Go green or get left behind. That's the message many hotel owners are hearing as they watch their competitors slash operating costs, gain respect in the community and fill more rooms with guests after building a new green hotel or retrofitting an existing one. Green building for hotels increases the quality of a hospitality structure, reduces its impact on the environment and enhances its credibility with locals and visitors alike.


The best way to achieve sustainability for a new or existing hotel is to aim for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC offers clear guidelines for every step of both the building process and daily operations that will help you make crucial choices for your green hotel.


LEED certification is awarded in four levels - certified, silver, gold and platinum - indicating how many of the program's markers have been met. At least 40 out of 100 points must be earned for base-level certification.


The process of attaining voluntary, third-party LEED certification involves six credit categories:


Sustainable Sites - Reclaiming unused property and/or retaining green space is a great place to start. Among the choices recommended by the USGBC are reflective or open grid paving, green roofs for storm water management and reduced energy use, nature preserves on the property and brownfield redevelopment. Another element of sustainable sites is transportation, providing access to public transportation, bicycle storage or fuel-efficient shuttle vehicles.


Water Efficiency - Reduce water consumption by at least 20 percent with tactics like high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, flow restrictors, waterless urinals and landscaping with native species that require little to no irrigation. Many hotels also enable guests to play a role in saving water by giving them the option of having their linens changed every other day.


Energy and Atmosphere - Consider installing a rooftop solar water heating system, which can eliminate over half of water heating energy use. An efficient HVAC system with energy recovery units and variable refrigerant volume heat pumps keep guest rooms at a comfortable temperature without putting a strain on energy resources. Additional possibilities include on-site renewable energy like photovoltaic roof panels and geothermal systems and installing high-efficiency Energy Star appliances.


Materials and Resources - Reuse and recycle material waste from the construction site; the cost of this effort can be completely offset in reduced landfill fees. Seek out building materials that were extracted and manufactured locally, choose products that contain recycled content or are recyclable, and implement an on-site recycling center that diverts glass, plastics, metals, cardboard, paper and other recyclables from the landfill.


Indoor Environmental Quality - Daylight and views of the outdoors through windows and skylights don't just make a hotel more beautiful, they benefit the health of staff and guests. Indoor air quality is also a crucial consideration, requiring low-emitting paints and coatings as well as sustainable cleaning products and equipment to minimize harmful toxins.


Innovation in Operations - Go the extra mile to show your guests how much you care about the environment by training your staff in sustainable practices and offering building tours that educate guests about the hotel's environmental attributes. Brainstorm additional ways to make your property stand out as a green leader, and your innovative strategies will earn you extra points toward your LEED certification.


For details on LEED certification for green hotels and additional green building tips, see the USGBC guide, Practical Strategies in Green Building - Hotels (PDF).

Green building for hotels
Go green or get left behind. That's the message many hotel owners are hearing as they watch their competitors slash operating costs, gain respect in the communi