Natalie Marquis just flew home after spending two weeks in Rome. But those back-at-work blues are nonexistent. As the general manager of award-winning green hotel Habitat Suites (www.habitatsuites.com), located near Highland Mall, Marquis couldn't wait to get back to this labor of love.
Along with managing partners Eduardo Longoria and John McCready, she has transformed the hotel from its generic, energy-sucking Eighties model to an environmental oasis. When Marquis joined the team in 1990, she found herself up against a wall of disbelief. Eventually, she began proving to her staff, through real-life experiments, that organic gardening outpaces chemical treatments tenfold.
"You don't want to be autocratic about it," she emphasizes of Habitat's schoolteacher philosophy. "You don't want to say, 'This is how we do things.' You want to say, 'This is why we do things.'"
Over the past 18 years, Habitat has expanded from organic gardening and nontoxic cleaning to include 180 photovoltaic solar panels, naturally clean air, and a long-term staff. All staff members receive a percentage of house profits, which explains why this hotel is an exception to the service industry's usual high-turnover rule. "It's [about] being human-friendly," she says with a grin. "And the thing is, if it's good for people, it's good for the planet, and it's good for profit."
Marquis also just clocked her first year as executive director of the Texas Solar Energy Society (www.txses.org), which puts on the annual Cool House Tour – a chance to view some of Austin's environmentally friendly homes – on June 22.
But Habitat remains her priority. "We're becoming this hub of activity where great things are happening, and people are recognizing that the hotel can support them in these endeavors," she beams. "We've been waiting for the hotel to become that hub. It's finally happening.
"I wanted the hotel to be the first hotel to be off the grid," she laughs. "Not very realistic, but I'm a dreamer. I dream big in Technicolor."
Enviro docs: The Next Industrial Revolution, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, The Future of Food
Favorite local green businesses (besides Habitat Suites): Eco-Wise, Casa de Luz
Enviro hero of all time: Buckminster Fuller
Favorite locally grown/produced food/drink: Mother's Cashew Tamari dressing – "I'd like to dive into a pool of it."
Favorite shade of green: "The purer ... the better!"
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