Ray Burger, president of Pineapple Hospitality based in St. Charles, Mo., can't keep up with the volume of green information that deluges him every day. The onslaught of new research, certifications and products can be daunting even to an industry veteran like Burger, who recently addressed these issues at the Midwest Lodging Investors Summit in Chicago. Pineapple Hospitality provides green consulting and products to the hotel industry.

The consultant began his career some 20 years ago as a hotel property manager, focusing on cost efficiencies such as energy savings. From there, Burger easily connected the dots between energy savings and the health of the planet. In the 1990s, his company developed the EcoRoom program for Kimpton Hotels' hip boutique property in San Francisco, the Hotel Triton.

Last year, EcoRooms was expanded to include certification for hotels, a seal of approval that verifies a hotel meets criteria for cleaning and paper products, as well as for amenities such as guest shampoo and soap. The program sets standards for linen and towel reuse, recycling, and efficient lighting and plumbing. Seven U.S. hotels bear the distinction. NREI spoke with Burger about his certification program and the greening of the hospitality industry.

NREI: How widespread is the EcoRooms program today?

Burger: Certain portions of EcoRooms are scattered across the country in a wide variety of hotels. In 1995, we had the linen and towel reuse program, and today a version of it is used in over 70% of hotels in the United States.

NREI: Why do hotel owners seem more skeptical of the green movement than property owners in other commercial real estate sectors?

Burger: There are more stakeholders on the hospitality side — you've got owners, management companies, individual travelers, meeting planners and large corporations buying significant blocks of hotel rooms. On the commercial side, you've got landlords and tenants. So, I think maybe it's a little less fragmented on the commercial building side than it is on the hospitality side.

NREI: Is there a single recognized green certification program for hotels?

Burger: No. I sort of liken this green trend to the 1849 Gold Rush. We don't have picks and shovels, but the great Green Rush is on. You've got the Internet helping to support and sustain that Green Rush, so just about anybody who can build a Web site can start a certification for hotels. Whether or not it has any credibility is a different story.

NREI: Where is the hotel industry today in terms of sustainability?

Burger: On a scale of one to 10, about a three. Conceptually most of the sustainability or environmental initiatives that have been initiated thus far have been implemented for economic reasons only. In the last two to three years, I've seen a significant uptick in interest in sustainability and environmental initiatives in the hotel industry. I think it was the perfect storm of more consumer awareness, the cost of power and utilities. Certainly Al Gore's movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, added awareness about climate change.