The James, a new luxury hotel in Chicago, proudly declares itself to be “the only game in town”. If that were true, given the number of people who visit Chicago every day, it would be unfortunate.
Right now, The James is offering a special offer to “Make My Reservation Carbon Neutral”. That sounds very environmentally friendly, but consider what the carbon neutral program actually does: It has you spend extra money, which it then takes on your behalf, and gives it to two “marketers” of renewable energy. The money is used to construct electrical generation plants that use renewable sources of energy, like the sun and the wind.
I’m all for solar and wind energy, but what I don’t see is how the construction of new solar power plants and windmills takes carbon dioxide out of the air. These new power plants add to the amount of electricity that’s available, but they don’t result in the closing of coal-fired power plants. Solar power plants and windmills do not consume carbon dioxide. They’re part of what should eventually replace fossil fuel power generation, but they don’t really offset the carbon dioxide emitted because of a hotel stay.
There are real things that can be done to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – but they involve actually ceasing certain activities. Not mowing your lawn is an example. Or, you choose to buy certain kinds of food that are grown locally and require little use of fossil fuels in their cultivation and transportation. Better yet, you could grow your own food. You could drive your car less. These actions actually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the air. The carbon neutral program offered by The James does none of these sorts of things.
In fact, the carbon offset program offered by The James is paired with another program that actually encourages people staying at The James to drive their cars instead of using more efficient methods of transportation. “Drive to The James for your stay, and receive free parking and a $50 Primehouse gift card. Reserve Now.”
If you drive to the hotel, you not only get free parking, but you get 50 dollars worth of free food at the Primehouse hotel restaurant – a steakhouse that offers foods that are not at all local to Chicago: Salmon, scallops, lobster, mussels, shrimp, Himalayan salt, and crab cakes. If you take the train or other more efficient transportation to get to the hotel, you have to pay your own money for any food you eat.
I don’t want to cast the management of The James as environmental villains. The truth is that we all use too much energy, and need to do more to conserve. However, it would be more helpful for The James to take a more thoughtful approach to contributing to conservation efforts, and not just slap a silly “carbon neutral” gimmick on its web site.