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Hotel Industry Continues to Struggle in Defining Sustainable Standards

Despite the recent rash of green hotel projects that have been announced here in New York City (Starwood 1, Greenhouse 26, and 330 Hudson Street), the hospitality industry continues to struggle in establishing a uniform definition for a green hotel. As we’ve discussed previously, the 2006 BD+C Green Building White Paper drew this same conclusion, which was echoed in a recent report in the Wall Street Journal that offered some important commentary on the industry’s efforts to adopt more sustainable business practices.

According to the Journal, while hotels are dealing with an increasing number of green vendors, they aren’t equipped with sufficient objective measuring sticks to assess the veracity of the green claims being made by these purportedly green product suppliers. So, in order to do so, some hotels are creating their own internal committees. Two Marriot executives chair a “green council” which evaluates the individual carbon footprint of potential products and also requires vendors to document how they save energy and use recycled products. The Journal reports that vendors “are scrambling to make their case to Marriott or risk being dropped.” Much more after the jump.

Green efforts are expanding beyond sourcing sustainable products. Hilton, for example, is in what the company calls a “discovery phase” in terms of developing its own green best practices for conserving energy and water. Steve Samson, the vide president of rooms operations for Marriott told the Journal that “[t]his is uncharted territory for us. . . . You go on the Web and you see hotels are selling green hotel rooms. But what does that really mean? What is it? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

Two types of green certification programs exist that are directed specifically at hotels. Green Seal’s certification process can take up to three months and costs between $1,950 and $3,000 each year. 43 hotels have been certified to date. The Green Hotels Association charges hotels between $100 and $750 to join and provides members with a list of vendors that offer various types of green products (though these vendors aren’t scrutinized any further than by an examination of the materials that they must submit in support of each green product).

While the USGBC’s LEED system has certified a number of hotels, the system is not geared towards the hospitality industry. The next-generation LEED system- LEED Version 3.0- may help change this, and could help the industry in developing the green definition that it’s looking for. In the meantime, the Hotel Developers Conference will host a green hotel conference next March, while many hotels (including Marriott) are active participants in the Energy Star program. The industry must continue to research the types of green products that it chooses to offer and support organizations like USGBC and Green Seal as they seek to develop a standard suitable for the industry’s unique needs.

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