Industry Perspectives

My sustainability journey: managing a B&B in a protected area

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Amanda Zimlich is the Owner of Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast, located on Orcas Island in Washington, the US. She shares the sustainability steps that are helping her reduce her impact on the environment

Orcas Island is a pretty unique place. The resources here are finite, which makes me conscious of my carbon footprint. My property is located right next to the beautiful Moran State Park, which is a very well-protected area. I feel that it’s my responsibility to do everything I can as a business owner to reduce my impact on the environment and preserve the delicate ecosystem that exists here. 

Building on existing energy measures

I bought Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast in 2019. I was lucky that the building as I inherited it already had strong infrastructure including many skylights and robust installation. This improves energy efficiency by reducing demands on electricity and heat, which in turn, reduces energy usage and costs. 

Even though the building was in good shape to begin with, I knew there was opportunity to improve and sustainability practices I could add. We enlisted a company that specialises in sustainability to conduct an energy audit and see where the inefficiencies are. I learned something as simple as swapping existing light bulbs for LEDs can help you lower emissions. 

There are still a lot of opportunities for me to further reduce energy emissions, including solar panels, which is the next milestone I’m focused on. While solar panels are an expensive implementation from the onset, I discovered after some number crunching that the panels would pay for themselves within four years. 

A homegrown approach to food waste

I’m a chef by trade, so that’s how I first got into hospitality. I worked in restaurants and product development for companies like Campbell Soup Company before I became a host. Cooking is a passion and not just a job for me. 

At the property, I have a garden that supplies year-round ingredients including vegetables, berries and herbs, which I use to create breakfast menu items. It's a farm-to-table approach, with many organic food products coming directly from the property. Anything that I can’t personally grow, I buy from local farmers. This way I am supporting local businesses, wasting less and reducing carbon footprint as the food comes from right here on the island. 

Herb garden

 

Orcas Island has a maritime climate and it’s fairly wet here year-round, which can make it challenging to grow certain foods like tomatoes, for example. I’m not a gardener by trade, my mum taught me everything I know about gardening. I am finding it is getting easier, as I am continuously building on the prior season’s plantings. Growing my own food has helped reduce my food costs significantly, and the guests are getting premium produce that couldn’t be any fresher. 

I also have a small flock of heritage breed egg-laying hens. Not only do they give us fresh, organic eggs for our menu but I also use their manure to create my own compost. As a kid, I grew up composting, so getting the hens was inspiration to start doing that again. Any food waste I have also goes into the compost. It’s a nice full-circle process.  

Protecting our wildlife guests

Otters Pond is fed via an underground spring, and is a part of the same watershed as the lakes and ponds within Moran State Park. The pond’s location makes it the perfect place for over 100 migratory birds as well as larger species of raptors including bald eagles, owls and hawks. There are trout in the pond, as well as otters, mink, beavers, racoons, newts, snakes and frogs. The pond’s ecosystem is very delicate – it doesn’t take much to disturb it. I feel personally responsible for protecting the natural balance. 

When I meet my guests and show them around the property, I inform them about the pond environment and visitor etiquette. For example, not feeding the birds and wildlife with table scraps is important. Recycling and composting are other practices I involve my guests in. Generally, people come here to reconnect with nature and get away from the city, so they’re already fairly mindful of their actions during their stay. 

When I’m gardening, I don’t use any harsh chemicals, like pesticides, that would offset the natural fauna and flora of the pond or the grounds around them. Not only do these chemicals have a direct negative impact on the land, but they are harmful to pollinators and wildlife. 

Finding encouragement in guest satisfaction

When I first came to Otters Pond, I thought that I would have the luxury of waiting for things to break before I replaced them. However, I am now motivated to move more swiftly to update the building, as I am learning that improvements can not only reduce carbon footprint and reduce operating costs, but they can also increase guest satisfaction. 

Guests notice sustainable measures, including reducing the use of single-use plastics, and the feedback has been extremely positive. Guests feel like they’re doing their part by choosing to stay with a sustainable business. This encourages me to continue finding new ways to operate sustainably. 

 

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Takeaway
  • Working with local companies that specialises in sustainability can help you identify areas of opportunity 
  • Growing organic produce at your property, such as vegetables, fruits and herbs, can reduce your food costs
  • Protecting the natural fauna and flora of your location, and educating guests on visitor etiquette, is an important part of acting sustainably