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Going for the green

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Going for the green

Among the ecofriendly features at NotSo Hostel is a small vegetable and flower garden, tended by manager Vikki Matsis (and two cats), amid its courtyard parking area.

Hostels are known for being cheaper lodging alternatives for travelers. But to help keep rates low, owners and operators, often by necessity, tend to be budget-conscious themselves.

And while green alternatives for appliances and supplies can be affordable, they’re rarely the least costly option.

Charleston’s NotSo Hostel strives to be green, from an environmental standpoint, rather than just to save some green by being cheap, says Vikki Matsis.

“A lot of hostels aren’t green,” says Matsis, who has been the manager of the Spring Street lodging since 2007. “They tend to be more about cheap accommodations, cheapest cleaning supplies. ... It was never a question for me whether it was worth it or not. It was always worth it.”

In the last decade, NotSo Hostel — its main location is near President Street and it has an annex on Cannon Street near Coming Street — has taken numerous steps to be more eco-friendly and to pass along some lessons about conservation and sustainability to about 10,000 guests every year.

Among them: The hostel is converting all but one of its water heaters to energy-saving tankless versions and has water-saving, front-loading washing machines. It’s serving organic, vegan food at breakfast. It’s using natural, biodegradable detergents for laundry as well as homemade natural cleaners. It’s stocking its bathrooms with toilet paper made from 100-percent post-consumer paper.

Also, the hostel rents bicycles, a hint to guests that pedal power is often the best way of getting around the peninsula, and it provides reusable cloth bags for shopping. It even tends a small organic garden.

So it may come as no surprise that NotSo Hostel this month was among a dozen employers to earn the top honor from the city of Charleston’s Green Business Challenge: the Live Oak Award.

The small hospitality business, which also won the award the two previous years, joined the ranks of such heavy-hitters as Boeing Co. and Blackbaud Inc., local government entities, and two groups that are in the business of green, Natural Investments and the nonprofit Sustainability Institute.

And while NotSo Hostel was already going green before joining the challenge, Matsis says participation is still important, not only for the recognition but being part of a business movement to work for a more sustainable future.

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Carolee Williams, project manager in the city’s office of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, says the challenge shows that businesses of all sizes can take steps toward becoming more sustainable.

“We have everything from a 125-square-foot home office to a 3.5-million-square-foot manufacturer,” she said.

In a nutshell, the challenge gives businesses a roadmap: taking action; quantifying those actions; and scoring the results. Participants can earn one of four awards – Live Oak, Magnolia, Palmetto and Sweetgrass. Scores are calculated and the awards are handed out at a party in October, the last of which was held earlier this month.

In all, 77 area businesses participated in the fourth year of the challenge.

The next round starts Nov. 1, and Williams says now is an ideal time for employers to consider joining the effort. While the city of Charleston runs it, the challenge is open to businesses across the region.

“Each business goes in and looks at 50 strategies it can take,” Williams said. The goals “will be different for everyone,” she added.

The origin of the local Green Business Challenge, Williams said, started after Chicago launched its version and offered a training grant for city of Charleston staffers. The Holy City tweaked the program to make the scorecard on the challenge’s website more nimble.

As the challenge moves into its fifth year, Williams and City Councilman Michael Seekings, who spoke at the celebration, said the benefit of the challenge is in its growth, the creativity it fosters and in the sharing of ideas.

Seekings said the challenge has spawned 400 new initiatives since its inception. Williams added that some efforts that wouldn’t have been considered earlier, such as composting, are now drawing some of the most interest.

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