Home Green Design Getting Down to the Basics of LEED

Getting Down to the Basics of LEED


The term “green building” can have a wide variety of meanings. One person may say it includes water conserving bathroom fixtures, solar panels, recycling, or nontoxic cleaning agents. Another person may say linen and towel reuse programs, lighting controls and organically grown foods. All these items (and many others) are green, as each item supports the basic 3Rs of green business practice: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Many hotel operators have already incorporated very specific cost-saving and ultimately green strategies in their daily housekeeping and engineering programs. Embracing green operations is only one piece of the puzzle that makes today’s truly successful green building and renovation projects more than just a sum of their green parts.

Much has been written—both good and bad—of the seemly complicated processes of integrated design embedded in the burgeoning green building industry. If you have the time, read some of the recent cover stories in Newsweek, USA Today, Vanity Fair, ELLE and Dwell. What you will find is a variety of newsworthy stories describing the leaders, economics and some of the early adopter companies in the green building movement. You can also test your local market, by asking your vendors and suppliers what products they offer that are green. If they don’t have a good answer, they will soon.

Beyond operational improvements, what can be done to distinguish your property as truly green? Part of the answer may include pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Since its launch six years ago, LEED has permeated many building sectors. There are now more than 430 LEED certified buildings and more than 3,200 LEED registered projects affecting more than 500 million square feet of new and renovated construction. But, you may be surprised to know, of all these projects only one U.S. hotel property has received LEED certification.

Hotel construction projects are especially unique in their multi-headed, fractional ownerships and complicated owner/operator agreements. I have also observed a general concern by hotel owners that going green will in some way add to per key costs and detract from the brand identity, aesthetic and overall guest experience and of a property.

Hotel Industry Tiptoes into LEED World

Simply put, major hotel chains have been afraid be the first property on the potentially bleeding edge of LEED design. However, this is changing. There are now several large flagship properties and several smaller boutique hotels in several cities that are in various stages of design that are all registered with the USGBC and on their way to becoming the first group of high profile LEED certified hotels.

LEED is a family of green building rating systems for buildings based on quantifiable, objective and measurable green building criteria. Each LEED rating system divides green building into five basic green categories: site, water, energy, materials and indoor air quality.

There are currently four published LEED rating systems and several more in various stages of public review or pilot process. You can view descriptions of them all at www.usgbc.org. The four published LEED Rating systems are LEED-NC, for New Buildings and Major Renovations; LEED-EB, for Existing Buildings; LEED-CI, for Commercial Interiors; and LEED-CS for Commercial Core and Shell projects.

A project is scored based on the total number of points achieved from all LEED categories. After a review of all credit documentation submitted to the USGBC, the organization awards four possible levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Sounds simple right? The real key to successfully achieving LEED is not the project’s budget or schedule but instead a commitment from all project stakeholders to work together to achieve an integrated, green design.

It is worth noting that only buildings can receive a LEED certification—not materials, vendors or companies. Any product claiming by itself to achieve a LEED point is simply incorrect in its marketing and demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the LEED credit process by the manufacturer. Be wary of such claims. Products can contribute to achieving LEED credits. Individuals can study and take an exam and become a LEED accredited professional (LEED AP). Companies can join the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as members and individuals can join their local chapter.

This guest column in Green Lodging News is intended to provide a forum to discuss quantifiable, practical application of sustainability and LEED in the green design, construction and operations of hotels. Specific challenges and sometimes misperceptions of applying LEED, based on my experience as a green building consultant and architect on several large and boutique hotels, will be discussed in future columns.

William J. Worthen, AIA, LEED AP, is a licensed architect and senior associate at San Francisco-based Simon & Associates Inc., Green Building Consultants, www.greenbuild.com. The company is currently working on more than 25 LEED registered projects, including six LEED registered hotels. Worthen also manages his own design practice, Urban Fabrick. He can be contacted at bill@greenbuild.com.