NATIONAL REPORT—In the last several years, the number of green lodging certification programs available to U.S. hotels has exploded with programs emerging at the national, state and city level. For the most part, these programs address indoor air quality by encouraging lodging establishments to avoid the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are often found in paints, glues, cleaning chemicals, furniture and other items. Some even ask if a property has been tested for radon gas. Ironically, most certification programs avoid addressing the most obvious action that can impact guestroom air quality: smoking. Many studies have proven the ill, often fatal effects of second- and third-hand smoke—hazards encountered in smoking rooms by guests and especially housekeepers.
Green Lodging News recently conducted a phone and e-mail survey of those organizations that run green certification programs and learned that many do not ask whether or not a property is 100 percent nonsmoking, and almost all do not limit the number of smoking rooms that a property can have. In other words, a property can brand itself as “green” while still allowing the indoor air quality in some of its guestrooms to be dramatically impacted in a negative way. Even the most well-known certification brands—LEED, Green Seal and Green Key—make room for smoking rooms.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, which certifies hotels to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, there are two ways to “prevent or minimize exposure of building occupants, indoor surfaces and ventilation air distribution systems to environmental tobacco smoke.” The first option is to prohibit smoking in the building and within 25 feet of entries, outdoor air intakes and operable windows. The second option is to prohibit smoking in the building “except in designated smoking areas.” These smoking areas can be guestrooms as long as guestroom doors are weather-stripped to minimize air leakage into common areas such as hallways. Walls, ceilings and floors must also be sealed in a way to prevent leakage into adjacent units. LEED participants must also “demonstrate acceptable sealing of residential units by a blower door test conducted in accordance with ANSI/ASTM-E779-03, Standard Test Method for Determining Air Leakage Rate By Fan Pressurization.”
Restaurants ‘Yes,’ Hotels ‘No’
In its Green Seal Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties, GS-33, Green Seal asks that properties “seek to replace hazardous substances with less hazardous alternatives (e.g., cleaning supplies, detergents, adhesives, paints, pesticides, etc.)” Green Seal also forbids the use of certain toxic substances in paint and suggests that, “Purchases of products with VOC off-gassing potential shall be evaluated and lower VOC products purchased where available.” Green Seal does not address the air quality impact of smoking at all in its GS-33 standard.
According to Mark Petruzzi, vice president of certification and strategic relations for Green Seal, the organization’s Environmental Standard for Restaurants and Food Services, GS-46 does require that type of facility to be 100 percent nonsmoking. There are no definite plans, however, to add that requirement to the GS-33 standard. It could possibly occur when GS-33 is revised and would have to be encouraged and supported by Green Seal stakeholders. If a standards change were to occur, it would take from 12 to 15 months.
Guido Bauer, CEO of Green Globe Certification, say that to obtain certification from Green Globe a property cannot allow smoking in guestrooms or indoor public areas. Properties can, however, allow smoking in “designated smoking areas.” These areas must be outside of a lodging establishment. In November Green Globe announced that the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia had been certified. A spokesperson at the hotel told Green Lodging News, however, that it has smoking rooms.
Last October, Green Globe International announced that all hotels certified under the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Green Lodging program will automatically receive Green Globe Certified status. The problem is that Chattanooga’s Green Lodging Program does not even ask about smoking in its application so technically its certified hotels should not qualify for Green Globe certification.
Pineapple Allows Only Smoke-Free Properties
Ray Burger, president of Pineapple Hospitality, says his company’s EcoRooms & EcoSuites program only allows 100 percent nonsmoking properties.
Those that run the Audubon Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program do not ask whether or not a property has smoking rooms or other areas where smoking is permitted. “It is something we should consider,” says Kevin Gallagher, president of Green Leaf Environmental, which runs the Audubon program. “We tend to revise our criteria every three years. Even if [the criterion] were in there, it would not be a pass/fail. You may get a lower rating.”
Green Key Global does not require that a property be 100 percent nonsmoking to be certified. According to Roxanna Lopez, Green Key’s operations manager, it does ask, however, if smoking rooms are isolated from nonsmoking rooms to prevent mitigation of smoke either directly or through the HVAC system. If smoking rooms are not isolated, there is a penalty. There is also a penalty if a property is not 100 percent nonsmoking. That penalty decreases as the number of nonsmoking rooms increases. Green Key properties are awarded their key status (1 to 5) based upon overall percentage score calculated from a 150-question audit. Lopez emphasized that Green Key Global will reevaluate its certification criteria in 2011.
Dan Bornholdt, whose Green Suites Hotel Solutions offers an EcoRoom Accommodation Program, says his organization does not currently ask whether or not a property is 100 percent nonsmoking. Bornholdt says that given that most hotels now allocate only a small percentage of room inventory to smoking rooms, issues such as water conservation and energy management should be the priority.
STI: Not a Requirement
Sustainable Travel International (STI), in its Sustainable Tourism Eco-certification Program (STEP), does ask if air quality is monitored in employee work areas and rooms but does not require that a facility be 100 percent nonsmoking in order to achieve certification. According to Brian Mullis, president, STI, “Neither STI nor STEP tells applicants what they can and can’t do. For example, just as important as nonsmoking, may be somebody else’s opinion that it is a hotel’s duty to not take advantage of their employees, to support the local economy, etc. This is an important point because we have no right or capacity to ‘require’ adherence to every moral issue.”
The Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau, as part of its green hospitality initiative application, does not have a category for indoor air quality.
According to Kelly May with the California Department of General Services, the California Green Lodging Program application does ask whether or not the property is 100 percent nonsmoking in all guestrooms and public areas but the answer is not scored. While the program does not currently require a property to 100 percent nonsmoking to participate, May says that may change “hopefully by the end of 2010.”