Victoria Erhart



Locals may complain about the crowds, lack of downtown parking and of out-of-state drivers who insist on trying to navigate narrow Upper Canyon Road in huge SUVs, but Santa Fe is a tourist destination.


When the national economy tanked in 2008 and the tourists stayed home, Santa Fe’s hospitality and restaurant industry took a huge hit. The Santa Fe Visitors and Convention Bureau estimates that, in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available), tourism brought in $350 million to the local economy. The hospitality industry employs almost 16 percent of the total county workforce.


Santa Fe is particularly alluring to educated outdoor enthusiasts—visitors who seek meaningful experiences and who not only have green, but are green. Two hotels are especially aware of the growing green tourist market: the venerable La Fonda on the Plaza, at the intersection of the Camino Real and Old Santa Fe Trail since 1922, and the five-year-old Hilton Buffalo Thunder Resort and Spa on Highway 84/285, a 15-minute drive north of town. Each hotel has instituted a number of green initiatives, both in response to guest inquiries and as smart business practices.


A couple of months ago La Fonda broke ground on one of the most extensive renovations ever to its guest rooms. The hotel intends to meet or exceed the 37 Hospitality Green certification standards in the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, with particular attention to reducing energy- and water consumption. Careful attention is also being given to the preservation of the hotel’s historic cultural assets. La Fonda remains open during the renovations. No staff has been laid off. The goal is to welcome visitors to Indian Market in August with newly designed guest rooms.


Under the direction of Santa Fe LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified architect Barbara Felix, the rooms are being returned as much as possible to the original vision of architect John Gaw Meem and Harvey House designer Mary Jane Colter. Felix is noted for her sustainable and economically viable designs. Thermal-pane windows, blackout curtains and pre-set thermostats are being installed in the 100 rooms facing Water Street, along with, in some instances, energy-efficient French doors. The hotel’s heating, cooling, plumbing and communications systems are also being thoroughly modernized.


With 395 rooms plus a spa and golf course, the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder Resort, a joint venture between Hilton Hotels and the Pueblo of Pojoaque, is the largest resort hotel in northern NM. Much thought went into designing environmentally conscious infrastructure systems. Low-E windows conserve energy by reducing heating and cooling demands. Sierra Pacific Windows, a participant in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, constructed exterior doors throughout the hotel complex. (Sierra Pacific grows more wood than its harvests each year.)


Water use or misuse is a contentious issue in our arid region. La Fonda is hooked to Santa Fe’s municipal water and sewer system. Buffalo Thunder is responsible for its own water and sewer systems. The resort built its own wastewater treatment facility that can recycle up to 500,000 gallons daily. This greywater irrigates the gold course. Buffalo Thunder operates the second-largest laundry facility in the state. Using a specially designed “tunnel washer,” the laundry recycles as much of 70 percent of its rinse water for laundry reuse. After reuse, this water is diverted into the greywater treatment system for additional use. The resort estimates it reuses 5 million gallons of rinse water annually. To help accomplish this, cleaning and laundry products that will not contaminate the greywater system are used. Buffalo Thunder has also installed dryers with special extractors to reduce both gas consumption and emissions by as much as 50 percent.


Even for those facilities whose budgets don’t allow for building to LEED standards or extensively retrofitting existing infrastructure, both hotels serve as models for green initiatives on a smaller, cost-effective scale that, over time, generate substantial positive environmental impacts. La Fonda and Buffalo Thunder have installed lower-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, as well as low-flow toilets. Water savings per guest room per day average one bathtub of water.


Visitors to northern NM often talk about the beautiful natural light that has inspired so many artists. With that in mind, natural lighting has been restored to La Fonda’s famous La Plazuela restaurant. In the hotel’s offices, guest rooms and public areas, CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs have been installed, which use 75 percent less energy and last considerably longer than incandescent bulbs, allowing for savings in labor needed to replace burned-out bulbs. LCD TVs and electronic signage installed at La Fonda also require much less energy.


La Fonda Hotel and Buffalo Thunder Resort are proud of their ties to the surrounding communities. The hotel kitchens are committed to buying as many regionally sourced menu items as possible. However, while there is increasing availability of locally grown products, many area producers tend to be small-scale and seasonal, and hotel restaurants deal in economies of scale. In 2012, the food, beverage and catering unit of La Fonda served approximately 250,000 meals. The hotels are looking forward to a more varied and dependable local food supply chain.


Both hotels have expanded recycling programs in operational areas and guest rooms. During its renovation, La Fonda is committed to recycling as much of the construction materials as possible. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore is a major beneficiary of this effort. As part of the hotels regular operations, the recycling program extends to guest rooms, where there are small bins or recycle bags for plastic bottles, glass containers and aluminum cans. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to power a home computer for three hours, and recycling aluminum cans is 90 percent less energy-intensive than manufacturing new cans.


Both hotels have reduced paper consumption by using digital receipts and email to communicate with guests and vendors. Paper recycling and shred bins are in offices and guest areas. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 carbon-absorbing trees, 3,800 gallons of oil, 4000kW of energy and 7,000 gallons of water. Using scrap paper instead of purchasing $1,000 of new copy paper prevents the emission of 3,373 lbs. of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


Switching to cloth napkins and tablecloths has also allowed the hotels to reduce paper consumption. La Fonda’s discarded sheets, towels, pillowcases and tablecloths are donated for reuse by local shelters or charitable groups. Some of Buffalo Thunder’s laundry and housekeeping discards are donated to the Española Valley Animal Shelter.


Any business, regardless of size and age, can initiate or expand on these sorts of initiatives. There is no limit to the creative re-uses for common household or business items. We can all play a part by using less and re-using more.



Victoria Erhart, a freelance writer and would-be farmer in the Nambé Valley, teaches at UNM-Los Alamos and writes on topics related to spirituality, sustainable lifestyles and companion-animal welfare issues.




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