Standards in sustainability


Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, received LEED Silver certification.National Report – Sustainability. It’s no longer considered a passing fad in the hotel industry, but it has many faces and names. The current challenge for hospitality is not so much willingness to adopt sustainable practices, but to come to an agreement on establishing, reporting and meeting standards.

Picture: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, received LEED Silver certification.

Many global hotel brand companies have established extensive programs with internal and external sustainability standards for their franchisees, operators and suppliers. Several have built proprietary programs around existing benchmarking programs—among them are Hilton Worldwide and InterContinental Hotels Group.

Randy Gaines, VP of engineering, housekeeping and laundry operations, Americas, for Hilton Worldwide, said the company has standardized its own program, LightStay, using ISO standards. “Sustainability for us is about measure, analyze and improve,” he said.

Gaines said currently more than 4,000 hotels in the Hilton system are ISO 14001- and 9001-certified by using the LightStay tools. “LightStay is a brand standard that is used to help us as a guide path to understand usage,” he said.

Hervé Houdré, longtime sustainable hospitality advocate and regional director of operations and GM of InterContinental New York Barclay, said there isn’t a need to create certification from scratch, for two reasons: “First, we simply don’t have the time or resources to create one and, second, it’s simpler for our hotels to align to their criteria, to use their clout and marketing power,” he said.

Gaines and Houdré are co-chairs of the American Hotel & Lodging Assn.’s engineering and environment committee.


A third-party consultant that is assisting hotels with the procurement aspect of sustainability is MindClick, which manages the MindClick Global Sustainability Index for product ratings (formerly HSP Index).Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., received LEED Platinum certification.

CEO JoAnna Abrams said the organization’s “approach follows leading global standards and creates a framework for consistent sustainability when it comes to the supply chain.”

Picture: Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., received LEED Platinum certification.

Abrams said the biggest challenge is the perception that sustainability is expensive. “We have fundamentally proven that wrong,” she said.

She pointed to a case study of one Courtyard by Marriott property that selected sustainable products during a renovation and alerted guests to the initiative. MindClick reported that guest satisfaction and referral scores improved by 150 percent compared to guests that weren’t aware of the initiative.


The U.S. Green Building Council updated its Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) criteria, including adaptations for hospitality projects. The newest program, LEED v4, released in November 2013, doles out credit for higher achievement and performance in the areas of resource savings and emissions reduction.

“Hotels present a unique challenge because they are a combination of residential, commercial and retail, and LEED didn’t have a version that was tackling those issues,” said Corey Enck, director of LEED technical development for the USGBC.

While LEED is considered a good guideline for energy and emissions use, the organization itself claims the biggest challenge is buy-in from all hotel stakeholders.

“The most evident challenge that we’ve seen is often the three-legged stool of the corporate brand, the hotel owner and the property manager,” said Rhiannon Jacobsen, USGBC’s director of strategic accounts. “A lot of the large hospitality owners aren’t as connected with USGBC and LEED.”

In the area of engaging with the hotel industry, LEED is about two months away from starting a user group for hospitality. “We intend to create a place where there is a peer-to-peer collaborative allowing the market be in communication with us as well as each other,” Jacobsen said. For now, LEED certification is more prevalent in new build projects than in existing hotels.


Consultants who advise on sustainability practices often provide verification services as well.

Accounting firm Moss Adams works primarily with smaller independent hotel chains to reach their sustainability goals. Roy Cupler, partner at Moss Adams, said the company provides reports on hotel companies’ compliance to their own goals. “It’s a move in the right direction to have verification to meet measurement standards,” he said.

One of the challenges is working around so many certifications. “It’s going to take a standardized body to bring them all together to get it all uniform,” Cupler said.

Roxanna Lopez, operations manager, quality assurance for LRA Worldwide, said green washing—the overuse of “green” to describe products—has really confused the consumer. LRA reviews products on behalf of clients as well as providing consulting services.

Lopez said it is a challenging concept to standardize sustainability for hotels. “There are too many sources,” she said. “I’m not sure one standardization program will become the reality, but it has the potential to reduce confusion.”

Cupler added that the meeting planners are putting pressure on hotels and convention spaces to measure and report on sustainability practices. “There are many companies out there that see the importance of being good corporate citizens, and part of that is doing business with other good corporate citizens,” he said.


One interesting initiative in the pipeline is the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board, which aims to develop standards for more than 80 industries in 10 sectors suitable for use in providing information in the SEC Forms 10-K and 20-F. Hotels are included within the service sector roll-out schedule. At press time, SASB was accepting work group participants on its website and will hold public comment in July.

Christian Geismann, an audit senior manager and the national leader of sustainability services group at Moss Adams, said SASB will have certain metrics and disclosures required. “That will finally provide consistency across the hotel industry that all are expected to follow,” he said. 

LEED hotel certification by project type

LEED for New Construction: 193 hotels

LEED for Existing Buildings: 34 hotels

LEED for Commercial Interiors: 13 hotels

LEED for Core & Shell: 11 hotels

Source: U.S. Green Building Council