Uncle Sam Tells Hotels to Fall In with EPA

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program to set green hotel standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency has tapped the Convention Industry Council (in conjunction with the American Society for Testing and Materials) to develop national standards for green hotels. The standards would both serve as authoritative, voluntary guidelines for suppliers and as binding regulations for all federal travel. Harry Lewis, attorney adviser in the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, estimates the standards will be in place by the end of the year.

For fiscal-year 2008, the Office of Management and Budget said government employees spent $14.8 billion on official travel. “When it comes right down to it, what’s really going to motivate a company to change its practices is the prospect of losing [government business],” Lewis said.

It’s not yet clear how hotels would be certified. They might complete a computer-automated questionnaire (such as one would for a tax filing) or be vetted through a third-party verification process. Also up in the air is how standards might evolve as green technologies advance; one possibility is instituting quantifiable standards that would result in suppliers receiving a percentile grade, similar to the Energy Star program.

The green effort came from executive order 13423, which former president George W. Bush signed in 2007 and mandated better performance on environmental and energy issues by federal agencies. The order expanded and amended aspects of the EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, which began in 1993 and sets standards for government purchasing on everything from office supplies and carpet to food and landscaping—and now hospitality.

Lewis said the EPA’s meetings standards should alleviate confusion for suppliers and subvert greenwashing with “narrow, focused, and comprehensive” benchmarks for all areas of sustainability, upon which consumers can make informed choices. “From the government’s point of view, that’s what it’s all about,” said Lewis.

Originally published Feb. 16, 2009