Eco-Friendly Hotel Certifications Overview

By Alex Gaggioli, August 6, 2015

The eco/green/environmentally friendly movement has become popular and shows no sign of stopping. Many consumers have become more knowledgeable about green practices and have expectations for hotels. Sometimes, the decision between booking between one property over another depends on their eco-friendliness.

There are many types of certifications varying from no cost to high cost. TripAdvisor, for example, offers a free certification based on a survey. Most certifications cost money because they require third-party auditors to visit properties. Third-party auditors conduct a full analysis of environmental practices. Some certifications work well for all properties, and some do not. For example, LEED only makes sense for new builds and full renovation projects.

Below we outlined eight of the most popular green certifications. While this is not a comprehensive list, it includes the companies that are most globally recognized.


GreenLeaders Logo

TripAdvisor’s GreenLeaders Program was created to recognize hotels and B&Bs that implement environmentally friendly practices. A GreenLeader logo is displayed on a property’s TripAdvisor profile to show their commitment to the environment.

According to their website, the program was designed with help from other green industry expert organizations.

In order to meet the minimum GreenPartner level, properties must:

  • Have linen and towel re-use plans
  • Track energy usage on a regular basis
  • Recycle
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs
  • Educate staff and guests on green practices
  • Properly treat waste water (either using on-site or municipal sewage system)

To qualify as a GreenLeader, businesses must also complete a survey and achieve a minimum score. Badge levels are bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

  • GreenPartner: meets minimum requirements
  • GreenLeader Bronze: meets minimum requirements and achieves a 30% score on the Green Practices survey
  • GreenLeader Silver: meets minimum requirements + 40% survey score
  • GreenLeader Gold: meets minimum requirements + 50% survey score
  • GreenLeader Platinum: meets minimum requirements + 60% score or higher

Participation in the GreenLeader program is free of charge. Information on how to apply can be found here.

Green Key Logo

Green Key Globals mission is “To be recognized by the lodging industry as a leader in corporate social responsibility certification through educational, collaborative and promotional efforts.” Mostly focused on North America, their programs are designed for the lodging and meeting industries to support sustainable initiatives, improve overall fiscal performance and community relations.

The Green Key Eco-Rating Program is a graduated system to recognize hotels, motels and resorts that are committed to the environment and their bottom line. Properties are awarded 1-5 keys based on their level of compliance with the program. 5 keys is the highest rating. After an initial award is given, the property will receive guidance on how to maintain and improve their key level.

Assessment is based on the five main operational areas of a property including:

  • Corporate environmental management
  • Housekeeping
  • Food & beverage operations
  • Conference & meeting facilities
  • Engineering.

The program also covers nine areas of sustainable practices: energy conservation, water conservation, solid waste management, hazardous waste management, indoor air quality, community outreach, building infrastructure, land use, and environmental management.

Green Key Global reports having 1,923 hotels signed up for the program, the majority of properties having 2-4 keys.

To become a member, a property needs to complete a 140 question assessment. 20% of properties are audited every year. The cost for the Green Key Program is $600.

Energy-Star Logo

Green Globe International certifies many different types of businesses in the travel industry.

The Green Globe Standard includes 44 core criteria supported by over 380 compliance indicators. Specific criteria and compliances are influenced by type of certification, geographical area and local factors. Certifications are awarded on an annual basis and the standards are updated twice a year.

Once a property becomes a member, they receive a complete set of indicators for sustainability criteria, certification policies & procedures and auditor guidelines. Properties are assessed based on sustainable management, social/economic factors, cultural heritage and environmental factors. Read more on the criteria here.

Certification rates are dependent on location and hotel size. Generally, rates start at $750 per year and increase based on number of rooms and staff.

Green Globe uses third-party auditors to conduct a fair analysis on your property. Green Globe offers certification as well as training to help properties be as environmentally friendly as possible. If you are interested in learning more or becoming a member, click here.

Energy-Star Logo

ENERGY STAR is a voluntary United States program created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1999. The certification aims to create environmental benefits and financial value through exceptional energy efficiency.

Businesses of all types can use ENERGY STAR to:

  • Assess how their properties are performing
  • Adopt an energy management strategy
  • Identify ways to save energy, cut costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Earn recognition
  • Communicate their energy-saving efforts to the public

ENERGY STAR rates businesses based on a score of 1-100. Their program is available to 21 different types of buildings and plants, including hotels. Energy scores give buildings and business the ability to benchmark their business to others. A score of 50 represents typical performance, while a score of 75 indicates exceptional performance.

There are three ways to measure your performance based on your industry.

  • The portfolio manager is a tracking tool to calculate the 1-100 score for commercial and institutional buildings. This tool allows a business to track improvements over time, benchmark performance, create reports, and evaluate greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Target Finder is used to estimate performance. You can enter the estimated use of a commercial building or renovation in order to predict future ENERGY STAR score.
  • Energy Performance Indicators (EPIs) is most likely relevant for hotel properties. It is generally used for manufacturing plants.

Energy Star is free to all users and is a great way to identify a property’s energy effectiveness. The EPA rating is more of a performance indicator rather than a certification provided by other companies. However, ENERGY STAR offers businesses (and individuals) many tools.

Green-Seal Logo

Green Seal is a nonprofit organization that uses science-based programs to empower consumers, purchasers, and companies to create a more sustainable world. The company began in 1989 as the first nonprofit environmental certification program. They offer Green Seal Standards, Green Seal Certification and institutional greening programs.

Green Seal Standards are products, services, and companies they have declared meet their standards. A list of all these products and companies can be found here.

Green Seal Certification is a process for businesses and services to receive after they have met the Green Seal standards. There is a rigorous set of criteria to obtain different levels of sustainability. The process includes annual compliance monitoring and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Hotels and Lodging Properties certification includes three levels: bronze, silver and gold. The Standard was created 1999 and has become a leader in the industry. The certification focuses on

  • Waste minimization
  • Energy conservation and management
  • management of freshwater resources
  • Wastewater management
  • Pollution prevention
  • Environmentally sensitive purchasing

The certification makes properties, their employees, and their guests more aware of their actions. The fee for bronze certification starts at $1,950 and increases per tier (bronze, silver, gold) and room size. More information on the certification guidelines and prices can be found here.

Audubon-International Logo

  • Audubon Green Lodging Program

Audubon International’s mission is to deliver high-quality environmental education and facilitate the sustainable management of land, water, wildlife, and other natural resources in all places people live, work, and play.  They have certified over 3,000 properties across different industries to help make the world a cleaner place.

Audubon International offers the Green Lodging Program which provides third-party verification hotel properties meet a specific set of environmental standards. The certification comes with the strong commitment to water quality, water conservation, waste minimization, resource conservation and energy efficiency. The certification has five stages:

  • Stage 1: Self-Evaluation. Learn the best practices and train staff. Complete the Green Lodging Designation Application and submit to Audubon International.
  • Stage 2: Assessment. Audubon International Lodging staff reviews your application and will schedule a time to verify answers to their questionnaire.
  • Stage 3: Verification. An independent auditor will verify your property to assess its environmental best practices.
  • Stage 4: Eco-Rating Awarded. An eco-rating is awarded based on your application and the site visit. The certificate comes with suggestions on how to improve your environmental best practices. All information is confidential and not released to the public.
  • Stage 5: Continuous Improvement. Audubon will provide you with resources and fact sheets to continually help your property be environmentally friendly.

Annual fees are based on number of rooms and years in the program starting at $350 for the first year.


  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design 

LEED certified buildings save money and resources and have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy. LEED focuses mainly on new developments with construction best practices. However, there are five rating systems:

      1. Building Design and Construction
      2. Interior Design and Construction
      3. Building Operations and Maintenance
      4. Neighborhood Development
      5. Homes

LEED offers four levels of certification. The number of points determines the level. Certified  40-49 points, Silver 50-59, Gold 60-79, and Platinum 80+ points. LEED certification is recognized across the globe as the premier mark of achievement in green building.

LEED has many reference guides to help your project in the certification process, and you can find them here.

Memberships vary by level starting at $300 for the lowest level extending to $20,000 for platinum membership.

If you plan to build a new property or are completing a major renovation, LEED is a great certification to have.

Green-Tourism Logo

Green Tourism is a United Kingdom based company that has certified over 2,000 members in the UK, Ireland and Canada. Their website boasts that they are the largest and most established sustainable certification program in the world.

The criteria are divided into ten areas and hits upon 150 different measures. The ten areas are:

  • Compulsory: Does the property comply with environmental legislation?
  • Management and Marketing: Does the property demonstrate appropriate staff training, monitoring and record-keeping?
  • Social Involvement and Communication: Is the facility a “good neighbor” How well does it communicate its policies to its customers?
  • Energy: Is the property’s heating, cooling, lighting, and etc. energy-efficient?
  • Water: Does the property work to conserve and safely manage water?
  • Purchasing: Does the facility procure environmentally friendly goods and services?
  • Waste: Does the property promote and practice the 3R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle?
  • Transport: Does the facility promote public transportation and support the use of alternative fuels?
  • Natural and Cultural Heritage: How does the property support biodiversity?
  • Innovation: how does the property increase its sustainability in ways not covered in the previous nine areas? (source)

In order to be considered for a certification:

      1. You must first request the Green Tourism membership pack. Do an audit of your property with their Green Tourism Checklist.
      2. Create an action plan and start putting it in place. Start with initiatives that are easy, cheap, and make sense for your property.
      3. Establish a savings baseline. This will help you benchmark your progress and success.
      4. After you have done an audit of your current practices and implemented new ones, Green Tourism will send a representative to give your property a rating. Ratings are tiered bronze, silver, and gold.

After your property is rated, you will receive practical tips to improve your business and receive a regular e-newsletter.

The annual fee is the number of rooms multiplied by the cost per room plus the base rate. The cost per room decreases as number of rooms increase, while the base rate increases with the size of the property. The full pricing model can be seen here.

Travelife Eco Certification

Travelife is an international sustainability certification scheme and has been approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Their websites says they have certified over 1,300 hotels around to the world to improve their environmental, social and economic impacts cost-effectively.

The Travelife certification helps businesses manage and improve social and environmental impacts by complying with sustainability criteria. All Travelife certified hotels and accommodations must undertake an independent on-site audit to receive the award. Properties can receive one of two awards either Travelife Gold award or Travelife Award of Excellence.

The award is based on the following criteria:

  • Sustainability management systems
  • Environmental Management
  • Labor and Human Rights
  • Community Integration
  • Suppliers
  • Customers

The full criteria list can be found here.

For a Travelife-certified hotel to maintain their award they must be audited every two years. The membership price is based on maximum guests per night and property size starting at 800 euros for a two-year membership.

To begin your registration, you can fill out their form here.

The certifications listed above are not appropriate for all types of properties. But, there is a green solution out there for any property willing to put the time and effort.

Large Independent Chains:

  • TripAdvisor GreenLeaders
  • Greenkey
  • Green Globe
  • Green Seal
  • Audubon
  • LEED (new properties or renovations only)
  • Green Tourism (UK and Canada)
  • Travelife

Bed and Breakfasts:

  • TripAdvisor GreenLeaders
  • Greenkey
  • Audubon
  • LEED (new properties or renovations only)
  • Green Tourism (UK and Canada)
  • Travelife

Independent Properties or Hostels:

  • TripAdvisor GreenLeaders
  • Audubon
  • LEED (new properties or renovations only)
  • Green Tourism (UK and Canada)
  • Travelife

Many of these certifications offer extensive case studies outlining the positive effects of implementing eco-friendly practices. Obtaining a certification, especially one completed by a third-party auditor, will help confirm your team’s efforts, as well as convince guests your eco-claims are valid.

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