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Part 1: Laurie Adams - The eco-builder

The E'Terra Inn started as a dare. It was 2002, and Laurie Adams-who'd been running eco-tours on the Niagara Escarpment for years-was at an eco-summit in Quebec City where everyone was talking about green travel programs, but not about sustainable accommodations. "Why not build green?" Adams asked. "We could change the world." The guy next to her scoffed at the money-making potential of a "green" building. She set out to prove him wrong. Back home in Tobermory, at the tip of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula, she launched her quest to build E'Terra, balancing ecology, economics and ethics-hence the name. She found an investor who had just one condition: Build a mansion, so that if the inn failed, the building could still be sold as a house.

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Adams had always planned to tread lightly, using salvaged materials and local manufacturers, relying on natural ventilation and designing around natural features. Then the engineering firm she'd hired introduced her to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, an international program that rates buildings on environmental sustainability. Following LEED would add $40,000 to the inn's price tag (plus $25,000 for the certification process), but promised to slash energy costs and lend it cachet among eco-conscious travellers.

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The six-suite lodge, which opened in June, 2006, is powered by a local wind farm. Solar panels heat the water tanks. A low-emission propane system (which will run on hydrogen or methane when those gases become widely available) heats the building via radiant coils embedded in the floors. All the millwork and flooring were sourced locally. So was the insulation-a soundproof and highly efficient material called Roxul, made from basalt rock and recycled slag from demolished buildings. "What keeps you warm in winter will keep you cool in summer," says Adams. As for landscaping, the grounds are dotted mostly with native, drought-resistant plants; a 6,500-litre rainwater cistern takes care of the rest.

The immediate return on these green investments comes as energy savings. The 8,500-square-foot inn uses half the power of a conventionally designed facility. "On average, I spend $700 a month on propane," says Adams. "In the summer, most of it goes to laundry, and in the winter to heating." Sometimes it costs more to run her 2,500-square-foot house. Dollar for dollar, she says, the $22,000 solar hot-water system-six panels, three tanks and copper plumbing-was her best investment. In hindsight, three panels would have been plenty; the system produces more hot water than the inn can use.

All that added up to a LEED Gold certificate-the second-highest rating possible. So was it worth the price tag? "Being certified has given me a competitive edge-it's easier to market," Adams says. Besides, she received $33,000 in green incentives from the federal government, which more than offset the cost of the certification.

Though the inn started welcoming guests a year ago, Adams held an official opening in May, 2007. She was hoping to snag Al Gore, but he couldn't make it. And that irritating guy Adams met at the eco-summit? He didn't get an invitation.