Home Publisher's Point of View Examining the Certification/Continuous Improvement Connection

Examining the Certification/Continuous Improvement Connection


Should continuous improvement be a requirement for carrying on a green certification from one term to the next? I posed this question in a recent blog entry and then proceeded to contact spokespersons for the various leading green certification programs to learn whether or not continuous improvement is indeed a requirement. The spokespersons represented the following certification programs: Green Key Global, Green Globe Certification, Green Seal, EcoRooms & EcoSuites, LEED, and Sustainable Travel International’s STEP. Attempts were made to include the Audubon Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program and Energy Star but representatives of Audubon and the U.S. EPA had not responded as of press time.

Why is continuous improvement important? There are numerous reasons. Do you really want to be part of a program that does not require it? That does not believe that you should move on from the low hanging fruit to higher hanging fruit? Continuous improvement equals greater energy and water savings, less waste, better indoor air quality, better working conditions and more cost savings. The higher the expectations, the higher the performance and that is good for the environment. How do you keep your staff motivated if you tell them that next year, in order to get the same green certification, all they have to do is match the goals they reached this year?

As important as it is for lodging establishments to be held to a higher standard in order to recertify, just as important is whether or not the certifiers themselves raise their standards for certification on a consistent basis. Technology, products and processes are constantly changing. Should a hotel be held to a standard for energy consumption in a CFL world when an LED world changes how achievement should be measured? When certifiers raise their standards, there can be huge environmental gains in one fell swoop.

Prior to chatting with representatives of the various certification organizations, my assumption was that most do not require continuous improvement in order to be recertified. I was partly wrong, partly right and realized that in some cases answers just get real fuzzy.

Summary of Policies

Here then is a summary of where the certifiers stand in regard to requiring continuous improvement as a criterion for recertification:

Green Key Global—According to Zach Conen, vice president of sales & marketing—U.S. Region, Green Key’s self-assessment system was just updated two months ago with some “incremental changes.” This means every property in the system will have to update to the new platform in 2012—in effect having to improve. “That process of refreshing the base program is the best mechanism to boost standards,” Conen says.

In general then, does Green Key require continuous improvement in order to stay in the program? “In a perfect world you would be able to hold people accountable,” Conen says. “If you are trying to create a uniform ratings system, it does not lend itself to it. Every piece of communication we push to members is done with the idea that this program is about continuous improvement. You don’t want to create standards for different hotels based on their tenure in the program.”

Green Key members are required to recertify every two years.

Green Globe Certification—According to Guido Bauer, CEO, recertification is an annual requirement and properties must demonstrate some improvement in order to achieve it. In order to retain “Certified” status all organizations are required to successfully complete an annual Sustainability Assessment and Annual Report, annually submit a completed Self Assessment Checklist and Simple Risk Assessment, and undergo a Certification Audit at least every two years after initial certification.

“We constantly update our standard—once a year in May or June,” Bauer said. “In 2013 we will completely overhaul it.”

Bronze & Beyond

Green Seal—Properties may certify at the Bronze, Silver or Gold level. Hotels initially certified at the Bronze level must meet all the additional requirements of Silver within three years from date of certification in order to be recertified. Silver and Gold certified hotels must demonstrate improvement in some areas in order to be recertified—in the area of purchasing, for example.

According to Linda Chipperfield, vice president of Marketing & Outreach, properties must recertify annually. An attempt is made to update Green Seal standards every three years.

EcoRooms & EcoSuites—According to Ray Burger, president of Pineapple Hospitality, who runs the EcoRooms & EcoSuites program, continuous improvement is not a requirement in order to be recertified but properties must meet 100 percent of certification criteria in order to be certified.

“In the first quarter of this year we will be revising the criteria,” Burger says.

Properties must renew on an annual basis.

LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is a standard crossing many sectors established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It is updated every three years. According to Ashley Katz, media manager for USGBC, once a property has achieved LEED for New Construction certification there is no “time stamp” on that certification. Properties certified under the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (O&M) rating system are required to recertify in order to carry on the certification—no sooner than one year and no later than five years following initial certification.

When asked if USGBC requires that a LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M property show evidence of continuous improvement in order to be recertified, Katz wrote the following: “Before the end of the first quarter, we’ll launch some revisions to the current recertification structure for the 2009 version of LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M. Like the current process, projects will have to recertify under the active version of the LEED for Existing Building: O&M rating system, and comply with the 2009 credit requirements. But, we’re working to simplify the submittals in LEED Online and offer enhanced forms to reduce documentation burden and data gathering woes that projects often meet when recertifying.”

My take on her response is that LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M does not currently require continuous improvement but USGBC is considering it.

STI Requires Continuous Improvement

Sustainable Travel International’s Sustainable Tourism Education Program (STEP)—According to Robert Chappell, director of Standards Development for STI, STEP eco-certification is valid for three years with required annual monitoring and renewal. STI revises its standard annually.

Is a property required to demonstrate continuous improvement? “Yes, continuous improvement and including additional criteria for assessment,” Chappell said. “Our standard is designed in such a way that a business can enter with a baseline, improve their systems with annual monitoring, and show evidence of continuous improvement throughout the process. It’s one of the truly unique attributes of the STEP standard and certification process.”

So there you have it. In most cases the answers were clear. If you have found the certification programs to perform different than above, be sure to let me know. I can be reached at (440) 243-2055 or by e-mail at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

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