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Suite Dreams

For hospitality designers who have struggled to adapt facilities to LEED standards, the coming release of LEED for Hospitality is sweet news, indeed.

By Penny Bonda, FASID, LEED Fellow


For hospitality designers who have struggled to adapt facilities to LEED standards, the coming release of LEED for Hospitality is sweet news, indeed.

Finally! After years of impatience and frustration, the hospitality industry is on the brink of having its own LEED rating systems for new construction (NC), existing buildings (EB) and commercial interiors (CI).

That it took so long is puzzling. According to the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) own published statistics, hotels represent more than 5 billion square feet of space, nearly 5 million guest rooms and close to $4 billion in annual energy use—and that’s just in the United States. As a multi-billion dollar industry, hospitality offers multiple sustainable opportunities across all LEED categories. Consider water efficiency alone: what other building type has as many plumbing fixtures as a hotel?

It’s not that the industry never asked. As far back as 2005, NEWH, the hospitality industry network, began lobbying for a LEED rating system that would address its unique building types and needs. The USGBC, busy with refinements to its three flagship products, instead focused its attention on credit weightings, regional priorities and the launch of LEED 2009.

Around that same time, however, the council began to see a disconnect in LEED use for specific project types, according to Corey Enck, USGBC’s director of technical development. Data centers, warehouse and distribution centers, hospitality facilities, schools and retail establishments were not pursuing LEED certification in the same percentages as other market sectors. “We set out to identify the environmental impacts associated with these markets and the barriers within LEED that are preventing these project types from pursuing certification,” Enck says.

more sustainable stays
Hotels are a unique building type—not quite retail, office or residential—that needed some clarification and adaption to work with LEED. In 2009 and 2010, the USGBC brought together a working group of approximately 15 industry reps, architects, designers, engineers, owners and other stakeholders, and had them identify their highest priorities and areas of concern.

“We knew which credits we had received the most pushback on and selected the participants based on their knowledge of those specific credit areas,” Enck explains. “The group came away with a list of guidelines and an opportunity to fill in the gaps and better align with the market sector. We weren’t trying to make LEED easier, but rather more appropriate.”

A good example of a needed change can be found in the Sustainable Sites credit Development Density and Community Connectivity, which requires a project to be located in an area of prescribed density or to be close to a residential community. Laura Galbreath, a principal at RTKL and member of the hospitality working group, points out that a residential area is exactly where you don’t want a hotel. “There are many sustainable ways to appropriately develop a resort property,” she says.

The credit has now moved to the Location and Transportation category and been renamed Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses, with requirements appropriate to hospitality while encouraging the environmental intent of the original concept.PageBreak

Another credit needing correction was Light Pollution Reduction. According to Galbreath, the credit requirements—reduced interior lighting power at night or the installation of automatic window shading devices—were obviously written for commercial office buildings. “You’re not going to have auto shades in a guest room, and without a workaround there wasn’t an avenue for compliance. No hotel project was able to achieve those points,” she says. The revised credit in LEED v4 offers achievable options for uplight and light trespass.

Sustainable agriculture issues dealing with policies such as eco-labeling, local sourcing of food and beverages, and bio-based materials were initially introduced through the hospitality working group and are now included in the purchasing policy credits in LEED-EB for all building types. This credit cross-pollination between rating systems offers opportunities for projects in all sectors to achieve more ambitious environmental goals.

These and other identified issues went through LEED’s standard review process, with many of the working group’s suggestions incorporated into the NC, EB and CI rating systems at first as pilot credits, and now as part of the proposed v4 edition of LEED for Hospitality. Many of the changes suggested by the hospitality working group are also applicable to LEED in general and have been incorporated into v4 as requirements, now available to all project teams. All current versions of LEED including v4—which will hopefully be balloted in June—can be found on the USGBC website (

what’s ahead
Moving forward, Galbreath would like to see the group come back together to work on some still-sticky issues. Specifically, to some on the committee it never seemed right to design the shell and systems of a hotel to meet LEED-NC requirements and ignore the FF&E that is installed after the fact. Per LEED guidelines, furniture need not be included in emissions calculations if not part of the scope of work—which it often is not.

“It seems to me a consumer should expect exceptionally high sustainability features throughout a hotel with a LEED plaque,” Galbreath says. “There is a need for checks and balances.”

Prior to the working group’s efforts, RTKL had a number of certified hospitality projects, according to Galbreath, proving that it was possible but difficult to get developers, owners and operators engaged. But she and others believe that the release of the v4 hospitality rating systems will make it easier to certify and attract clients, and will build interest toward LEED as the hospitality industry sees that the USGBC is truly engaged with its concerns. Of the 46 hospitality projects certified under LEED 2009, 3 are NC, 3 are CI and 15 are EB.

And yet, despite lacking a LEED rating system of their own, hospitality project teams have used a number of innovative green strategies over the years: open grid paving to reduce the heat island effect, green roofs to improve otherwise unattractive room views, alternative and fuel-efficient transportation for guests, native landscaping, rooftop solar water heating systems and sustainable purchasing programs. The USGBC collected and published a number of these practical strategies, which encouraged further innovation.

Enck acknowledges that the early hospitality certifications were often stand-alone boutique properties, but that is quickly changing. Marriott, for example, is participating in LEED’s volume program, which helps address scale and makes certification easier to pursue for chains with multiple properties. Owners can realize economic and process efficiencies by certifying one prototype and applying the resulting pre-certifications to other projects over multiple years. There are currently four hospitality owners with 28 projects in the volume program. Marriott’s goal is to certify 300 hotels by 2015.

What started years ago as a simple way to assess the sustainability of buildings has evolved into a library of opportunities based on the suite of original LEED products. Now, with the pending arrival of v4’s LEED for Hospitality rating system, the suite is that much sweeter.


Penny Bonda, FASID, LEED Fellow, works in the fields of environmental consulting and communications, and is a prominent writer and lecturer. She is the founding chair and a primary author of the LEED Commercial Interiors rating system. Her published works include Sustainability Matters, written with the General Services Administration, and Sustainable Commercial Interiors (Wiley). She is a founding partner of Ecoimpact Consulting, a collaborative offering sustainable strategies for better business.