Green Leaf Inn, Delavan, sets eco-bar high

If you presume that sustainable living requires a high degree of personal sacrifice, listen to the developers of eco-serious lodging near the tourism-rich Lake Geneva area.

“We want to show people that they don’t have to eat granola bars and camp out to be green,” says Catherine McQueen, who with husband Fritz Kreiss plan to complete a $4.5 million boutique hotel and environmental education center during the next year.

Think muffins “baked by the sun,” in a solar oven at deckside, a breakfast with fresh eggs from nearby farms, afternoon receptions of local cheeses and wines.

In-room hot tubs will use air jets instead of water jets, showers will be big enough for two, electric candle fireplaces will add ambiance but not frit away energy.

Order a combination of aromatherapy and background sounds – maybe citrus with twittering birds or lavender with New Age music – before settling into a 550-square-foot nest, where you’re encouraged to unpack in the foyer, then ease into a robe and slippers.

She is a potter and certified master gardener. He is a former high school physics teacher.

Their 19-suite Green Leaf Inn aims to be the first net-zero energy hotel in the Midwest, if not the nation. Energy will come from a wind turbine, solar and geothermal energy. The project involves new construction and the revamping of an existing building.

“Net-zero” means the project should create as much or more energy than it uses. Fritz says the wind turbine alone, which arrived in March, will produce enough electricity to power 15 homes.

The couple moved to the town of Delavan in 1998, after years of energy efficiency work in suburban Chicago. This means brokering natural gas and electricity through Alternative Utility Services (this work continues), selling combined heat and power (CHP) systems and advocating other energy conservation products/concepts.

“Catherine looked at me one day and said she’d like more land than a one-bedroom condo” in Evanston, Ill., Fritz explains. So they bought five acres of a former mink farm, having taken a liking to its peaceful location, blueberry and raspberry bushes – and seeing a wild turkey run across the driveway.

Brainstorming about how to turn the property into the Green Leaf Inn began in 2007, after state Department of Transportation talk to expand Highway 50 to four lanes between Interstate 43 and Highway 67, near their front door.

“That’s when we started thinking commercially,” Catherine says. “We thought about just opening a B&B, but then you can’t get away, and we didn’t want to be tied to the job.”

“We want to make something that is a unique experience,” Fritz says, “and more of our customers have been asking about what they can do to improve their own homes.”

They want to demonstrate how “it’s possible to live luxuriously but also sustainably,” Catherine says, and “while we want to provide a nice place to stay, our main purpose is to educate people in every aspect of green living.”

An environmental education area will explain and in some cases sell the materials, equipment, energy processes and concepts that define the inn. So it might be possible to buy the type of solar oven that bakes those breakfast muffins.

Catherine calls herself and Fritz “dweebs” about sustainability – “we’re so into it,” yet they don’t consider themselves experts. “We expect to make mistakes,” Catherine says, “and we’ll share all of what we learn,” through the inn and its environmental education component.

Plans continue to be refined, but the couple’s goal is to break ground this summer and open around 10 months later.

The Green Leaf Inn, N5072 Hwy. 50, Delavan, is scheduled to open in 2011. Track project progress at www.thegreenleafinn.com. Suite rates, about $170 to $240, will include breakfast, an evening wine and cheese reception and afternoon tea with a cookie of the day.

Inn developers also are coordinating EcoFair360, July 16-18 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds, 411 E. Court St., Elkhorn. They want to make it an annual event and say it is a natural fit for their part of the state, which is defined by farming and tourism.

Exhibits and workshops play off a “Building the Green Community” theme. Expect ideas and advice about health, gardening, energy, lifestyle, educating children and “greening” government.

For more: www.ecofair360.com, 262-248-0970. Admission is $15 per day or $30 for all three days.

The nation’s longest-running annual environmental awareness event is the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, June 18-20 in Custer, population 2,900 and seven miles east of Stevens Point. More than 200 workshops and 275 exhibitors address myriad topics – locally grown foods to clean energy vehicles.

The Green Home Pavilion shows how construction and remodeling can commence in earth-friendly ways.

Keynote speakers are Jeremy Solin, co-founder of the Central Rivers Farmshed, a local foods consortium in Central Wisconsin, June 18; Bill McKibben of Vermont, environmental activist and author, June 19; and Amanda Little of Tennessee, widely published environmental journalist and author of “Power Trip,” June 20.

The fair, in its 21st year, typically draws 20,000 attendees. General admission is $15 or $35 for a weekend pass (less for seniors and children). Look for details and links to group transportation options at www.the-mrea.org.

“The Frugal Traveler,” a seven-part series of “Roads Traveled” columns produced in 2009, won the Best Series award during this year’s 20-state Society of American Travel Writers Central States Chapter writing contest.

Mary Bergin also earned first place in the Ecology/Conservation/Preservation category, for an article about Horicon Marsh Boat Tours, written for AAA Living magazine.