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Clean, Green and Healthy

The greening of the Habitat Suites hotel in Austin started with a simple decision in 1991: The hotel stopped using pesticides on the property.

"We're not pulling out machine guns to kill a roach," says general manager Natalie Marquis. "It's enlightened self-interest."

Since then, the hotel (www.habitatsuites.com) has become more environmentally friendly. Some measures were easy, such as replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescents and using soap dispensers instead of bars of soap. Other adaptations were more expensive and challenging, such as installing systems to collect solar energy and turn off air conditioners in rooms when guests weren't present.

And some modifications were simply common sense, such as using nontoxic cleansers that are cheaper, better for the environment and easier on the health of the housekeepers. The hotel planted trees to shield the rooms from the sun and landscaped with native plants that require less water.

Though there were some costs initially, in the long run the hotel is saving money. The hotel saved for seven years to pay for what Ms. Marquis says is the largest hotel solar installation in the U.S. Sometimes the solar collectors generate so much energy that the hotel is selling power to Austin Energy, she says.

Beyond being good for the planet, green hotels are attracting travelers who want to reduce their exposure to chemicals and who support conservation.

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