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An Inn Where Guests Can Indulge, Responsibly

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Inn by the Sea offers room service, honeymoon packages, DVDs and, in its restaurant, classic dry martinis. This inviting property, a collection of weathered, low-rise gray buildings set on a pristine stretch of the Maine coast just south of Portland, is keen to keep up the deluxe standards that have earned it a AAA four-diamond rating.

At the same time, managers say they are eager that the hotel -- and its patrons -- do what they can to keep carbon dioxide emissions under control. Lamps in the guest rooms and public spaces have been fitted with energy-efficient light bulbs. In October, the hotel began using a mix of regular oil and fats and vegetable oils instead of pure oil for heating. Air conditioning is not offered in the inn's 43 suites, even in the height of summer: Guests are encouraged to open their windows and let in breezes from the ocean.

In February, the inn began a carbon-reduction arrangement with Carbonfund.org, a Silver Spring organization whose mission is to counter the negative effects of carbon emissions. (See story, Page P1.) Under the plan, guests voluntarily pay a fee to counter the carbon impact of their travels on the environment. The inn sends the funds to Carbonfund.org, which then restores forests in Montana, California and India, among other environmental practices.

"We want our guests to indulge in the things they travel for," said Rauni Kew, an inn executive. "But we also want them to know that the more responsibly we use energy, the longer we'll all enjoy the rare nature that Maine offers."

When I checked out of the inn after a two-day visit last month, the front-desk clerk asked whether I wanted to contribute $2.50 to $7 to the Carbonfund.org initiative, offering a card that explained the dangers caused by climate change and the steps that can be used to combat it.

Derrick Daly, the head gardener, inspired the inn's environmental awareness initiatives six years ago, when he started replacing the annuals and other exotic flowers in the inn's bounteous garden with indigenous perennials. Out went arrays of tulips and other non-native flora. In came bayberries, crabapple trees, milkweed and other species more native to the region. The move sharply reduced the need for insecticides and encouraged native wildlife to return to the area. Daly also halted the blanket chemical spraying that had gone on in the garden for years.

Indoor environmental improvements followed quickly. The restaurant began composting and using the results to fertilize the garden. Guest rooms were equipped with recycling bins. Bathrooms were stocked with organic soaps, and paper bags were provided for guests to carry home used bars. Plastic bags were offered to send expired cellphones and other toxic waste to an appropriate facility.

The changes, manager Sara Masterson said, were designed to align the inn more closely with the ecosystem that surrounds it. Behind the property, just beyond the garden and swimming pool, is a stretch of Crescent Beach State Park. Wildlife -- white-tailed deer, moose and wild turkey -- roam freely in these parts. A prime birding area, it attracts Baltimore orioles, red-winged blackbirds and black-capped chickadees, among other species.

The inn takes to heart its mission to encourage better environmental management in the community. In one program, staffers teach kids about the positive roles insects can play. Daly also offers tours of his garden. "It's one way of showing people that a few pests won't hurt and that letting dandelions pop up in your yard isn't a bad thing," he said.

Last winter, the inn received a "green lodging certification" from Maine's Department of Environmental Protection. The endorsement, state environmental official Peter Cooke explained, is based on the inn's adherence to a number of environmental principles, including the introduction of programs that enhance energy efficiency, educate guests and encourage stronger environmental standards. Earlier this spring, TripAdvisor.com, a travel review site, listed the inn as one of the 10 top eco-friendly hotels worldwide, based on reviews submitted by travelers.

Masterson acknowledges that the inn could do more to reduce its burning of carbon. A plan is underway to make the menu at the Audubon Room, the in-house restaurant, more ecologically friendly by using more local produce, she said. In a planned renovation of the guest rooms, she added, the inn hopes to install carpeting low in volatile organic compounds -- chemicals emitted in the atmosphere -- and possibly more furnishings using natural materials in the guest rooms.

For now, guests are encouraged to recycle their garbage, take home used soap and lounge on the balcony, watching monarch butterflies alight on the ecologically correct greenery.

-- G.L.

Inn by the Sea, 40 Bowery Beach Rd., Cape Elizabeth, Maine, 800-888-4287, http://www.innbythesea.com. Doubles start at $329 per night in summer season, $219 in low season. Southwest flies from BWI to Manchester, N.H., starting at $136 round trip, with restrictions. From Manchester, it's a 1 1/2 -hour drive to the inn. Or fly AirTran from BWI to Portland, Maine, for $280 round trip, with restrictions. The inn is a half-hour drive from the Portland airport.

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