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Green Lodging:  We Have to Do It, But How?
By Elisabeth Scharbaum, July 2007

Green Lodging is the new life safety!

- or, as I recently overheard someone say to adapt greener habits today is as important as it was to stop smoking some time ago. We have to do it, but how? And, more specifically, how does this relate to our industry? We hope this outline will shed some light on the matter. Let’s start with a mini glossary of terms:

  • green” all by itself is a very loose and sometimes abused term to imply “environmentally responsible” actions or items
  • Green Building” is a term qualified by the US Green Building Council where precise criteria are set for various levels of LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) compliance
  • Green Lodging” is a program initiated by the State of CA, more on that below
  • Sustainability” means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” as defined by the world commission on environment and development, see also Hanover principles listed in the table below)
Our headline references back to government stipulations from about a decade ago where hotels had to become compliant with enhanced life safety features to be on the GSA list. Shortly thereafter, RFQs from ALL market segments included life safety requirements and now an enhanced level of life safety features is a STANDARD for all ratings. “Green Lodging” is in that league! To have a green policy in place is of utmost importance - your RFQs form ALL market segments will very soon require it.

How do you become “green” and who is the defining authority?

While the term “green lodging” is not yet globally or domestically defined, CA as one of only 7 states does have an official (green lodging) program and CA state employees are required to look among participating hotels first when they book their travel. This government program is all about reducing waste, the first step to environmental consciousness. Thus, it does not cost you but rather reduces your expenses to comply. To get the information, implement the recommendations and get on the green lodging properties list is also the best marketing move you can make this year. While “green” all by itself remains undefined, you may use the term this context legitimately - and you will be on a very important (world-wide) list.

Can you do more?

If you want to take the “greening” of your hotel further, you might seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) approval. The official US Green Building Council website explains in great detail what is required to achieve various levels of LEED – certification. Even if you are not seeking LEED certification, their outline is a very efficient way of running through a checklist of possibilities how and where you can save (energy) cost. Many of the programs are accompanied by government tax saving programs, so it is definitely worth your while to check it out.

Where does sustainability fit in?

How to become a more sustainable business is at the same time the most intriguing and the least easily defined part on the greening agenda. There is so much more you can do than “reduce-reuse-recycle”. According to the Hanover principles, a definition for sustainability written by William McDonough for the 2000 World Fair in Hanover, Germany, the elimination of waste is only one of 9 maxims. Other important elements are “rights of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition and “… to encourage direct and open communication between … manufacturers and users to link long term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity”. Which, simplified, might translate to your daily operations like this: whatever you do, buy, promote, sell: see to it that it is good for the environment, good for the local community, good for your guests and good for your staff. And “good” here does not necessarily mean “green” but mindful, helpful, supportive. For example, whatever you need to dispose of goes to a good cause rather than the landfill. For certain simple tasks you may engage the help of disabled or otherwise challenged individuals to support the community. For art, you consider the original work of local artists instead of buying prints of faraway famous people. Before you buy anything from faraway you pencil out whether it would not be cheaper to buy local, even at a slightly higher price, in order to save energy and environment, all the while benefiting the local community. 

Most importantly:
Involve your staff and clientele in this thinking process - continuously. Our guests’ needs have once again changed and while they are still looking for comfort and style, they are now also seeking out businesses where their own evolved values and practices concerned about a more sustainable world find a sounding board. Chic is certainly still the new standard, but chic wears green in 2007!

REFERENCES - California’s Green Lodging web site  International list of “approved” green hotels; links to CA’s and the other states’ programs  Especially go to the “best practice survey” to learn what companies are looking for  The office US Green Building Council website - LEED guidelines and more  to find places where items can be recycled, reused  Full detail on Hanover Principles, sustainable design

This article was originally written for and published in California Lodging,  Summer 2007

Elisabeth Scharbaum is a CLIA member; her firm chic-hotel assists hoteliers with renovations and continuous design/capital improvement planning. You can reach her at 510.336.1968 or


Elisabeth Scharbaum

Also See: Building a Green Hotel - The Challenges of Certification / Jim Butler / June 2007


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