Category Archives: Travel

Eco-Friendly Hostels – Hawaii, Boston, Washington D.C., U.S. Virgin Islands

Looking to travel on a budget and still find Green accommodations? Check out this selection of eco-friendly hostels available via

– All accommodations fashioned from recycled materials and renewable products.

– Instead of a typical hotel room, sleep in a converted school bus, a bamboo hut, even an old tractor.

– 3 acres of land, breathtaking views of the ocean and a volcanic crater. Even the outdoor toilet has a jungle view.

– Live off the land by taking advantage of gardens full of spices and salad greens.

– Take a kayak trip down the Charles River

– Hotel’s Green characteristics include recycling stations, energy efficient lighting and appliances, recyclable carpet and low-flow plumbing.

– Walking distance from hostel to Newbury Street shopping, Quincy Market, and Fenway Park. Surrounding neighborhood contains some of the area’s top-notch bars.

– Eight blocks from the White House.

– Each floor has its own recycling center.

– All paper used at reception is 100% recycled, CFL bulbs used throughout the hostel, eco-friendly soap used in kitchen.

– Environmental documentaries screened monthly.

– Stay in a tree house overlooking the ocean and pristine St. John beaches.

– Other lodging options include ecotents and cabins

Disclaimer – HostelWorld provided the information in this post. has not personally experienced or verified any of the eco-friendly amenities or features described above.


Green Travel in Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Florida

Getting fit at The Breakers (image courtesy of Palm Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Getting fit at The Breakers (image courtesy of Palm Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau)

The town of Palm Beach, Florida may be one of the richest communities in the United States (#26 per capita, if you believe Wikipedia), but money isn’t the only thing that’s Green down there.

Your intrepid correspondent spent a long weekend braving the sun and surf (not to mention the crazies on I-95) to seek out some of the eco-friendly travel highlights in Palm Beach and its surrounding County.

– The famous Breakers resort in Palm Beach not only maintains an organic herb & vegetable garden to supply its restaurants, it also runs a weekly Green Market (November to May) that gives employees access to fresh produce from local farms. Not content with just making a difference at the resort itself, two members of The Breakers’ executive purchasing team (Geoffrey Sagrans and Rick Hawkins) founded an independent, non-profit organization called Localeopia to match local Florida farmers and organic food producers with nearby chefs and restaurants. This locavore initiative not only gives customers fresher food, it also helps preserve farmland while cutting out the greenhouse gas pollution associated with transporting food cross country.

The oceanfront pool at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach (photo via Four Seasons website)

The oceanfront pool at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach (photo via Four Seasons website)

Palm Beach County contains numerous natural and wild areas. Some of the highlights include the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (221 square miles of Everglades), a portion of the 110-mile LOST trail around Lake Okeechobee, the 90-acre Okeeheelee Nature Center in West Palm Beach and the 325-acre MacArthur Beach State Park where you can go kayaking among the mangroves.

– Yes, it sometimes seem like everyone is driving either a Bentley or a Ferrari (neither of which are known for their MPGs), but you’ll also see plenty of joggers and bicyclists taking advantage of Palm Beach’s flat terrain and well-developed trail system.

– You can get a little tipsy in style while still maintaining your eco-cred at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach thanks to organic cocktails like the Herb Garden Mojito served in The Restaurant.

The very beautiful, very pink Boca Raton Resort & Club (photo via resort website)

The very beautiful, very pink Boca Raton Resort & Club (photo via resort website)

– The Boca Raton Resort & Club gained admission to Florida’s Green Lodging Program last year. In addition to expected eco-friendly programs (recycling, fluorescent light bulbs, use of Green cleaning products), the resort installed an electricity-saving energy management system and reclaims enough water to support 90% of all exterior landscaping!

– Enjoy some peaceful contemplation at the Morikami Museum & Park in Delray Beach. The museum tells about the Japanese settlers who created a Floridian colony called Yamato in the early 20th Century.  Paths lead visitors through 200-acres of gardens representing various eras in Japanese landscape design.

– Pick up fresh and local fruits, vegetables, breads, pastries, plants and more at the West Palm Beach Greenmarket, open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (October – April) at 2nd Street and Narcissus Avenue in Downtown West Palm Beach.

Disclosure – The Palm Beach County CVB facilitated my trip to Florida. The Four Seasons and the Boca Raton Resort & Club each hosted me for two nights.

Eco-Travel in Colorado: Boulder, Fort Collins, Estes Park and Pawnee Grasslands

Hiking path in Boulder Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Hiking path in Boulder Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

This just in – Colorado has mountains!

OK, it’s not exactly the newsflash of the century, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who ever flew into Denver (where I’d spent my entire previous trip to Colorado) and wondered whether the distant outline on the horizon was in fact the Rocky Mountain range.

Well, after spending a week in northern Colorado bouncing around between Boulder, Fort Collins, Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park, I can in fact report that the mountains do exist.

(Although truth be told they look remarkably similar up close to the fake mountains at the Disney theme parks, especially the Big Thunder Mountain ride. I kept expecting a theme park coaster full of screaming kids to materialize from behind an escarpment at any moment. Nonetheless, despite the resemblance, I’m prepared to believe that the Rocky Mountains are not just a creation of Uncle Walt.)

And now, with apologies for such extensive throat clearing, I present a few nuggets (pun intended) of information on eco travel in northern Colorado.

Boulder – The Denver Post has described Boulder as a “little town nestled between the mountains and reality.”

It’s true. Boulder is very close to the mountains – and it is a bit separate from reality. There’s a certain vibe here as though the 60’s never ended. Strolling around the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall on a Thursday afternoon, my wife and I encountered a sizeable crowd sitting in the shade and listening to a duo of folk singers. I don’t think I had smelled so much incense in the air since graduating college.

Later that night, in the courtyard of the sophisticated yet comfortable St. Julien Hotel & Spa, a much larger crowd rocked out in unpretentious glee to the upbeat sounds of a Brazilian band, while women and children hula-hooped on a grassy lawn.

Here’s the best way I can sum up my experience in Boulder. When the valet at the St. Julien found out I was writing a story on the place, he told me how much he loved the town for its “gentle” vibe. I’ve never heard anyone else describe their town as gentle, but it really does seem to fit Boulder.

Anyway, back to the St. Julien. With its in-room recycling bins, its use of low-VOC materials (carpets, paints and wall coverings), its use of earth-friendly cleaning products and its decision to avoid any leather products, the St. Julien has a long list of eco-friendly qualities. The hotel’s restaurant – Jill’s – not only serves a seriously delicious buffet lunch (salads, pizzas, sandwiches, soup, fresh bread, etc.), it does so while sourcing as much organic produce and humanely-farmed livestock as possible, composting its food waste and recycling its cooking oil for the creation of biodiesel. The hotel recently planted an on-property herb garden to make sure Jill’s had plenty of locally-grown ingredients for its recipes. Some of these same herbs are then incorporated into the St. Julien’s spa treatments. Expect to pay approximately $240-260/night for a room at the St. Julien this fall.

Prickly pear flower in Boulder Colorado's Chautauqua area (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Prickly pear flower in Boulder Colorado's Chautauqua area (photo by Aaron Dalton)

We took advantage of another eco-friendly perk at the St. Julien — free use of cruiser bikes for hotel guests. The cheery bikes look cute and retro, but the lack of hand brakes may frustrate some riders. That grumble aside, the hotel is practically across the street from an entrance to one of Boulder’s nicest bike paths that threads alongside Boulder Creek.

The St. Julien also sits close by the Chautauqua Park area, part of more than 45,000 acres of open space land owned by the city of Boulder and managed by the department of Open Space and Mountain Parks. The Chautauqua area is not only convenient to downtown, it contains a variety of trails leading right up to the famous Flatirons rock formations that serve as beautiful backdrop to the town.

You’ll frequently see Boulder appear at the top of city lists for its livability and healthy environment. For example, the town attracts a wealth of athletes who come to train in its sunny, high-altitude environment. But it’s the community that really makes Boulder special. The city is proud of its claim to be the first city in the U.S. to tax itself for the acquisition, management and maintenance of open space back in 1967. The city’s residential green building code dates to 1996 – another first.

That community has attracted the type of people who own Green companies including Namasté Solar, IZZE sparkling juice, Pangea Organics (previously reviewed on, Horizon Organic, Fiona’s Granola and Ellie’s Eco Home Store.

Delish beet salad @ Black Cat Farm Table Bistro in Boulder (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Delish beet salad @ Black Cat Farm Table Bistro in Boulder (photo by Aaron Dalton)

The city is considered to be a fine-dining destination. We didn’t spend enough time in town to confirm or deny that reputation, but I will say that chef Eric Skokan’s Black Cat Farm Table Bistro cooks up some awesome organic and local dishes. I was particularly impressed with the beet salad (sliced paper thin) and the cucumber soup (refreshing and clarifying on a warm evening). Service was warm, friendly and informal – par for the course in Boulder.

In short, it’s a bit silly trying to describe everything that’s eco about Boulder. Let’s just say that Green-minded folks will breathe deeply of the clean mountain air and feel instantly at home. For plenty more Green info on Boulder, visit the Environment page of the Boulder CVB.

Amazing cyclists on the beautiful Peak to Peak Byway - the roundabout route between Boulder and Fort Collins (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Amazing cyclists on the beautiful Peak to Peak Byway - the roundabout route between Boulder and Fort Collins (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Fort Collins – This college town (home to Colorado State University) has a great reputation. Among the many awards won by the city, residents seem fairly proud of the  2006 designation by Money Magazine, which called Fort Collins the best place to live in the U.S.A.

More recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council placed Fort Collins #3 on a list of ‘Smarter Cities’ based on environmental standards including use of renewable energy, creation of green space, encouragement of alternative transportation and energy-efficient building techniques.

Speaking of alternative transportation, the 280+ miles of bike lanes and 30+ miles of bike paths have helped Fort Collins achieve a Gold level designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community. Recently, the city installed new bike racks downtown with the help of New Belgium Brewery, a local institution praised as much for its eco-sensibility as for its awesome microbrews.

Visitors to Fort Collins can take a tour (and tasting) at New Belgium, learning why the brewery’s signature beer is called Fat Tire and about the important role bikes play in the company’s culture.

I have a lot of respect for companies and communities that are willing to put their money on the line alongside their Green sensibilities. Just as the citizens of Boulder took a hit to their pocketbooks when they voted to tax themselves to preserve Green space, so too did New Belgium’s employees take an economically irrational decision back in 1999 when they voted unanimously to give up profit-sharing bonuses for 10 years in order to pay a premium for wind-powered electricity.

Full bike rack outside New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado (photo by theregeneration via Flickr)

Full bike rack outside New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado (photo by theregeneration via Flickr)

New Belgium also has a sweet policy of giving employees a free cruiser bike on their one-year anniversary with the company.

Meanwhile, the company isn’t slowing down on its efforts to become Greener by diverting more waste from landfills and planning installation of a solar photovoltaic array. Basically, I came away super-impressed by New Belgium’s ability to turn challenges into beautiful eco-friendly solutions. Faced with the destruction of the state’s beautiful lodgepole pine forests by beetle infestation, New Belgium decided to use some of the fallen dead trees to build its new packaging hall. When the company had to find a better way to treat wastewater from its brewing and packaging activities, it built its own treatment facility that captured methane gas and used it to power a co-gen plant that supplies up to 15% of the company’s electrical needs.

And did I mention that the beer is pretty tasty? 😉

Incidentally, Fort Collins also has other well-regarded microbreweries (Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins Brewery and Coopersmith)  and a massive Anheuser-Busch macrobrewery.

Fort Collins also has an ambitious project underway to create the world’s largest zero-energy district. Called FortZED, this district encompasses the historic downtown and the main campus of CSU, aiming to reduce energy demand and simultaneously meet the remaining demand with Smart Grid technologies including wind and solar energy.

Colorado State University also plays a major role in Green research and development. The university’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory (EECL) looks for ways to make engines more efficient and investigates potentially useful biofuels like algae. If you happen to be visiting Fort Collins with a group of at least 7 other eco-minded friends, you may be able to organize a tour of EECL by contacting Stacy Grant at CSU.

While in Fort Collins, eco-minded visitors might like to sample the yummy organic/vegan fare at Tasty Harmony. I enjoyed the jackfruit taco and the awesome berry smoothie.

If you’re looking for a little adventure, Mountain Whitewater Descents offers rafting trips on the Cache la Poudre river, Colorado’s only Wild and Scenic River. I’d been rafting once before and had unintentionally gone swimming a couple of times on that previous trip, so I was a little anxious about the ride, but the Cache la Poudre trip actually turned out to be just the right mix of relaxing floating and adrenaline-pumping rapids. MWD’s prices range from $49 to $109 per person for half-day or full-day rafting trips. (Since the rafts are human-powered and go downstream with the current, the experience seems relatively benign and eco-friendly for the river. Of course, there are diesel-powered buses involved in bringing the rafts and people upstream to the put-in point, so the experience can’t be classified as totally eco-friendly, but MWD does give back to the environment with an annual river cleanup, tree-planting to offset carbon emissions, purchases of wind-power credits (with a goal of being 100% wind-powered) and donations of 2% of gross receipts to non-profit organizations. The company also lives the recycling credo in its everyday life by re-using salvaged lumber and materials in its office and recreation areas.

Oreo - resident cat at the Armstrong Hotel - needs a bigger chair (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Oreo - resident cat at the Armstrong Hotel - needs a bigger chair (photo by Aaron Dalton)

If you’d rather park your car and spend your time walking and biking around Fort Collins, I’d suggest staying at the Armstrong Hotel, a 1923 landmark that was restored in 2004. With free wi-fi in every room, a great location and free cruiser bikes available to guests, the Armstrong was a great home base while in Fort Collins. Cat lovers take note — lazy kitty Oreo seems to spend all day snoozing away in the chair next to the front desk and is perfectly happy to be petted whenever you like.

If you want to get out of town and enjoy nature, the city of Fort Collins does have a Natural Areas Program funded by citizen-initiated taxes and encompasing more than 32,000 acres of land suitable for hiking, biking, bird watching and horseback riding – most of which are open from early in the morning (5 a.m.) until late at night (11 p.m.).

Two other quick eco tidbits about Fort Collins. The city has a Climate Wise program to help businesses figure out ways to reduce waste, save energy, conserve water and promote alternative transportation. And in case you’re not staying at the Armstrong, there’s also a local Bike Library in Fort Collins where you can borrow a bike for up to 7 days at no cost.

Oh and in case you’re in the market for a lithium-ion powered tricycle, I just read about a new electric bike shop called RunAbout Cycles that relocated to Fort Collins.

Morning view across lake in Estes Park, Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Morning view across lake in Estes Park, Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Estes ParkEstes Park is one of the gateway towns for Rocky Mountain National Park, which gives eco-minded travelers more than a quarter million acres of rugged land with almost 360 miles of trails, 150 lakes and more streams, vistas and wildlife than you can shake a stick at.

If you’re looking for non-motorized ways of exploring the beautiful countryside around Estes Park, consider a horseback ride from Aspen Lodge or an exhilirating downhill bicycle tour with Colorado Bicycling Adventures.

(Be sure to wear warm clothes on the cycling tour. I was freezing in just a t-shirt in the middle of July. I also was happy that I’d taken the relatively gentle North Fork tour rather than the windswept, high-altitude Trail Ridge Tour. Plus the North Fork riders get to enjoy the awesomely delicious cinnamon rolls from the Glen Haven General Store.)

If you’re looking for a good meal in Estes Park, consider the Rock Inn, which we found to have a comfortably casual atmosphere, welcoming service and even some organic ingredients on the menu (coffee, tea, apples, quinoa, etc.). You might also enjoy the unbeatable lakeside view in the Shores Restaurant at the Lake Shore Lodge hotel.

The clear mountain air and high elevation make Estes Park a lovely place for star-gazing. Amateur astronomers will get a thrill out of visiting the newly-opened Estes Park Memorial Observatory with its 16-ft. diameter observatory dome, its Meade 12-inch LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and its gracious staff. The observatory has two open houses scheduled for August (15th and 29th), but I believe you can make appointments to visit on your own at other times by emailing the observatory directly.


Timeless shortgrass prairie and modern wind farm practically invisible on the far horizon at the Pawnee National Grassland (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Pawnee National Grassland – For most tourists, Colorado equals mountains for skiing, hiking or just sightseeing. But the fact is that much of the Eastern section of the state consists of high prairie. Most of this high prairie has been developed for farms, ranches or cities, but you can still see nearly 200,000 acres of the grassland in their native form at the Pawnee National Grassland.

This is definitely the road less traveled. Conditions can be extreme on the grasslands – very hot and dry in summer, dangerously cold and snowy in winter. But if you’ve got a hankering for wide open spaces and a desire to see something like the views that the first caucasian settlers must have seen as they crossed the plains, the grassland can’t be beat.

As a bonus, the Grassland has a reputation as a world-class birding destination where bird enthusiasts come to see raptors, hawks, burrowing owls, thrashers, lark buntings, numerous kinds of sparrows and literally hundreds of other species of birds. Guides to the Pawnee National Grassland urge birders to do their birdwatching from the car so as not to disturb birds or scare them away from nests. Since the Grassland is actually a patchwork of private and public land, staying on the numbered roads is also essential. And since many of those roads are unpaved and not even graveled, be sure to check the weather reports since rains can apparently make many of the roads impassable.

Your intrepid editor hiking the Pawnee Buttes on the Pawnee National Grassland

Your intrepid editor hiking near the Pawnee Buttes on the Pawnee National Grassland

If you come to the Grassland, make a point to seek out the Pawnee Buttes, remnants of an ancient landscape that has been mostly eroded away by the action of wind and water over millions of years. A hiking trail leads to the base of the Buttes – just be sure to watch your step to avoid cacti and prairie rattlers.

If you’d like to spend a night out on the grassland, you can try to get a room at the West Pawnee Ranch B&B. For more creature comforts, the most convenient urban base close to the Pawnee Grassland would be the city of Greeley, an interesting place in its own right that began in 1868 as a utopian agricultural colony founded by Nathan Meeker, agricultural editor of the New York Tribune. Meeker named the town after his editor at the Tribune, Horace Greeley, whose name has become inextricably linked with the 19th Century ralling cry, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

Today, the country has certainly grown up and moved on. The countryside that Americans like Meeker, Greeley and others knew less than 150 years ago has mostly disappeared, but remnants like the Pawnee Grasslands endure and provide a glimpse back into another world.

Well…even the view isn’t quite untouched. On the horizon, a line of bluffs marks a boundary with Wyoming and a wind farm atops the bluffs provides an inspiring clean energy sight. I think this might be the Ponnequin Wind Farm owned by Xcel Energy.

If your curiosity for the Pawnee National Grassland has been aroused, definitely check out these gorgeous photos of the Pawnee Buttes by Rick Dunn.

(I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked in Greeley, but the town seems to be home to some interesting cultural attractions including Kress Cinema & Lounge and The Greeley Philharmonic – oldest continually running orchestra between St. Louis and San Francisco!

Afterthoughts –

1. Prius – I had a chance to drive a Toyota Prius for the first time in Colorado – not the new 3rd-generation Prius but the second-generation version. I’ll save a full review for when I get a chance to test drive the 3rd-generation car, but generally I was very impressed with the vehicle. Green Car Congress notes that the 1st generation Prius had a combined mileage rating of 41 mpg, the 2nd generation car had a mileage rating of 46 mpg, while the 3rd generation Prius has a combined mpg rating of 50 mpg.

Amazingly, even at high altitude and with lots of uphill mountainous driving (and of course lots of corresponding downhill rides), I managed to get over 50 mpg in the 2nd generation Prius. This gives me great home for achieving even better mileage in the 3rd generation car. I found the car’s feedback system simultaneously exciting and annoying — I liked knowing exactly what impact my driving habits were having on fuel efficiency, but I also found that it distracted me a bit from the road, the scenery and the pleasures of driving.

Still, in the end, 50+ mpg can’t be beat. I loved driving around Colorado for a week and then topping up the tank for $16 and change.

2. Denver Airport Solar Array – On my way back into the airport to fly home to NYC, I noticed a large solar array on the approach to the airport. This is certainly the biggest airport solar installation I’ve ever seen and one of the biggest solar arrays I’ve witnessed firsthand. Information online indicates the array generates more than 3 million kWh of electricity, enough to provide half the energy for the underground train that connects the terminals at DIA.

I also noticed that some of the limited-access highways near Denver allow bicycling on the shoulder of the road. What do you think of that? Clever idea or recipe for disaster?

Eco-Travel – Nashville (Hutton Hotel, aloft Nashville-Cool Springs)

View of Tennessee State Capitol from Nashville's new Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

View of Tennessee State Capitol from Nashville's Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

Last month, I had the pleasure of taking a trip to Nashville, Tennessee. What a fun place! From its beautiful countryside and charming residents to the thriving music scene, Nashville makes an excellent, affordable vacation destination.

But how about from an eco-travel perspective? Well, I didn’t have time to bike around Nashville, but I did see quite a few bike lanes and they were getting some use by the locals.

My initial assessment is that the existing bike paths will need to be expanded and connected to give Nashville a true alternative to car commuting, but the city is compact enough that a better bike infrastructure could make Nashville a wonderful biking city. Nashville does have a Strategic Plan to create an integrated bikeway network, so hopefully the system will become more comprehensive in the years ahead.

I didn’t have a chance to ride public transit either, but the uncrowded buses seemed to run pretty frequently.

There is no light rail within Nashville, but a rail line (the Music City Star) recently started service from Nashville to points east. The downtown Nashville station looked spiffy and new.

(For what it’s worth, I don’t think it would make financial or logistical sense for a city the size of Nashville to put in light rail, but a trolley system of the sort prevalent in Vienna or Prague could work quite well here.)

Bamboo-filled lobby at Hutton Hotel (photo via hotel website)

Bamboo-filled lobby at Hutton Hotel (photo via hotel website)

Eco-travelers have a couple of exciting options in terms of lodging when visiting Nashville. Right near Vanderbilt University and convenient to Downtown is the Hutton Hotel, which just opened earlier this year. The Hutton has some serious eco credentials having just hosted the North American Summit of former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Project.

Bedroom at Hutton Hotel (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Bedroom at Hutton Hotel (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Built inside the completely gutted and renovated shell of a former office building, the Hutton is chock full of eco-friendly amenities. For instance, the lobby and guestrooms use bamboo flooring and furniture. Interior and exterior lighting uses energy-efficient LED and compact fluorescent fixtures. Remarkable Kone EcoDisc elevators use a low-friction, gearless design to reportedly achieve 70% energy savings over traditional elevators.

Dual flush toilets in the guestrooms (designed by a local company called Baden Bath) and waterless urinals in the public restrooms help save water. Soap dispensers in the guest rooms cut down on the use of plastic bottles.

Mod bathroom at Hutton Hotel (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Mod bathroom at Hutton Hotel (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Hutton employs the key card system prevalent in Europe where guests must insert a card into a slot when entering their guestroom in order to active the room’s lights. When guests take their card on exiting the room, the lights automatically shut off 30 seconds later, saving even more energy.

Meanwhile, the hotel’s restaurant 1808 Grille has gotten rave reviews in the local press. The restaurant has made a commitment to serve locally-produced wines and beers and Whole Trade coffee (from Allegro Coffee Company, which also provides organic tea bags in the Hutton’s guest rooms). I believe the restaurant also places an emphasis on sustainable seafood and using organic ingredients when possible. Some of the restaurant’s furnishings involve the use of reclaimed wood, saving natural resources.

While it’s certainly possible to walk from the Hutton to Vanderbilt and even to Downtown Nashville, the Hutton also offers a hybrid courtesy car for use within 3 miles of the hotel. That 3 mile range easily covers trips to the convention center and nightlife in the downtown District.

Meanwhile, for Nashville visitors who prefer a bit of distance from the downtown hubbub, the Aloft-Nashville Cool Springs hotel located about 20 minutes south of the city offers another good eco-friendly option.

Owned by Starwood and associated with the W Hotel brand, Aloft Cool Springs has a number of eco-friendly touches including the use of cork building materials, sustainably-sourced wood venees and in-shower soap and shampoo dispensers (cutting down on the use of disposable plastic bottles). Various online sources indicate that Aloft hotels use biodegradable, eco-friendly cleaning products both within the rooms and on the hotels’ pools.

If you do choose to stay at the Aloft Cool Springs, you’ll be right nearby the town of Franklin, recently honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a 2009 Distinctive Destination.

One more note for bicyclists – the area near Nashville is home to the northern terminus of the Natchez-Trace Parkway, a 444-mile road maintained by the National Park service that offers a beautiful and relatively safe bicycling option from middle Tennessee to the far Southwestern corner of Mississippi. We wanted to bike a little bit of the Parkway, but ended up only having about 30 minutes to drive a tiny piece of the road. In that time, we saw only about five cars and an equal number of bicyclists. Seems like a lovely route for long-distance cyclists.

Nashville Zoo's eco-friendly dining options (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Nashville Zoo's eco-friendly dining options (photo by Aaron Dalton)

PS – Nashville has a great zoo that helps spearhead conservation efforts for endangered animals like the clouded leopard. In addition, I was surprised and pleased to find out that zoo’s cafeteria  has eschewed petroleum-based plastics in favor of renewable and biodegradable plates, cups and utensils made from such materials as sugarcane, corn and potato! Handy signs (like the one pictured in the unfortunately dark photo above) explain to zoo visitors that all plates/cups/utensils are compostable, biodegradable and designed to ‘return to nature’ in 45-60 days. Pretty cool.

Eco-Travel – Athenaeum Hotel’s Living Wall

Giving new meaning to the term ‘green hotel’, London’s swanky Atheneum Hotel has installed a living wall covered in a mosaic of live plants.

The Athenaeum Hotel's Living Wall (photo courtesy of Athenaeum Hotel)

The Athenaeum Hotel's Living Wall (photo courtesy of Athenaeum Hotel)

Wrapping around the hotel’s facade, this 10-story high garden covers nearly 2,800 square feet of space.

Guests staying at the recently refurbished hotel can enjoy even more greenery thanks to the hotel’s proximity to Green Park.

Heys USA Eco-Case Luggage

The Green product world is a strange place.

In certain categories such as clothing, cosmetics and cookware, consumers have a vast array of eco-friendly choices.

But in other categories, it’s nigh impossible to find a single Green option.

We used to think that luggage fell into this second category, until we discovered the Heys USA Eco-Case made from 100% recycled plastic.

Introduced in 2008, the Eco-Case comes in three sizes – 28-inch, 24-inch and 19-inch.

It’s also available in at least six colors including black, bronze, pink, red, silver and turqouise.

The turqouise 19-inch sample case we received for testing was so adorable we practically wanted to pick it up and hug it. Had we given in to the temptation, the suitcase probably would have felt at least somewhat huggable thanks to its new ABS plastic formulation that Heys says gives the hard-sided case the flexibility of a rubber band. We think the rubber band metaphor is stretching things a bit – pun intended. You won’t be stretching the Eco-Case across the room, but it does seem to have measurably more flex than a standard hard-sided case.

We’re mystified about why Heys even bothers to offer a 7-year warranty if it’s going to exclude both normal wear and tear and any damage that airline baggage handlers might cause. What does the warranty cover then? Maybe if the Eco-Case spontaneously falls apart in the your storage closet, you can county on the warranty, but otherwise it seems like window dressing.

On the other hand, we don’t imagine we’ll need to test the warranty anytime soon, because the Heys Eco-Case seems like one tough cookie. Four 360-degree spinner wheels from Japan give the case lovely manuveurability, the locking telescoping push-button handle seems rock-solid and all the zippers, lining and other hardware looks and feels top-notch.

Basically, the Eco-Case has the style and substance of a premium piece of serious luggage – with the added Green advantage of being made from recycled plastic.

Heys says the Eco-Case is also 100% recyclable, but we’re not clear on how exactly to bring the materials back into the recycling stream. Presumably you can’t just leave the Eco-Case on the curb with your milk cartons and soda cans.

Where to buy:

A wide variety of e-tailers carry the Heys USA Eco-Case, including ($440 for 3-piece set), ($450 for 3-piece set), ($449.99 for 3-piece set) and others.

Japan Eco-Travel: Solar Shopping Mall, Electric Bikes and Oasis 21

Solar panels cover an Aeon shopping mall in Yonago, Japan (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Solar panels cover an Aeon shopping mall in Yonago, Japan (photo by Aaron Dalton)

I recently returned from a few weeks in Japan.

Naturally, during my trip, I kept my eyes open for the latest and greatest eco-news to share with readers. Here’s what I found:

1) At a remodeled Aeon shopping mall near the western city of Yonago, I found huge sections of exterior wall had been lined with solar panels. As a result, practically the entire building functioned as a solar collector. Other parts of the mall structure were covered in “living wall” type greenery. This eco-minded mall even had mini windmills perched on poles in the parking lot. The mall’s remodeling had let in more natural light, allowing for a reduction in energy spent on artificial lighting.

"Testing" this electric bicycle meant sitting on it (photo by Aaron Dalton)

"Testing" this electric bicycle meant sitting on it (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Meanwhile, I found an electric bike on display at the mall. Having never had a chance to actually ride one before, I hoped to be able to test it out. In one of those comical cases of misunderstanding that often occurs abroad, the salesperson assured me that I could indeed test the bike. But I soon found this meant only that I could sit on the bike as long as I remained still and did not pedal it anywhere. This didn’t really end up being a very useful test of the bike’s electric functionality.

America has giant shopping malls. America has a lot of parking lots. Surely we could be retrofitting some of our shopping centers with solar panels and windmills as Aeon has done in Yonago. All it takes is willpower and imagination.

Looking at the Nagoya skyline from the water-covered roof of Oasis 21 (photo by Emran Kassim)

Looking at the Nagoya skyline from the water-covered roof of Oasis 21 (photo by Emran Kassim)

2) In the city of Nagoya, I took a break from seeing castles and museums to visit Oasis 21. This transit center / park / shopping mall / futuristic spaceship-style structure located in the city’s Sakae shopping district certainly makes an impression.

What makes it eco? Well, the roof of Oasis 21 consists of a very shallow oval pool of water. The water reflects heat, cooling the ground-level plaza and the open-air below-ground shopping center.

Even better, the roof also collects rain water, which it then uses to irrigate the plantings in the park below.

Plus, it makes for a pretty cool place for couples, families and businesspeople on a lunch break to come sit, contemplate the reflecting pool and gaze at the TV Tower and the rest of Nagoya’s high-rise skyline.

I like Oasis 21’s boldness. There are surely less expensive ways to collect rain water, but Oasis 21 places Green ideas on center stage in one of the city’s trendiest districts, showing that eco can be sexy, eco can be dramatic and eco can be architecturally beautiful.

New Tokyo Metro line with protective clear walls between platform and tracks (photo by Aaron Dalton)

New Tokyo Metro line with protective clear walls between platform and tracks (photo by Aaron Dalton)

3) I won’t dwell much on the differences between Tokyo’s mass transit systems and the subway system that I endure in my hometown of New York City. To think too much on the topic would probably reduce me to tears.

In brief, the Tokyo metro is clean, modern, unoffensive, safe, smooth and quiet.

The New York subway is none of those things.

But what I really would like to draw attention to in this adjacent photograph is the fact that some of the newer Tokyo metro stations have walls of glass or plexiglass (not sure of the exact material) separating the platform from the tracks. When the train arrives, the doors of car line up with sliding doors in the glass walls and both open simultaneously, allowing passengers to exit and board the trains.

As a result, I believe that it is practically impossible to be pushed in front of a train in the Tokyo Metro.

In New York, on the other hand, the narrow and crowded platforms present a definite hazard, particularly during rush hour when a few inches or a shove from behind is all that separates a passenger from the fetid tracks and injury or death beneath an onrushing train.

Given the general state of dilapidation and disrepair in the NY subway, it seems highly unlikely that protective glass doors like these will be installed anytime soon. This is a sad commentary on the extent to which America has fallen behind in mass transit best practices in comparison not only with Japan, but with other countries like France where such systems are being installed.

The Muji e-bike (photo by Aaron Dalton)

The Muji e-bike (photo by Aaron Dalton)

4) Finally, not quite satisfied with my brief test of the e-bike back in Yonago, I found an opportunity to rent an electric bike in Tokyo at a Muji store.

For around $15 and a deposit, I had the e-bike for the entire day. This was my first time ever using an electric-assist bike and frankly it was amazingly fun.

The bike was electric-assist – meaning that it would not move unless the rider pedaled. But pedaling up even the steepest hills was no problem with the electric motor on maximum assist. On flatter terrain, I left the electric assist on low or medium settings in order to stretch out the battery life.

Riding the Muji e-bike through Tokyo during cherry blossom season

Riding the Muji e-bike through Tokyo during cherry blossom season

Using an e-bike feels like someone is giving you a gentle push from behind, like when you were first learning to ride a bicycle. The freedom and speed that an e-bike provides is exhilarating, almost giddy.

At the same time, you do still get some exercise pedaling an e-bike around town for a few hours. But what would have been exhausting without electric assist was merely a nice bit of exercise with the motor providing support.

Incidentally, in Tokyo, bicyclists are allowed to use the sidewalks. This made for some extremely interesting close-quarters maneuvering when the office crowds emerged for the lunchtime rush.

(Oh, another cool thing about the Muji e-bike, which apparently is true of all sorts of bikes sold in Japan, is that it has an integrated lock built right into the bike. Turn and take the key with you when you dismount and a bolt shoots through the wheel, making it impossible for anyone to pedal off with your bike. As a result, no one has to carry around a chain or even a lock to secure their bike to a post or tree. Very convenient and easy. Would love to see this feature on bikes sold in the U.S.! Perhaps it is available here already on some models?)

The Muji bike retailed for approximately $800. Unfortunately, Muji stores in the States don’t seem to carry the e-bike, but you can find various electric bikes if you shop around on the Internet or perhaps at your local bike shop.

Amazon sells some e-bikes for reasonable prices, but the $372 eZip Trailz bike appears to use an old-fashioned sealed lead acid battery, whereas newer e-bikes are using lighter and slimmer lithium ion batteries. The Ohm e-bike looks pretty cool, but apparently goes for around $2000.

Based on my experience in Tokyo, I believe that an e-bike could be a real commuting option for people who live fairly close to work (say within 10 miles) and have a relatively safe biking route available. Given the importance of having a comfortable, safe and enjoyable ride, you might want to go to a local bike shop and try out a couple e-bike models in person. If your shop doesn’t carry an e-bikes yet, encourage the owner to start bringing e-bikes to the market.

I’m a believer. I think once people get a chance to try out an e-bike, they’ll be hooked.