Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Random Thoughts on Green Hotel Certification

By the end of this year, it is likely that the Hotel Association of Canada's (HAC) Green Key Eco-Rating Program will have 1,000 hotels participating—quite an achievement. HAC has made it easy for hotels to join with its Web-based application process and 140-question survey. While Canada's program is not perfect, it is an example of one that can be ramped up quickly. Canada's accomplishment begs the question: Why doesn't the United States have a user-friendly rating program that encourages widespread participation? There are many answers to this question.

The American Hotel & Lodging Assn. recently studied the idea of running a program and/or endorsing one but decided its role is to present the different alternatives to the industry and let hoteliers decide for themselves which certification programs to pursue. Meanwhile, numerous entrepreneurs have come out with their own programs. In some cases they have gained some traction but in other cases they have not. These well-intentioned entrepreneurs often suffer from small staffs, little capital and a lack of marketing muscle and creativity. In fact, I rarely see them at industry events. Meanwhile, excellent programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (not originally designed for hotels), the EPA's Energy Star, and Green Seal's rating program grow at a snail's pace—each with their own positive agendas. A number of states also have their own programs—some thriving, some on life support.

The certification dilemma will not be solved quickly. There are those that justifiably argue for a national certification program that includes a mandatory on-site audit, while others are willing to accept a program similar to Canada's that offers more of a self-certifying model.

As far as the environment is concerned, the more programs there are the better, but it is confusing for the consumer. What our industry really needs is a certification summit—a conference at which the certification challenges and complexities are finally settled. But could it really happen? Would entrepreneurs be willing to check their ambitions and egos at the door? Would so many different stakeholders be willing to share the potential spoils of a certification program that has the potential to have tens of thousands of members? Don't count on it. What do you think?

1 comment:

Joe Ascanio said...

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with reps from ASTA regarding their new "ASTA Green Program" at the THETRADESHOW conference in Orlando, Florida. Coinciding with the conference were a handful of "green-minded" educational seminars for everyone in attendance.

ASTA's program seems to be entirely self-certifying, and underwhelmingly so. "Do you recycle? Great! You must be a green hotel!" "Have you planted a tree this year? Awesome! Here is your official ASTA Green logo to put on your business card!" That is essentially the way it works. There are no checks and balances, no certification process....oh, but let's not forget that property managers, service providers and even agents need to pay an additional membership fee to be designated as "green" by ASTA. I suppose ASTA'S version of "green" stands for something else entirely.

So far, I would say the private sector has gotten it right, or at least has started to, but I agree with you that its growth is stagnant. I think orgs like NaturCert or even Florida's own Green Lodging Program are building substantial models and it will be interesting to see which, if not all, measure up in the long run as "green travel" moves beyond buzzword status and into mainstream operations.