longer afford to ignore. Complicated, moving target though it is, shifting property and practices to a more environmentally conscientious approach can pay dividends in customer loyalty, goodwill with the community, brand image, and yes, even the bottom line. Over the coming months, FoodArts.com’s new sustainability column by longtime Washington Post reporter and Kellogg grant recipient Judith Weinraub looks at case studies of how restaurants and hotels grapple with the multifaceted issues surrounding sustainability.

A hotelier operating a luxury property expects to provide clients with excellent service; an exquisitely trained staff ready to meet any request; beautifully designed rooms; state-of-the-art bathrooms; elegant restaurants; often a swimming pool—the list goes on.

But what might not be at the top of everybody’s list is a mandatory recycling and sustainability program that significantly reduces the amount of waste generated by the hotel. Despite the good works value of such a program, it might be thought to be too complicated or costly. But that’s exactly what’s going on at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa in Boulder, Colorado.

No surprise—Boulder was a natural for such a program. “It’s a forward-looking place,” said James Farrell, sustainability consultant for the hotel, which was built in 2005, and the leader of its Green Committee. But when Farrell came on in 2007, the hotel had no sustainability program, and his marching orders from the owners included developing such a system, and with a minimal budget.

Now there is composting at all of the St. Julien’s food and beverage outlets and in all the guests’ rooms. Depending on the number of events at the hotel each month, its staff composts anywhere from 11,000 to 20,000 pounds of material—garbage, bottles, cans, newspapers, cardboard, steel cans.

The compost goes into a three cubic yard bin about five feet tall and six feet wide at the back of the hotel. Three times a week, the bin is emptied and the material is taken to an eco-composting facility to be processed. Before the system was put in place, the hotel generated as much as 33 tons of material a month that ended up in a landfill. Now that amount has been reduced to about 3.5 tons a month.

The hotel estimates that 80 percent of the materials they dispose of are either recycled, composted, or donated, and the remainder goes to the landfill. “People are amazed when they hear how much waste we’re diverting from the landfill,” said Farrell.

Initially, it took a month or so to put the system, and its extensive training program, in place. “There was a little bit of resistance,” he said, “especially for staff members who don’t compost at home or even know what the process involves because it could have been conceived as making their jobs harder.” But these were short-lived hurdles. And the program does require ongoing training and reminding—especially when there are staff turnovers.

Now the staff overall has become accustomed to the routine. “People understand what’s expected of them, and there’s a general buy-in from the servers and managers to the owners,” said Farrell.

Others have noticed and praised the St. Julien’s commitment. In 2013, the hotel received a Stars of the Industry Award for Good Earthkeeping from the American Hotel & Lodging Association for its continuous effort to reduce its impact on the environment. The local community is pleased as well. Said the Boulder County’s business sustainability advisor Leigh Cushing, “The St. Julien Hotel & Spa is committed to doing its part to minimize its impact on the environment.”

Said Farrell, “From day one, we make it clear that there are certain values we ascribe to in our roles as environmental stewards.”