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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

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.

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