In some respects, Washington, D.C., has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to green-friendly endeavors. It was Pierre L'Enfant, in 1791, after all, whose vision for the city included a network of parks, an expansive "public walk," beautiful gardens, and sweeping vistas. The capital today stays true to L'Enfant's plan, as anyone can see who has strolled the 2-mile-long National Mall, biked through the 2,000-acre Rock Creek Park (the nation's oldest natural urban park), or picnicked on a verdant spot overlooking the Potomac River. National Park Service spokesman Bill Line says that "the National Park Service maintains, conserves, and preserves 27% of the land space of Washington, D.C.," which means that the nation's capital has to be one of the greenest cities, if not the greenest, in the country, especially since that percentage does not include parkland maintained by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
The capital continues to build upon its green foundation. Consider these facts:
Not only is D.C. the nation's most walkable city, but it also has the greatest number of walkable urban places per capita, according to the Brookings Institution. Biking, always popular here as recreation, is increasingly a commuter transportation choice. The District has more than 50 miles of bike lanes and hopes to add 30 more miles to city streets, and has partnered with CapitalBikeShare (www.capitalbikeshare.com), a self-service bike rental program, to avail subscribers (membership fees range from $5/24 hr. to $75 for a year) of bikes, kept at stations throughout the city. CaBi currently operates 1,100 bikes at 101 locations throughout the District. Look for bike lanes along stretches of Pennsylvania Ave. and other major downtown streets. Many sightseeing spots are accessible by bike paths along Rock Creek Park and the National Mall.
D.C.'s excellent public transportation system provides another inducement for drivers to leave their cars behind -- though if you do opt to drive, the following D.C. car-rental agencies offer hybrid cars: Zipcars and Enterprise Car Rentals at Washington National and Dulles International airports.
According to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, of Metro's 1,500 Metrobus fleet, 439 buses run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), 117 buses run on advanced technology diesel, and 250 buses are diesel/electric hybrid.
The list goes on, whether we're talking about construction: Washington, D.C., was the first major city to require developers to adhere to guidelines established by the U.S. Green Building Council; hotel trends: most D.C. hotels are incorporating ecofriendly practices into their daily operations and many, like the Willard InterContinental, go even further, adopting nearby parks, for instance, and helping to maintain them; or dining options: from Hook, named as one of the country's top 10 ecofriendly restaurants by "Bon Appetit," to Equinox, known as Michelle Obama's choice for celebrating her birthday, but also as a restaurant committed to using ingredients grown within 100 miles of the restaurant.
If participating in the environmental movement is important to you, why not make like a green-leaning local and leave the car behind to travel around the city on foot, by bike, or by Metro? Dine at ecofriendly restaurants? Go paperless by booking restaurant and ticket reservations online, and by jotting down confirmation numbers, rather than printing the confirmation?
Staying Green in D.C.
D.C. hotels are taking the green cause to heart, though with varying degrees of fervor. The following list, though not comprehensive, is a good starting point for assessing the level of ecological commitment at some D.C. hotels.
- Four Seasons has a behind-the-scenes program that directs various departments toward practices that conserve energy and reduce, reuse, and recycle, whenever possible. The hotel's "It Is Easy Being Green" program allows guests the option of keeping the same bed linens and towels during their stay. In addition, the hotel's Bourbon Steak restaurant cultivates its own herb garden on the property. The hotel uses saltwater rather than chemicals to maintain sanitary conditions in its lap pool.
- All Kimpton Hotels in D.C. participate in the chain's EarthCare program, which uses low-flow toilets, sinks, and showerheads; nontoxic cleaning agents; in-room recycle bins; and a service that allows guests to keep the same linens and towels during their stay, saving on water and energy use. Individual properties go a bit further; for instance, the Madera provides free parking to guests with hybrid cars. All of D.C.'s Kimptons have received silver-level certification by Green Seal, the science-based environmental standards organization.
- The Willard InterContinental buys all of its electricity from such renewable energy sources as wind power. A hybrid car is available for guest transport. All of the hotel's light bulbs are now low-impact fluorescents. The hotel invests in local environmental causes, such as the cleanup of the much-polluted Anacostia River and maintenance of Pershing Park, across the street from the Willard.
- Phoenix Park Hotel has a green procurement program, "Irish Green Goes Extreme," which includes recycling goods and purchasing recycled goods as much as possible; using energy-efficient light bulbs and sensors, timers, and nontoxic cleaning supplies; and installing low-flow showerheads, sinks, and toilets. The hotel also offers guests the option of keeping the same linens and towels during their stay to conserve water and energy, and reduce the use of detergents.
- All Marriott properties, in D.C. and elsewhere, have low-flow toilets and showerheads; fluorescent lighting in place of standard light bulbs; and linen reuse programs. Marriott partners with several environmental groups, including Conservation International and the National Audubon Society, to determine ways to reduce its carbon footprint. The company in 2010 rolled out a "green hotel" prototype, whose design will reduce a hotel's energy and water consumption by 25%; Marriott intends to use the prototype as it develops new hotels, starting with its Courtyard by Marriott brand.