As both a response to and a driver for the greening of the hospitality industry, the American Automobile Association will include in its 2010 TourBooks an "eco" icon for hotels, motels and other lodgings that are green certified.
 
Glenn Hasek, editor of the website Green Lodging News, reported yesterday about the news:
According to Heather Hunter, public relations manager for AAA in Heathrow, Fla., just as a property will be noted as having a pool, a casino, allowing pets, etc., it will be designated as eco-friendly. It is something AAA members are interested in, Hunter says. A section in front of each TourBook will explain the meaning of the “eco” icon. [...]

Only those properties that are AAA approved or Diamond rated will be eligible. Properties must also be a certified green lodging site as part of one of a number of state or national green lodging programs. For example, in order for a property in Florida to be included, it must be not only be AAA approved or Diamond rated, but also part of the Florida Green Lodging Program.
There are a host of certifications that have agreed to partner with AAA so far, including national names such as Energy Star, Green Globe and Green Key, as well as state-level certifications like the California Green Lodging Program, Florida Green Lodging Program, Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia, Green Lodging Michigan, among others.

It's obviously no surprise that hotels are going green in a big way -- see our extensive coverage of green hotels on GreenerBuildings.com for a taste -- but AAA's move is interesting because it's both a response to this relatively widespread greening of the hotel business, and also a driver that will make it easier for travelers to choose green.

More often than not, we are often skeptical of the green-mindedness American shoppers, especially when it comes to the self-reported data that gets hyped in green consumer surveys. But AAA's eco icon comes at a time when environmental initiatives and innovations in the hospitality business have become ubiquitous enough to lead to a kind of tipping point.

Although shoppers say they're willing to spend more for a green product, that doesn't seem to play out in the real world to the same extent that it's reported in surveys. But when AAA's eco icon highlights which hotels have achieved green status, it'll allow them to stand out from the non-green options with which they stand side-by-side, cost-wise and even location-wise.

If you're stuck in Winnemucca and looking for a place to stay, and the Marriott (as one example, and one that is likely to have an eco icon next to its name) costs the same as the next hotel over, I'd be willing to bet that a significant chunk of travelers would likely choose the green option over the non-green option, with all else being equal.

And just as AAA ratings are practically a must-have for the lodging industry, getting that eco icon next to your hotel's name may be the next big thing for the hospitality business, for raising Americans' awareness about green issues, as well as a boon for the planet.