The Green Room: Local Hotels Rise to the Challenge of Greenbuild

story by Samantha Wittchen

When Greenbuild, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) annual conference and expo, comes to Philadelphia in 2013, it will attract more than 30,000 sustainably-minded folks to the region, all of whom will need a place to stay. But for Greenbuild attendees, a clean room and comfy bed won’t be enough—they’ll expect the hotels they patronize to uphold the same environmental standards they’ll be discussing at the conference.

One local hospitality group working to meet these standards is Hersha Hospitality. “There’s so much you can get done just by making simple operational changes,” says Bennett Thomas, vice president of finance and sustainability. Hersha has developed EarthView, a program that provides a standardized approach to sustainability that is executable across their portfolio of hotel brands—in Philadelphia they work with the Rittenhouse Hotel as well as Hyatt, Marriott, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn hotels.

EarthView will prepare Hersha for Greenbuild, but more importantly, also makes good sense for their business. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, water use and waste production (all Greenbuild goals), EarthView could have significant financial benefits. “We have forecast to save $8 to $10 million from the baseline year from Phase I of the program,” says Thomas. Phase I includes offering recycling in all guest rooms, retrofitting incandescent bulbs to CFLs or LEDs and tracking energy usage through EPA’s Portfolio Manager program.

For other hoteliers, USGBC has developed a system to ensure that the conference’s discerning clientele finds their accommodations up to snuff. “Because green building sits at the forefront of the environmental and economic opportunities before us,” says Kate Hurst, USGBC’s Greenbuild and events director, “it’s essential that we in the Greenbuild community take the lead in greening the field of conferences and events.”

And take the lead they have. USGBC has developed a Green Venue Selection Guide that includes a comprehensive environmental questionnaire for hotel and conference center operators to evaluate their energy use and performance, water efficiency, purchasing practices, waste management, occupant health and comfort, and transportation. The questions touch on aspects of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard that pertain to the hospitality industry, although USGBC doesn’t require a hotel to be LEED-certified in order to work with them.

Once the environmental practices of the hotel are established through the questionnaire, the USGBC develops a contract with the venue. Only contracted hotels will be listed as places to stay for Greenbuild. An audit process during the conference verifies that hotels are adhering to contract requirements. After every Greenbuild conference, USGBC puts together a comprehensive sustainability report on how well each hotel performed in achieving their greening goals.

USGBC hopes Greenbuild’s requirements will have a lasting affect, especially on Philadelphia’s older buildings. For the first time in Greenbuild history, the Host Committee—lead in Philadelphia by DVGBC—will work with area hotel management to help them understand what steps would be required for their buildings to become LEED-certified. Currently the only LEED-certified hotel in Philadelphia is the Hotel Palomar at 17th and Sansom Streets.

And, as sustainably-minded hospitality groups like Hersha become more prevalent, USGBC’s job is only getting easier, says Hurst. “The hospitality industry is changing and sustainability has been top of mind for a while now.” That’s good news for Greenbuild and Philadelphia.

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