Grappling with Green

Sensing strong interest and much confusion from the hotel sector, the Hotel Developers Conference, a professional organization that hosts an annual industry meeting, plans a conference on environmentally friendly hotels in March.

Some hotels have turned to established programs in their efforts to go green. Marriott, for example, in 2001 joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, which has given it public recognition for using lower-energy flourescent lighting and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Marriott touts its accomplishments on its Web site under the heading "Green Marriott."

A handful of hotels have gotten certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit group in Washington that grades commercial buildings on areas such as water efficiency, energy use, building materials and indoor air quality. Among them are a Hilton in Vancouver, Wash., and a Marriott at the University of Maryland. But the standards aren't designed specifically for hotels, and retrofitting older hotels to qualify can be prohibitively expensive.

Among other options, Starwood is considering getting certification for its first Element hotel, scheduled to open next July in Lexington, Mass. Depending on what's decided, green measures could add 2% to 4% to the planned $16 millon budget for the hotel, Mr. Lakas estimates.

Green Seal, another non-profit organization in Washington, has an extensive certification program for hotels and motels. The evaluation takes up to three months and costs from $1,950 to $3,000 annually, depending on the size of the hotel. Only 43 hotels nationwide have the certification. The group says interest is picking up, and it is hoping to have another 20 hotels in Chicago certified by this fall.

The "Green" Hotels Association, a Houston-based professional group that charges hotels $100-$750 a year to join, offers a list of approved vendors for products including water-saving toilets and chlorine alternatives. But they aren't vetted beyond a requirement that they send company literature explaining how the product is green. "We take their word for it," says Patty Griffin, president and founder of the association, which has also since 1993 sold a cards to hotels that nudge guests to reuse towels.

But many lodging operators in the group report mixed results in their efforts to go green, even though customers like it.

"There are so many companies promoting 'green products,' the challenge is doing enough research to identify which products are truly green," says Dean Crane, vice president of engineering for Aramark Harrison Lodging, with properties in settings from Lake Powell in Arizona to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. "There are many cleaning products that just don't hold up or achieve what they are marketed for."


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