These days, hotel guests have a new standard by which to choose how to spend their travel dollars.
For decades, hotels were judged solely through diamond or star-based rating systems that used rather nebulous criteria to rank accommodations in terms of service, reputation and comfort.
But now the LEED certification system offers a new way for hotel proprietors to entice savvy and increasingly environmentally-conscious guests.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the national benchmark by which guests can determine which hotels have succeeded in eco-friendly design, construction, and operations.
To attain LEED certification, a hotel must meet certain prerequisites in six key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design.
Different levels of certification can be awarded depending on how many credits a hotel receives in each category. Levels include Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.
Hundreds of hotels are already LEED-certified; moreover, some chains, such as Westin, are developing hotel brands within their product mix that are purpose-built to achieve a particular level of certification.
So which hotels are truly going green?
The very name of the popular Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco, California seems to implicitly suggest eco-awareness. So it should not come as a surprise this LEED-certified hotel is indeed very green.
Twenty-two percent of the building’s materials were manufactured within 500 miles of the site, 77 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills, and 100 percent of the interior spaces are tobacco-free. Energy-economizing key cards allow for rooms to be illuminated and cooled (or heated) only when the guest is inside; when the traveler is out sightseeing or in a meeting, energy is conserved. Travelers concerned about being able to charge their laptops or phones while they are out should not fret, because the hotel has considered this and has designated one outlet to remain available 24/7.
The Orchard Garden furthers its green credentials with its Eco-Getaway package, which includes environmentally-friendly perks such as airport transfers in a hybrid Toyota Prius, discounts on rental bikes and a “greenopia guide” along with a European breakfast buffet and free DVD rentals.
Nearby Napa Valley is home to the world’s first gold-certified LEED hotel. The Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa clinched its LEED certification by using Forest Stewardship Council-approved wood-based materials, carpets containing post-consumer recycled material, recycled tiles and granite in the bathrooms, and water conservation measures such as low-flow toilets and showerheads.
The landscaping is done using all-natural chemical-free fertilizers. Education is a part of the plan too: the hotel has kiosks with “green touch screens” outlining the savings in water and electricity, and guides offer daily tours allowing guests and visitors to see firsthand what the hotel is doing to promote environmental sustainability.
But northern California is not the only place green hotels are to be found. Just a five- minute drive from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica is where travelers will find the silver-certified Ambrose Hotel. The Ambrose boasts an eco-team whole goal is to promote green practices among staff members. Guests are shuttled around town for free in a biodiesel-powered London taxicab, and nifty complimentary amenities include a gourmet continental breakfast by Urth Caffe which includes organic fresh fruit and Starbucks’ Fair-Trade organic coffee.
Gaming goes green at the Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. With 50 stories, 3,066 rooms and almost seven million square feet of floor space, the Palazzo is the largest building project in the world to receive a LEED certificate. Sensors detect when guests are in the suite and the temperature automatically adjusts to occupancy in the room. Ground transportation is green here, with valet bicycle parking and secure bicycle racks for both guests and staff. The resort also rewards those who carpool or drive electric or fuel-efficient vehicles by providing preferred parking, and five percent of the total parking spaces are reserved for car and van pools.
‘P’ is for Platinum—and also for Proximity—as in the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina. This hotel observes more than 70 sustainable practices, including using solar energy to heat approximately 60 percent of the property’s water. Shelving in guest rooms is made from 100 percent post-industrial recycled wood, the tabletops in the restaurant are made of salvaged, solid walnut trees, and the room service trays are made of “plyboo” (bamboo plywood). To explore the nearby five-mile greenway, guests are invited to use the hotel’s complimentary bicycles.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide leads the green movement with its newest brand, element by Westin. With the first property having debuted this summer and 19 more set to open by the end of 2009, element is making history as the first major hotel brand to mandate LEED certification for every newly-built location.
Planned features include everything from in-room recycling bins, to water filters that reduce the need for bottled water, to eco-friendly paints, carpets, and furniture. The chain has also pledged to buy wind-powered electricity to reduce carbon emissions, and to use energy-efficient appliances in its rooms and restaurants.
You can check out—or rather check into—the element Lexington now, or the element Las Vegas (Summerlin) as early as December 18. Two Texas properties will open in 2009: element Houston Vintage Park in January, and element Irving in February.
By Neha Shah for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Neha’s Web site at http://travelwordsmith.com.
Also by Neha Shah on PeterGreenberg.com:
- One-Tank Trips: Raleigh, North Carolina Driving Vacation
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Mumbai (formerly Bombay) India
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Copenhagen, Denmark
Don’t miss more coverage of Green Hotels: Hotels Taking the LEED on Green Building.
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