by Sarah J.F. Braley | October 01, 2013



 Green Seal
This program develops sustainability standards for products, services and companies, and offers third-party certification for those that meet the strict criteria. Hotels are rated gold, silver and bronze; only five in the United States have achieved gold level: the Guest House at Wingspread in Racine, Wis.; Hyatt at Olive 8 in Seattle; Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina; W Seattle; and Xanterra Parks and Resorts at Zion Lodge in Springdale, Utah.

To be Green Seal-certified, a hotel must adhere to stringent guidelines, including requirements in waste minimization and recycling; energy efficiency and conservation; management of freshwater resources and waste water, and reduction and handling of hazardous substances. Properties also must establish an environmentally sensitive purchasing policy. A certified property's records and procedures are evaluated, and an on-site audit is conducted every 18 months.

 LEED Certification
The USGBC's LEED designation is all about the building. The program offers third-party verification that new-builds and renovated facilities maintain energy-saving systems, and that the materials used in construction meet current environmental standards. LEED Certification is awarded on baseline, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels for new and existing buildings. Credits are given for minimizing local environmental impact, water efficiency, energy performance, materials and more. To reach the baseline level, a hotel has to earn 40-49 points on a 100-point scale; Platinum requires achieving 80 or more points.

The first property to reach the Platinum pinnacle was the 147-room Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., which opened in 2007 with 5,000 square feet of meeting space and was awarded the designation in 2008. Only 16 other properties have reached this level, three of them in the United States: the 62-room Bardessono in California's Napa Valley; Syracuse, N.Y.'s 58-room Hotel Skyler, and an upscale adventure hostel in Chattanooga, Tenn., called the Crash Pad.

In July, the membership of the USGBC adopted LEED v4, the latest update to the rating system. Launching this fall, the program allows applicants to fill out less complicated forms. Among other changes: A greater emphasis on performance will tie credit more closely to improved environmental outcomes. For example, LEED 2009 gave credit for buildings that had bike racks and changing rooms. LEED v4 requires bike racks and changing rooms, but the building also must be located in a bikeable area. Version 4 also has a focus on ongoing certification.

LEED-certified existing buildings are required to recertify every five years; new-builds are under no such requirement (it is, after all, a voluntary program), but they are encouraged to get certification under the existing-building criteria, as well.

Wait, there's more
In scouring the ranks of green hotels, planners might come across a number of other designations.
Energy Star (, a label we are used to seeing on new appliances, helps properties track water and energy consumption. However, "their process was not created for hotels, so it has some issues with understanding our business and why we reach certain numbers," notes Carlson Rezidor's Schultz. "A hotel would get a better Energy Star rating if it was less occupied. The rating doesn't take occupancy into consideration. We'd be thrilled to be rated low!"

Many hotels, including the entire Hilton Worldwide portfolio, have met the international sustainability standards of ISO 9001 (for quality management) and ISO 14001 (for environmental management), two measurements from the International Organization for Standardization ( Achieving compliance at Hilton was the happy result of the company's LightStay sustainability program, which tracks more than 200 measurements across the brand. "We felt that ISO 9001 and 14001 were more globally recognized," says Randy Gaines, vice president of engineering, housekeeping and laundry operations, Americas.

Meanwhile, the list of certifying entities is long and growing. Aside from LEED, Green Key, Green Seal and Energy Star designations, a Starwood Hotels & Resorts representative says the hospitality company also encourages its hotels that work toward recognition from Green Globe (, the Green Tourism Business Scheme (, the Rainforest Alliance ( and the Florida Green Lodging Program (