Green Stamp of Approval: Which One to Choose?

As more hotels adopt green strategies for their buildings and operations, they are increasingly turning to certification programs as a validation of their efforts — and a key marketing strategy.

“You’ve got all these green programs from different certification programs,” green hospitality consultant Ray Burger said, “and they’re starting to gain traction.”

Burger, president of Pineapple Hospitality, discussed certifications and other green issues at this week’s sold-out Buyer Interactive Trade Alliance and Conference in San Diego.

Don’t know which certification program to choose? With many options, it can be difficult to sort through to find the best certification for your property. In some areas the decision may be made for you as states and cities sign on with different organizations. Burger noted that 22 states that have green programs. Hotels without any certification at all should start with their state program, he said. Some governments restrict travel reimbursements to hotels with green certification.

Some hotels will go for multiple certifications. Some programs only cover the building itself, while others specialize in operations. The Orchard Garden Hotel and the Orchard Hotel, both in San Francisco, have pursued LEED, Green Seal and other designations — and market themselves as a green property to guests.

“You’ll start to see a huge amount of announcements of certifications” from hotels, Burger said.

Read on for a primer on a handful of the most prominent green certification programs.

LEED
The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design designation may be the most familiar to hotel owners and operators. Run by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED designations are awarded after a hotel is built and looks at the design, construction and operations of sustainable buildings. Hotels can earn platinum, gold, silver or a basic certification level based on a points system that takes into consideration thing such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Even providing bicycle racks to encourage alternative transportation earns points. The organization also has developed a LEED for Existing Buildings Rating System to measure operations.

Burger called LEED the “gold standard, especially in reference to new construction.” He said there were 831 registered LEED certified hotel projects, with most of them coming online in the past few years. Projects range from single sites to the mammoth CityCenter development in Las Vegas. Crystals, its the retail and entertainment district, has achieved LEED Gold Core & Shell certification. It is the fourth LEED Gold certification for CityCenter, following ARIA Resort’s hotel tower, ARIA’s convention center and theater and the Vdara Hotel & Spa. CityCenter is seeking LEED Gold and Silver ratings for its remaining hotels, residences, dining and public spaces.

Green Seal
The nonprofit Green Seal, founded in 1989, has an extensive lodging certification program. About 50 properties nationwide are in its lodging program, which has gold, silver and bronze designations.

The program evaluates a hotel’s practices in waste minimization, reuse and recycling; energy efficiency, conservation and management; management of fresh water resources; waste water management; hazardous substances; and environmentally sensitive purchasing.

The certification process can cost up to $3,000 for the initial evaluation and up to $3,000 for annual monitoring, depending on the size of the hotel.

The program has caught on with individual hotels, chains and even entire cities.

Recently the city of Chicago challenged its hotels to earn Green Seal certification through its Green Hotels Initiative, and as a result Chicago now has more Green Seal certified hotels than anywhere else in the U.S. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau also recently started an effort with Green Seal to begin a Green Lodging Program.

But Green Seal is not limited to the lodging industry. Its main business is certifying products as meeting science-based environmental certification standards. Green Seal has certified products in more than 40 major product categories, from heating and cooling systems, to cleaning materials to paint.

“We advise these institutions and industry sectors in their efforts to green their purchasing, operations, and facilities management functions,” according to the organization. “Green Seal works with manufacturers, industry sectors, purchasing groups, and governments at all levels to ‘green’ the production and purchasing chain.”

Green Key
The Green Key Eco-Rating Program began as a program for the Hotel Association of Canada — with strong support from Fairmont Hotels and Resorts — but made a strong move into the U.S. market earlier in October when the state of Indiana selected it to be the official green certification program for hotels there.

Based on a comprehensive environmental audit, the program rates hotels on a 1-5 scale and offers guidance on how to improve sustainability at a property. It focuses on five operational areas: corporate environmental management, housekeeping, engineering, food and beverage operations, and conference and meeting facilities. It also considers nine sustainable practices: energy conservation, water conservation, solid waste management, hazardous waste management, indoor air quality, community outreach, building infrastructure, land use and environmental management.

Green Key follows up on the self-report with random, on-site verification of audit results.

Green Leaf
The Audubon Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program made inroads in the certification market this month by becoming a third-party environmental evaluation program for lodging properties throughout the state.

The New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association chose the program, in conjunction with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state’s Green Hospitality Working Group. The program will award one to five “leaves” based on the sustainable practices of a particular hotel, motel, inn or bed and breakfast. Its focus is on water quality, water conservation, waste minimization, resource conservation and energy efficiency.

EcoRooms and EcoSuites
The program from Burger’s Pineapple Hospitality certifies and promotes hotels that meet its operations standards.

To be included on the list, hotels must: offer a recycling program for guests, use energy-efficient lighting and high-efficiency plumbing, implement a linen and towel reuse program, offer bulk bath amenities or donate semi-used bottles after a guest’s stay, use Green Seal certified or equivalent cleaning products as well as Green Seal certified or equivalent facial and bathroom tissue.

It’s the only hotel program that requires hotels to be 100 percent non-smoking to participate, Burger said.

 By Beth Kormanik, Buyer Interactive, October 20, 2009.

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