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By James A. Fussell, The Kansas City Star, Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sep. 15--Looks like other local hotels will just have to be blue with envy. Green has already been claimed by the new Unity Village Hotel and Conference Center.

In August the 50-room lodge, which opened to the public earlier this year, became only the fourth hotel in the country to be certified as green inside and out by the U.S. Green Building Council. The council promotes responsibility through water savings, energy efficiency, sustainable site development, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Other green hotels are in College Park, Md., Vancouver, Wash., and Napa Valley in California.

Kansas City architecture firm Gould Evans designed the building.

In securing a green rating, Unity's new hotel often exceeded the minimum standards, said Gary Rodgers, Unity's director of hospitality. For instance, green hotels must contain at least 5 percent recycled materials. Unity's new hotel contains 10 percent.

What's more, 50 percent of its construction waste was recycled. As required, it also sets aside a certain percentage of its space for the recycling of paper, plastics, cardboard, glass and metal.

But that's just part of the hotel's environmentally responsible resume.

Take water use. To minimize the building's impact on the surrounding ecosystem, strategically placed basins of vegetation known as bio-swales filter contaminants from storm-water runoff. Because the runoff is collected and reserved for irrigation, the landscaping is sustained by rainwater and doesn't require a sprinkler system.

Inside, water usage is reduced by 40 percent through low-flow showerheads and dual-flush toilets.

To keep auto emissions from entering the building, the hotel's parking lot is across the street. Air quality also is enhanced by carpet, paint, composite wood products, adhesives and sealants that are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be harmful.

"Of any building on the campus, this is the freshest air you're going to get," Rodgers said.

The Mediterranean-style one-story building is energy-efficient, too -- 50 percent more than buildings with conventional heating and cooling. It features 37 deep geothermal heat pumps buried 350 feet underground that use the year-round Earth temperature of 70 degrees to keep the space warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

An energy recovery unit provides a constant flow of fresh air and helps minimize heat loss. Fluorescent lights and motion-sensitive lighting that turns out a light if a guest forgets add to the overall energy savings.

To minimize the construction imprint on the existing environment, the building follows the natural contour of the ground. As a result, one hallway goes slightly downhill as it follows the natural grade of the land.

Even the housekeeping practices are green. Organic cleaning materials are better for the environment, and washable microfiber cleaning cloths are used in place of paper towels. Guests have the option of having their bedding and towels washed every day or leaving it as is for the duration of their stay. Most guests choose the more Earth-friendly option.

Building to green specifications was not cheap, Rodgers said. It cost 2 1/2 times what a conventional hotel would. But to Unity, whose members have long believed in being good stewards of the Earth, it was worth it.

Despite the high cost of construction, the hotel is priced competitively at $85 per night and even offers unusual extras such as Turkish marble floors in some areas and a flat-screen plasma TV mounted to the wall in every room.

Now the word is getting around about the green inn. In addition to regular visitors, several companies known for environmental responsibility have booked conferences at the hotel.

"We've attracted like-minded organizations who not only practice being green but have green meetings," Rodgers said. "The nice thing about us is we don't have to do anything to be green, since we practice it every day."


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