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Getting LEED-Certified

April 12, 2010 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent


The City Suite, Proximity Hotel
The City Suite at the Greensboro, NC, Proximity Hotel, the first hotel in the U.S. to get a LEED Platinum rating


You’re a responsible travel agent. You recycle paper in your office. You drive a hybrid car—or use public transportation to cut down on your carbon footprint. And you always look for those magic words when booking a hotel for your clients: LEED-certified.

But how much do you know about LEED? What do those letters mean? How does a hotel get certified? What is the difference between silver, gold and platinum certification? And—perhaps, most important to your clients—can green hotels be comfortable? To help you know exactly what you’re booking, Travel Agent reached out to the U.S. Green Building Council (GBC), a nonprofit body that oversees LEED certification, for all the info on environmentally friendly hotels.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In short, it’s an independent certification program that rates the design, construction and operation of green, high-performance buildings. The rating system consists of seven environmental categories—Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation in Design and Regional Priority—and a project must earn a minimum number of points in each to attain certification.

Comfort Is Key

Hotels are unique constructions, and special considerations must be taken into account when certifying one. “The quality of the air indoors is more important when you’re in a building overnight—compared to just spending an hour in it,” says Sara Schoen, commercial real estate associate at the GBC. Daylight in the space and views of the outdoors are not just aesthetically appealing, but can help improve air quality and overall health. “Asthma is one of the biggest concerns in terms of indoor air quality,” she adds. “We’re looking for any kind of contaminants or allergens, and people with certain health conditions can do a lot better in spaces where attention is paid to that.”

Hotels face another challenge in going green: If guests find them uncomfortable in any way, they won’t stay. “That’s something we hear a lot,” Schoen says. “The priority is to make sure guests don’t feel their comfort is being compromised to be more environmentally friendly.” Among the initiatives hotels are taking are solar heating of water; efficient showerheads that put little water to good use; efficient light bulbs, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; and recycling. “Some hotels are putting recycling bins in the rooms or in the meeting rooms,” Schoen says. “Some are sorting the trash offsite or after it’s been thrown away. And they’re achieving really high recycling rates that way, by sorting through the trash and then directing it to recycling facilities.” Another key feature is alternative transportation. “They’re providing shuttles for guests, on maybe hybrid buses, or bus fleets, so that guests don’t have to use individual cars every time they want to go somewhere.”

Green cleaning is also important, as it contributes to a healthy environment for the guests. “People don’t want to walk into their rooms and smell strong chemicals,” Schoen notes. “[They] don’t want to be exposed to irritants when they’re staying at a hotel.” Things to look for on labels of cleaning products include Green Seal, EPA and Environmental Choice. Substances to avoid in cleaning chemicals include antimicrobial agents (except where required by health codes or other regulations, such as in foodservice or health care) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Another popular—even delicious—trend that has positive environmental effects is sustainable food purchasing. “Purchasing organic or local coffee, beverages, fruits and vegetables, even sustainable fish is a big trend that I’ve seen,” says Schoen.

Achieving Certification

What are the most important factors in getting certified? “Energy is the most heavily weighted category,” Schoen says. To assess a building’s energy efficiency, inspectors look at the property’s overall energy performance and its emissions. For water efficiency, inspectors look at plumbing fixtures like showerheads and faucets.

In terms of materials and resources, the GBC looks at recycled content of goods and products used in the building. “Recycling, reuse, composting—anything that diverts waste from landfills or incinerators,” Schoen explains. In terms of indoor environmental quality, the GBC looks at the materials used—“things like paint, furniture and the VOC they emit”
as well as carbon dioxide levels. They also see if the building allows smoking indoors, or at least restricts it to a certain area.

“Each category is allocated a certain number of points for the optional credits,” Schoen says. “And each category also has some prerequisites that don’t earn points, but are required for certification.” Other factors—such as location—can be taken into consideration as well. For example, water conservation might be more of an issue in the arid Southwest, while it might not be as much of a concern on a coast.

Going for Gold…or Platinum

Getting certified is not as impossible a feat as it may seem. Basic certification requires only 40 points out of 100 (110 with optional bonuses thrown in), silver is 50 points, gold is 60, and platinum is everything over 80 points. “There are certain things that are non-negotiable, and there are other [areas where] the hotels or buildings [can] make their own choices regarding which strategies to implement,” Schoen says. “In terms of the prerequisite, a certain level of water and energy efficiency is required. Those would be deal breakers.”

While a basic certification may not be difficult to obtain, the highest rating, though, is considered quite an achievement. Only two hotels have managed it so far: Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, NC, and Bardessono Resort in Yountville, CA. Forty-six other hotels across the country are LEED-certified, and Schoen estimates that more than a thousand others are in the process of upgrading and becoming eligible.


The Bardessono Resort
The Bardessono Resort, a 62-room boutique hotel in Yountville, CA, was awarded LEED Platinum certification in February this year


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