Solar hotel in Paris
by Kai Kreuzer (comments: 1)
Exactly five years ago, an organic solar hotel was launched in Paris where you can breakfast on organic baguettes, organic croissant, organic jam, organic yogurt and organic compote. And it goes without saying that the coffee, tea and apple juice are organic products too. In the rooms there is a current edition of the consumer magazine Bio-Info and in the bathrooms you find Ecover liquid soap and shower gel. Some of the towels are made from organic cotton and a small amount of the electricity used is solar. Short-flush toilets ensure economical use of water. The aim is to save half of what is usually used.
“I come here three or four times a year,” says a woman from Guadeloupe. “The hotel is central in downtown Paris, I can get here by bus direct from the airport and it’s good value for money.” Organic and solar are admittedly not the decisive factors in her choice of hotel but she thinks they are good things to have. At 79 euros a night for a double room, the two-star hotel is indeed extremely good value when you compare it with the usual price of hotels in Paris. Although the rooms are small, they are and tidy and furnished perfectly adequately, including a television set with an eco label indicating low energy use.
The price includes breakfast for one or two people. The ingredients are sourced locally: 200 m away on one side is an organic store belonging to the Naturalia chain and on the other side is an organic bakery that supplies fresh bakery goods and bread. “What we insist on is that everything we need for over 10,000 breakfasts a year is brought on foot, by bike or by electric delivery van,” says hotelier Franck Laval.
Some visitors are curious to know whether the three one-square-metre panels on the facade of the hotel can produce enough electricity. Laval explains that the area of the solar panels is not actually big enough and adds that he can’t get approval from his neighbours to use the south-facing wall of the building for a photovoltaic array. “So, for the time being, it’s all about educating the public and producing enough electricity to illuminate the outside of the hotel.” Because of its east-west orientation, the roof of the building is not suitable for solar generation.
In the little garden at the back there are a number of tables where guests can sit in the summer. There are also two water tanks (1000 and 1,500 litres) that look like outsize amphorae. They are used for watering the garden and flushing the toilets in the breakfast room and day room. Guests can also make use of ten bikes, free of charge, for riding round Paris.
“Our philosophy is that everything is included in the charge per night. There aren’t any extras that the guest has to pay for.” If you want a coffee in the afternoon, that’s included as well. “This results in our guests booking on average three nights compared with the 1.8 nights that are usual in the centre of Paris,” Laval explains. It doesn’t matter if it’s one person or two, the cost of staying overnight is the same. “The occupancy of rooms is on average 1.5 guests.” With 4,000 booking a year for the 34 rooms, that comes to 6,000 guests and 12,000 nights.
The hotel is heated by a gas condensing boiler, which is the most efficient type of gas central heating. Only LED and low energy bulbs are used for lighting in the rooms, corridors, day room and the breakfast room. The plan is to gradually replace the low energy bulbs with LEDs because they are more environmentally friendly and don’t contain mercury.
Art exhibitions are organized in the breakfast room, that looks out into the garden. The room is l-shaped and has ten tables for either two or four people. While the guests are enjoying their organic breakfast, or afterwards, they can gaze at the pictures on display. The exhibitions change every month and about 40 local artists organize who will present their work. Thus Laval gives twelve of them a chance each year to sell their pictures. “The artists can use all the walls at no cost and our only request is that they keep their prices affordable.” Concerts in the garden during the warmer months are another way in which he promotes the arts. He also makes the hotel available as a free outlet for organic vegetables: twice a week about two dozen paper bags filled with fruit and vegetables are deposited on a table in the breakfast room. They all have a name on them so that people can come and fetch what they have ordered. “People in this neighbourhood are pleased to see our hotel reception open day and night so that they can come and collect their order at any time. That’s important in a big city like Paris where people work at all times of the day and night.”
They used to have three bins for the separate collection of plastic, paper and glass on every floor but this has been banned by health and safety as a fire risk. “So I was forced to get rid of the collection on all seven floors and to locate this facility, including for batteries, on the ground floor near the lift.” Laval did, however, resist and told his guests and the press all about it in order to put pressure on the authorities. “We’ve got to get the authorities thinking further – there are simply too many regulations that stand in the way of environmental protection.”
“I used to drive an R4 (Renault) to Freiburg to buy sacks full of environmentally friendly detergents and cleaning materials that in those days we couldn’t buy in France,” reminisces the 56-year-old Laval. That was a good 20 years ago, a few years after he took over the hotel in 1990. Over the years he has converted everything and in 2009 he changed the name from Hotel des Voyageurs to Solar Hotel. The outcome of all that effort is the EU Eco-Label and La Clef vert (Link), The Green Key. Laval runs two other budget hotels – “I come from a hotel family” – and gradually he has converted them too. He is very keen on process regarding protection of the environment: preventing waste is better than separating waste is his credo. This is why you won’t find, apart from teabags, any individual packs (soap, shampoo, jam, honey etc.). They buy everything in bulk with as little packaging as possible. This includes towels, preferably made from organic cotton, in units of 200. The price does, of course, have to be right as well. A high price level is not something he can afford or indeed wants to see in his hotel.
Repair instead of replace is another principle of this thoroughbred hotelier. The furnishings are over twenty years old but have been well looked after. Normally, rooms are completely refurbished every eight years, which results in a lot of waste and furniture being thrown out. In this hotel, however, minor damage is repaired. But if something definitely has to be replaced, like carpets, Laval makes sure they are not fixed with glue but with double-sided sticky tape in order to avoid harmful vapour. “People are increasingly concerned about air pollution,” says Laval and this is why he only uses paints bearing the EU environmental logo. In order to protect guests from microwave contamination WiFi is available only in the day room. “The positive knock-on effect is that people sit together in the evening and often get in to conversation with one another,” he explains, delighted with the community spirit. A propos of getting together: a range of environmental organizations gather in the hotel during the day to hold meetings. Clubs from ‘from the provinces’, as anywhere outside Paris is called, are pleased to have a good venue where they can gather without being obliged to have meals. Regular guests for a number of years have included the farming rebel José Bové and the green politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
Location: you can get to Solar Hotel (Link) from the Gare de l’Est by taking the Metro (line 4 in the direction of Porte d’Orleans). Get off at Denfert-Rochereau, then it’s a two-minute walk across the Rue Daguerre (artists’ district) to the Rue de Boulard.