Hotel Gavarni is the greenest little hotel in Paris. But you wouldn't know it unless you a) did your research a b) took some time to have a conversation with hotel manager Xavier Moraga, Hotel Gavarni's own eco-chic Parisian.
Tucked away just off Rue du Passy in the chic shopping district of the 16th arrondissement, this 25 room hotel is luxurious and at the same time offers an easy and relaxing charm that is both welcoming and discreet...and eco-friendly. It carries the European Eco-Label rating, equivalent to North America's Green Keys.
The staff is there to help with all your requests, whether that's picking you up at the airport in a hybrid Prius, getting you instantly connected to their complimentary Wi-Fi or guiding you on how to make the 5 minute walk to the Musee' de la Mode at the Trocadero or the 10 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower, they'll do so graciously and with good manners. They'll also readily engage you in conversations about the state of solar paneling on buildings in Paris (problematic because many of the buildings are heritage or historical) and in gray water management, a topic often reserved for the most sincere eco-ists.
Parisian Green Philosophy
Xavier Moraga's green philosophy is to show guests how easy – and subtle – it is to be green in our every day lives and thereby have a big impact on the environment.
He believes that talking about ecology in general, not backed up by actions, no matter how small, and “guilting” people into ecology is not the way to go. Not if you want to see results. The better way is to lead by example and to make those examples enjoyable.
“In Paris we can't change the facade of buildings. We have no right touch the facade, add solar panels, change the windows, things like that. We can't do structural changes but we can do systemic changes. A hotel this size is like a house. All our 'small' actions can resonate with our guests so that they can copy the actions at home,” said Moraga.
Hotel Gavarni, like all good luxury hotels, practices understated hospitality in an atmosphere of quiet elegance. So it follows that you'll only notice the hotel's eco-aspects when you really pay attention.
For example, each of the rooms boasts a jacuzzi bathtub. The warm jets of water pulse on your tired muscles as you lie there, your neck and head cushioned on the back of the fitted soft pillow. You'd never guess that all of the faucets in the hotel's bathrooms have been replaced with valves that save about half the water usage of the average Parisian bathroom. Each of these valves cost about 5 Euros. And by saving half the water usage, they save about half the water bill.
Their complimentary organic breakfasts feature fresh, organic fruits from the market like seasonal melons, cherries, oranges. There are farm fresh eggs and “bio”(organic) jams to accompany your warm croissants and aromatic, fair trade coffee. The hotel has established relationships with local organic farmers so they buy direct. In fact, the hotel even serves as a distribution center for the upscale neighborhood's Community Supported Agriculture co-op, a program that is so popular there's a waiting list to get on.
Green Means Think For Yourself!
Moraga emphasized over and again how being green is simply re-thinking the way you do things. “It's thinking for yourself,” he said. “Even if you're not rich, genius, famous, you can still make a difference.”
For example, the hotel's lights are all LED lights. This switch-over resulted in 10X less energy consumption and a savings of 21% in their energy bill.
Using natural cleaning supplies was also a shift towards the simple, the natural. Vinegar, it turns out, is one of the best cleaners to prohibit the lime build up caused by the hard Parisian water. And vinegar is not just a safe and non-toxic cleaner, it's also very cost-effective.
Being green isn't simply a job for Moraga. Like so many of the green tribe, it's a way of life, it's in the DNA. When he's not at the Gavarni, he and his family are building three apartment buildings and two houses that are all environmentally friendly, even implementing gray water and natural building materials. “It's a small step for man, a huge step for mankind,” said Moraga with a smile when he described his personal projects. He's also just returned from a trek to the Antarctic where he documented the pristine natural habitat of seals and penguins through fabulous photos. “People say the Antarctic is 'all white,' it's not...It's blue!”
Moraga has given green a lot of thought as it pertains to Paris's hotel industry. He's come up with a number of good questions, one of which is why don't the tourist booking agencies, such as Thomas Cook, have a booking search filter for how green a hotel is? For example, people search for hotels based on cost, based on star ratings, so why not based on an Eco-Label rating? After all, it is well documented that the tasteful traveler today is ever increasingly choosing eco options.
He has goals to match his progressive thinking. “We'd love to get the chance to speak with the Minister of Tourism so we could talk about undertaking a campaign about what hotels are doing in Paris to be green. For example, to get a 5-star rating, a hotel should be required to implement at least 10% eco-friendly practices,” he suggests.
Progressively Green: Passy, Paris
A quick walk around the Passy neighborhood reveals even more good ideas. Across the street from the hotel is one of Paris's “Velib'” which are the bicycles on demand. For about 1 Euro per day, you can take one of the bikes, use it, then drop it off at the bicycle station nearest your next destination. On a Sunday afternoon, there were hundreds of Parisians and tourists alike on these bikes swarming the streets near the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero. Municipal programs such as these show that when the city and the citizens are on the same page, great (green) things can happen.
A direction to go in from here would be to focus on building energy retrofits throughout Paris. Moraga is quick to agree. In a city whose buildings predominantly fall under historical preservation, demolition is out of the question. Energy retrofits, including window replacement, however, would demonstrably cut down on energy consumption and also GHG emissions, of which buildings generate even more than transportation.
“It would be great, for example, if there were tax incentives and favorable terms for bank loans taken out specifically for energy efficiency building retrofits,” suggested Moraga. “This could also potentially create a number of good green jobs,” he noted.