By Barbara Kessler

Planning a greener vacation this year? You could check out the eco-minded hotels listed sofitel.jpgwith the Green Hotels Association out of Houston. You could also put Sofitel Hotels on your short list.

The upscale French-style retreats found in Chicago, LA, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C., will soon be powered by wind energy in the form of Renewable Energy Certificates, making them the first hotel chain to use green power for all of its brand locations in the United States. The decision by Accor North America, owner of Sofitel and the economy Motel 6 chain, qualifies them as an EPA-endorsed “Green Power Partner.”

Dallas-based Accor North America will be contracting with wind supplier Community Energy Inc., which will buy the RECs to cover the hotel chain’s energy costs. The RECs “ensure that each month, clean wind energy is being generated and delivered to the power grid on your behalf,” explains the power company in a news release about the partnership.

The energy company uses a fitting metaphor to elaborate on “clean energy” and how wind helps the power mix: “You can think of the power grid like a giant bathtub being filled with electricity from many different faucets – like nuclear, coal or wind. Every time you turn on a light switch, you drain a little electricity from the tub. By buying wind energy from Community Energy you are increasing the amount of pollution-free wind generated electricity, or pouring clean water into the tub, and decreasing the need for energy generation from other non-renewable polluting sources.”

Accor, which announced the wind deal this week, says their switch to cleaner energy will offset “approximately two million pounds of carbon dioxide per year, the impact of which is equivalent to planting more than 800 acres of trees each year or not driving 2.36 million miles.”

The company planted even more trees last year — 20,000 trees, representing one for each of its employees — and also initiated a 65-point environmental check list at all properties and at the corporate headquarters. Accor is considering wind power for its Motel 6’s, which have already moved in a green direction as the first motel group to install a chain-wide fluorescent light bulb and battery recycling program, an Accor spokeswoman said. Motel 6s also are undergoing an energy “retrofit” that will employ occupancy sensors and thermostats made by Honeywell that are expected to “drastically” reduce energy usage at 49 properties in California serviced by Pacific Gas & Electric.