Not LEED, still green performers

May 28, 2010
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DeVos Place, Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center, three downtown hotels and a local bed-and-breakfast business have gone green — but using state documentation and not LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

By taking that route, all six can tell everyone on the planet about their environmentally sound and energy-efficient operations without having to pay anyone a dime.

The city’s convention center and the Eberhard Center both were certified as “Stewards” in the Green Venues Michigan program. The Holiday Inn Hotel, the JW Marriott and Peaches Bed & Breakfast have been certified as “Leaders” in the Green Lodging Michigan program, while the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel has earned “Steward” status in the same statewide program. Both are run by the Bureau of Energy Systems, a division within the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

Roger Doherty manages both programs from his office in Lansing. He said the Green Lodging effort made its debut in October 2006, back when the bureau was known as the Michigan Energy Office. The idea to certify the state’s hotels as green wasn’t an original one. Doherty said his bureau and the state’s environmental department knew that a few other states offered such a program. So the two agencies modeled Green Lodging Michigan on the existing examples as a way to help the industry compete for travel and tourism dollars.

“Tourism is a big part of Michigan’s economic situation, so that’s why lodging was chosen,” said Doherty.

“We wanted to help lodging as much as we could to attract more tourism, to help the lodging facilities do well and to help them hire more people. Just because of the scale of how important lodging and tourism is to Michigan’s economy is probably why.”

Creating the Green Venues program was a natural spinoff for the industry as a whole, once the bureau saw the hotel effort begin to pick up steam. “The venues one has a relationship to tourism, as well, with it focusing on entertainment venues, conference facilities and convention facilities that don’t qualify for the lodging program. But a lot of the green practices for them would be similar as a lodging facility, but for a lack of beds,” said Doherty.

“Now this one, we weren’t aware of anyone else doing it, and we used our own Green Lodging program as the model,” he added.

At this point in time, Doherty said the bureau hasn’t talked about adding another green program for another building classification such as retail. A little more than a year ago, Meijer Inc. Chairman Hank Meijer told an audience at DeVos Place that every new store the retailer builds would be built according to LEED standards. But he also said the company would not seek LEED certification because of the cost involved to gain that status. If the state would extend its program to companies like Meijer, then those businesses could get the bureau’s designation at no charge. The state doesn’t require an applicant to pay a fee to be certified, while the cost for a designation from the USGBC can run into six figures.

“The venues program still seems new to us, and we’re still trying to get a handle on that and get that program out there more than it is at this point,” said Doherty.

“A year ago or so, we weren’t really expanding in any direction. Then shortly after that, we started to think (venues) might fit here and let’s do it. So it doesn’t mean that we won’t, as we go forward. But there have not been any discussions or plans to yet. If the venues program proves to be successful, obviously that will increase the likelihood of moving in additional areas.”

Green Venues has certified five so far. Two have gained “Leader” status and three are “Stewards.” As of mid-May, Green Lodging had certified 77 facilities. Fifteen were “Leaders,” 41 were “Stewards” and 22 were “Partners.” Thirty-one hotels and one venue have submitted applications. Doherty said the bureau has been pleased with the response the effort has received. “We have seen it grow exponentially since 2006. We started with six facilities that were part of an initial pilot program.”

Doherty said charging a fee for certification was never considered. Although many of the guidelines the state offers for achieving certification are the same as the LEED standards, he pointed out that the two programs are different in various ways, beginning with the fact that the Michigan programs are less complicated.

“The bulk of the effort to become certified is actually done by the facilities themselves. They fill out the paperwork, make the assessment and checklist and all that sort of thing and submit it. We just review it. We try to make it as simple as possible and yet still have a value in helping them to do more green practices, and then communicate what they’re doing to everybody else,” said Doherty.

Both venue and lodging are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Those dollars aren’t specifically designated for the program, as the money is part of a larger distribution that every state receives from the federal agency.

“It’s just one of the programs some of that money is for. I don’t know of any other state that is using that source of funding for their programs,” said Doherty. “I think (charging) a fee would be a barrier.”

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