Duluth hotel uses sustainable philosophy every day

Early Adopters in Duluth are leading the way to a more sustainable future. Read about Duluth’s Canal Park, one of the participants in Sustainable Twin PortsEarly Adopters program based on The Natural Step Framework, as reported in the Duluth News Tribune, by John Myers.

When you sip a cup of coffee at the Inn on Lake Superior in Duluth’s Canal Park, you probably don’t think about what went into it. But Cara Overland, the hotel’s administrative director, will be glad to tell you.


After spending a year in the Sustainable Twin Ports Early Adopters business and environmental sustainability program, Overland and the Inn staff made a commitment to build sustainability into their everyday business lives.

From expanding recycling to every room to cutting electric and water use, to eliminating foam and plastic for plates and silverware, the hotel has tried to go green across its 175 rooms. And it has produced a better bottom line as well.

“We couldn’t do a lot of these things if they didn’t offer a payback. But they all do,’’ Overland said.

She said she probably is most proud, however, of the hotel’s switch from a national supplier of coffees and teas to the local Alakef brand.

For the environment, the move meant guaranteed organic-grown coffee that promises fair trade and wages to farmers. It also cuts thousands of miles of transportation costs, energy use and pollution.
The change also helps protect Duluth jobs at Alakef. And the local stuff just taste better, Overland said.

But the move didn’t just feel good for the hotel. It saves the hotel $1,239.83 every three months.

“We make a lot of coffee here. It’s on 24/7. But even then, you wouldn’t think a little thing like changing the coffee supplier could make so much difference,’’ Overland said. “But that’s the point. … It’s like voting. People say that one person or one business acting alone can’t change anything. But it can, and the more people we have thinking like this, the better it gets for everyone.’’

Next up for the Inn is composting food waste from its breakfast bar.

Overland is working with the staff on how to recover compostable food waste out of the garbage, and with its waste hauler, Waste Management, on getting it to the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District composting site. That move will reduce the amount of trash headed to landfills and cut the Inn’s garbage bill even more.

Overland and the Inn participated in the first class of Sustainable Twin Ports in 2009, but has remained active as alumni and supporting partner. The class of 2010 is about ready to graduate, and the program is looking for new participants for 2011.

Nan Stubenvoll, director of Sustainable Twin Ports, said the program has inspired participants to change how they do business.

“We’re even seeing a lot of the alumni and participants putting pressure on their vendors to supply them with sustainable materials and supplies,’’ Stubenvoll said.

And the participants are networking among themselves. The Inn on Lake Superior now gets all of its signs from local Glenwood Signs, a fellow 2009 alumnus, and holds staff meetings at the Duluth Grill, also a 2009 participant.

Shawn Roed, activities director for Duluth East High School and the lead staff member for the Duluth public schools in the Early Adopters program, said the district’s participation “is going to change the way we operate every day, both to help our bottom line and our environmental footprint.’’

Those changes include a push for solar energy, including a solar panel going up at Lowell Elementary School, greener school buses with reduced emissions, and a move to eliminate foam plates and cups at all schools.

“We’re going to be able to build this (sustainable philosophy) into all the new buildings, so the timing is perfect,’’ Roed said.

The Early Adopters effort is based on The Natural Step sustainability system formed in Sweden and adopted by companies such as Ikea, Nike and McDonald’s. It has been supported locally by the A.H. Zeppa Family Foundation and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.


Thanks to the Duluth News Tribune and John Myers. 

If you enjoyed this article, please read the following case study about the Duluth Transit Authority’s sustainability journey—another participant in Sustainable Twin Ports’ Early Adopters program.