Luxury hotels aren't usually on environmental tours, but the Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco is. On the day that "Nightline" visited the hotel, Laura Rodormer of the San Francisco Department of the Environment brought with her a high-level delegation from China to take a look at the "green" building.
"There really is a big trend moving towards green due to the cost savings, the improved health, and it's where buildings are going these days," Rodormer told ABC's "Nightline."
Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. EDT
The Orchard Garden Hotel is one of the country's first green hotels. The differences are subtle. It was built out of cement partially made from recycled ash from coal burning. The lobby is lined with paneling made from recycled particle board.
In the rooms, guests immediately encounter energy-saving devices. For example, the room key is inserted into a slot that activates the lights and the temperature control. When the guest leaves and removes the key, the lights turn off. One electrical outlet, however, remains "live," so it is possible to continue charging battery-powered devices such as computers and cell phones.
But that's just the beginning.
"The fabrics throughout this entire room, whether it's the bedspread right here, the curtains, the drapes, the sheets, the shower curtains, they all have recycled content in them. Anywhere between 10 and 50 percent," said Stefan Muhle, the hotel's general manager.
"The big reason why you can't take it much further than that is because there has to be fire retardant material in it. So it has to by law be chemically treated. Safety sometimes overrules greenness."
And for the wooden furniture? "All the furniture in the guest rooms, whether it's the chairs, the desks, the bed board, nightstands and so forth, that is all forest stewardship maple. It comes from sustainable grown forests and so this is not from virgin forests," said Muhle. "We initially wanted to go with bamboo. It's a grass -- it's a rapidly renewable material, it was our first choice. But it doesn't hold up as well as maple does over time."
The rooms are lit with long-life fluorescent instead of incandescent lights and are carpeted using carpets backed with recycled material. Many of the ecologically friendly characteristics are not obvious.
"A lot of the things are not in your face," Muhle explained. "That's really truly the ideal of building this hotel. To be green without being too obvious about it." Guests are asked to do their part as well. There's a specially made recycle and trash bin in the corner for separating trash, paper and plastic.
In the bathroom, there's toilet tissue made from recycled paper, as well as low-flow showers and toilets. But guests will also find the traditional small bottles of shampoo and conditioner.
While the hotel uses organic products and donates the unused portions, critics might point to the use of those many bottles as being Earth-unfriendly. "It's a fine line that we are walking," admitted Muhle.
He said the hotel is testing bulk dispensers for shampoo and conditioner, but added, "We have several concerns. Hygiene is one of them. And safety."