If you spend a weekend at Inn Serendipity in Browntown, Wisconsin, you can tell your friends your vacation actually helped renew the environment. Owners John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist have thought of everything: They'll even purchase a certificate for you from Trees for Travel, which will plant a tree to offset the CO2 you used to get to their place via plane, train, or automobile.
This two-bedroom inn is a model of sustainability. You name it, they've got the latest eco-friendly version. All the meals are vegetarian, and come mostly from the inn's extensive organic garden.
Although the business isn't making the owners millionaires, it is allowing them to take exceptional care of the land. "We're a new kind of farmer," Ivanko says. "We're more concerned with the stewardship of the land and the health of the soil than with what we're making per acre." Ivanko is now helping others go green. He and Kivirist wrote Rural Renaissance, a book that tells you how to make the move from urban to rural.
Today there are more sustainable inns than ever, a trend that can be tracked at www.greenpages.org, a directory of socially and environmentally responsible companies that includes listings of eco-friendly B&Bs.
Owners of Inn Serendipity for eight years, Ivanko and Kivirist offer tips to help you make your home or business more eco-friendly without going broke:
Replace carpets (which can emit noxious chemicals) with hardwood floors. The oak in the kitchen of Inn Serendipity is forest stewardship certified.
Install renewable energy sources. Ivanko and Kivirist have a wind turbine and a photovoltaic system. If you can't invest in a renewable energy system, Ivanko suggests participating in green energy programs offered by local utility companies.
Conserve energy. Turn off the lights when you leave a room; buy a refrigerator that's more energy efficient.
Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, which are getting better and better. "The flickering has gone away," says Ivanko, "they're smaller, and the quality of light has improved."
Hang your clothes out to dry instead of using a dryer. Ivanko insists this can be done whether you live in the country or the city, or under rainy skies or sunny ones.
Use products with recycled content for your bathroom floor. Ivanko and Kivirist used tiles made of recycled glass.
Overhaul your bedroom using organic or local materials. If the cost to the environment of shipping the materials outweighs the benefits of the organic, buy local.
Use fans as much as possible instead of air-conditioning. Inn Serendipity's home office has an air-conditioning unit, but fans cool the other rooms.
Replace old, drafty windows with dual-pane, energy efficient versions. "True, they're expensive, but they save money on heating bills," Ivanko says.
Buy a woodstove built after 1990. They're more efficient and emit fewer pollutants.
Mary Bolster is a former Executive Editor for Yoga Journal.