Eco-focus with an ROI proviso

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A high-end Connecticut marina complex on Long Island Sound is delivering on a self-imposed mandate to foster “green” practices within an economically viable business plan.

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Saybrook Point Inn, Spa & Marina in Old Saybrook (www.saybrook.com), at the mouth of the Connecticut River, boasts a long checklist of ecologically friendly accolades, and the entire staff — from dockhands to dishwashers — is encouraged to suggest new ways to leave a smaller carbon footprint while turning a profit.

“Everything we do, we try to think, Here’s how it’s done, but how can we do it greener?” says Abbie Coderre, 52, the marina manager and leader of the “green team” of staff from all facets of the facility that is tasked with pushing the eco-envelope.

A marina has operated at this prime spot since the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the Tagliatela family, owners of 96-year-old Franklin Construction, led by Stephen Tagliatela, purchased the property in 1980 that the present facility began to take shape. Tagliatela is an environmentally conscious builder who served on a commission that wrote the state’s Clean Marina guidelines. In fact, the Old Saybrook marina was the first in the state to earn that designation. Coderre was a member of that commission, and that is how Tagliatela met her.

Tagliatela developed the inn and spa around the marina with the priorities of 1) customer comfort and service; 2) ecological sustainability; and 3) return on investment. Today all new initiatives, including green ones, must meet one critical criterion: They must deliver a return on investment within three years. “On all accounts, we have met that directive,” Coderre says. Financial incentives from Connecticut Light & Power Co. and grant money from the state and federal governments have been generous, she says.

The green initiatives are both large and small, and have grown into a web of interconnectivity and mutual benefit. Here’s a partial list:

• Most of the on-site electricity is provided by a natural gas generator connected to a system that recaptures radiant heat from refrigeration, air conditioning and heating units for the marina’s showers and indoor pool.

• On the docks, all decking is made of ipe hardwood, which costs nearly twice as much as traditional softwood, but lasts twice as long and requires no preservatives. As needed, dock pilings are replaced with greenheart wood, a South American evergreen hardwood that is sustainably grown and requires no chemical preservation.

• The marina, which draws numerous transients, sells only cleaner-burning ValvTect fuel.

• Every cleaning product sold in the marina’s ships store is certified green.

• Almost all of the inn’s lobby lighting and all dock lighting was converted to efficient LED lights.

• Chemical fertilizer and pesticide use on the property was discontinued five years ago.

But green initiatives can be found at every corner of the property. Instead of insecticides, multiple birdhouses for bug-eating starlings, wrens and monk parakeets keep insects at bay. Staff has access to the inn’s gasoline-electric hybrid Chevy Volt, which they calculate has delivered 114 mpg on their in-state driving.

Laundry is cleaned with ozone instead of hot water and bleach. Local and organic food is served as much as possible at the restaurant. Used and leftover soap and shampoo are not discarded but are collected in a recycling tank that the non-profit Clean World Partners group recycles and ships to Third World countries, such as Haiti. On every Earth Day, employees who volunteer to join in a shoreline cleanup are paid their working wage for their time.

What Coderre is finding is that her marina patrons are not only embracing the initiatives, but they also become advocates who police the docks to steer visiting boaters toward the benefits of environmentally friendly ways. “Really, the whole thing is driven by our boaters,” Coderre says. “The bottom line will take care of itself if you take care of your customers. And since our green initiatives return on their investment while delivering so much benefit, and there are just so many options now for doing things the right way, it just makes sense on all fronts.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.

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