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Hotel checks out going green
Times photo: Matthew Wisniewski One of the ways the hotel is green is a flood barrel, which collects rain that is used to water plants.
BRODHEAD - From an old road bicycle - sans its wheels, pedals and chain - affixed to the historic downtown building hangs the sign for the Earth Rider Cycling Boutique and Hotel: the first indication of the business' green attitude.

Sharon Kaminecki, owner of the bike shop and hotel at 929 W. Exchange St., said bicycling is "the ultimate sustainable activity," and she has taken her passion for the outdoors and expanded it to make her business practices sustainable, too.

Earth Rider is among almost 200 businesses in the state to be certified by Travel Green Wisconsin, a program developed by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism that recognizes tourism-related businesses committed to reducing their impact on the environment.

The program highlights that which makes the state a unique tourist destination - its natural resources, said Will Christianson, outreach coordinator for the tourism department. He said Earth Rider is "a perfect example" of a business that understands what's special about its small corner of the state.

"That's someone who gets it," Christianson said of Kaminecki. "She's showing what's unique about her part of Wisconsin and implementing that throughout her business."

The hotel emphasizes Brodhead's connection to the 40-mile Badger State Trail as the southern trailhead of the Sugar River Trail and the ecologically minded culture of bicycling.

"It makes a lot of sense," Kaminecki said of making her business sustainable. Not only does having a small environmental footprint reduce her operating costs, but it also differentiates her hotel from others, she said.

So when Kaminecki opened the bike shop and hotel in 2005, she sat down with the Travel Green Wisconsin checklist and evaluated her business practices and tweaked them to earn the certification, denoted by a green logo on her promotional materials and a spot on the Travel Green and department of tourism Web sites.

Kaminecki said creating a bicycle-themed hotel lent itself well to the green tourism concept.

Earth Rider is decorated top to bottom with old bicycle parts. Chairs made from metal bike rims and black, rubber-tire tubes provide interesting seating in the shop, hotel lounge and five hotel rooms. Handlebars and kickstands are mounted on the dressing room and bathroom walls to serve as clothing hooks. Hub gears have been stacked and fitted with a lampshade to create one-of-a-kind lighting.

Kaminecki uses only non-toxic cleaning supplies, which she makes from scratch using liquid soap, baking soda, vinegar, distilled water and natural oils for fragrance. She buys liquid and bar soap from a local farm (and picks up the items on her bike) and fills wall-mounted dispensers in the bathrooms.

Kaminecki provides only real plates, cups and utensils and washes them after each use. She also provides water bottles and encourages guests to fill them with tap water.

The historic building has been outfitted with energy efficient windows, appliances and light bulbs; linens are changed every three days for guests staying multiple nights, and paper products made from at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled content are used.

"There are a lot more things we could do," Kaminecki said.

She said going through the application process to become certified by Travel Green Wisconsin took a few months. But Christianson said it's not something businesses can just breeze through.

"You've really got to believe in it and want it," he said. "It's not something you can just quickly do."

Businesses are required to report the amount of garbage that goes to the landfill, their electricity and gas usage and their water consumption.

"It really takes a commitment from the businesses that are doing it," Christianson said. "(Kaminecki) really took it and looked at her business operation to see what she could do, and she changed things around to meet the requirements."

Although her market in mostly-rural Green County is small and seasonal, Kaminecki said hotel guests have noticed her green practices.

"Guests mention the green stuff, so I know they're paying attention," she said.

And some people are staying at Earth Rider because of its green distinction, Kaminecki said.

"People are looking to minimize their (environmental) impact," she said. "If they had to choose between a business that was having little impact and one that (had lots of impact), they'd pick the one that had little."