There is an undercurrent of unease flowing through the Sonoma Valley about the impact large hotels may have on the remarkable quality of life in our community.

Some Sonomans are defining a “large” hotel as anything with more than 25 rooms, never mind that the hotel industry generally rates “large” hotels as having 300 rooms or more. We’ll happily apply that term to the largest hotel in the Sonoma Valley, even though the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa maxes out at 226 rooms. Compared to any other lodging in the Valley, it’s certainly large.

But we are hard-pressed to find anywhere in its governance, in its relationship with the community that surrounds it or in its corporate philosophy, a negative consequence emerging from its size.

To the contrary, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn (let’s just call it SMI) is the gold standard for community commitment and sustainable practices. Reflecting values long established by its corporate policies, and practiced at every Fairmont facility, SMI lives its values like few corporate entities anywhere.

Indeed, at a Thursday awards breakfast, when SMI was honored as the annual Business of the Year by the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, the executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, Richard Dale, lauded Fairmont as “probably the top corporation in the world for sustainability.”

As Dale explained, Fairmont has established a Green Partnership Program, replete with “Green Teams” charged with minimizing each hotel’s impact on the planet. And this is not “greenwashing” rhetoric.

Fairmont hotels, including SMI, have, as corporate policy, reduced their water consumption dramatically. SMI, said Dale, uses about one-third less water than comparable properties around the world. They’ve also reduced their energy consumption enough to save $60,000 a year on electricity alone.

But SMI staff take sustainability and community partnerships much farther than that. The hotel has been supporting the agriculture program at Sonoma Valley High School for years, with a $15,000 cash grant, various fundraising activities and the purchase of two or three FFA pigs each year, that end up on the menu of SMI’s prestigious Sante restaurant. An ag department student and FFA pig farmer told the breakfast gathering that without the Fairmont support, “There probably wouldn’t be an ag program at the high school anymore.”

SMI’s Green Team, abetted by Michelle Heston, the Fairmont’s regional public relations director, has adopted El Verano School as a year-round project, volunteers to maintain the Overlook Trail and the Sonoma Community Garden, participates in annual creek clean-ups and shows up for countless other volunteer activities in the Valley.

These efforts, and many others, are not only encouraged by Fairmont officials, they are embedded in the company’s mission and formally defined in a guidebook on sustainable best practices for the lodging industry. As a result, Green Teams have been involved in proactive projects around the world, including coral reef protection in Hawaii and efforts to save endangered species.

For all those reasons and more, we are proud and pleased that the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is the Sonoma Valley Business of the Year.