As reported by The Washington Post.

U.S. hotel companies are competing to out-green each other nowadays. The proof? In the past two weeks, two major chains have announced ambitious environmental goals.

Last Wednesday, Marriott International announced that it had retooled its 31-year-old Bethesda headquarters to win LEED Gold status -- the second-highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council -- and pledged that within five years, 300 of the chain's 3,300 hotels worldwide would receive LEED certification. At the moment, 40 of the company's hotels are either registered to receive LEED certification or already have it.

Worldwide, only 50 hotels have earned LEED certification, which uses an elaborate point system to measure a building's relative efficiency and environmental impact. Three are Washington area Marriotts: Courtyard by Marriott in Chevy Chase, Md.; the Marriott Inn & Conference Center at the University of Maryland; and the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Baltimore. The Marriott TownePlace Suites BWI is awaiting LEED certification.

Gene Singleton, who owns both Baltimore's Fairfield Inn and the TownePlace Suites at BWI, said that he started pursuing the green building seal of approval out of necessity when he was converting the Baltimore Brewing Co.'s former distillery into a high-end hotel, which opened last July. Zoning authorities suggested that he establish a green roof to meet local storm-water management requirements, and once he embarked on that path, he decided to pursue LEED Gold status.

"It's the greatest investment," Singleton said, adding that the move added 2 percent to his construction costs but now saves him 18 percent a year in energy and water costs.

Singleton even installed a waterless urinal in his tavern's public bathroom "to raise people's awareness" about how efficient everyday fixtures can produce environmental benefits.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants announced on March 29 that it aims to become "the first lifestyle boutique hotel company in the U.S." to attain 100 percent Green Seal certification at the silver level for its 50 American hotels.

Green Seal provides independent certification for a range of hospitality industry practices, evaluating how hotels affect the environment through activities such as waste handling, energy use and water consumption.

Eight Kimpton hotels in the Washington area have already obtained Green Seal approval: the District's Hotel Monaco, Hotel Palomar, Hotel George, Hotel Rouge, Topaz Hotel and Hotel Madera, along with the Morrison House and Hotel Monaco in Alexandria.

Kimpton's chief operating officer, Niki Leondakis, said that 46 of the chain's hotels had either already been certified by Green Seal or were in the process of getting it, allowing the company to measure its environmental impact with greater precision. "This certification reaffirms for our guests and each hotel in our collection the impact our shared contribution makes on individual communities and the planet overall," she said.

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