PHOENIX, AZ — Editor's note: To read all our coverage of Greenbuild 2009, visit GreenerBuildings.com/Greenbuild2009.

In the latest move to expand its sustainability efforts, Marriott International Inc. says its green hotel portfolio will grow tenfold in the next five years with the introduction of design prototypes for new green properties.

The company is targeting its limited service line -- the brands that primarily serve business travelers -- in seeking pre-certification of prototype designs through the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED volume certification program, Marriott executives said in announcing their plans at the Greenbuild 2009 conference.

Obtaining pre-certification expedites the review process for a completed structure that is built to a pre-approved design. Pursuing volume programs, as firms such as Wells Fargo and retailer Kohl's have done, enables businesses with multiple sites to speed certification of their property and execute green building and efficiency initiatives more swiftly.
 
Marriott plans to roll out the first of several prototypes in April 2010, starting with the Courtyard brand. The design is expected to save property owners about $100,000 in design and other costs and six months in design time, the company said.

With a goal of attaining pre-approval at the basic LEED certification, the first of four levels in the green rating system, a hotel designed according to the standard would be expected to reduce water and energy consumption by about 25 percent compared to national averages.

Prototype designs for the Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites brands are expected to follow the Courtyard launch.

The Courtyard Settler's Ridge in Pittsburgh, Penn., will be the first to be built under the prototype program. The hotel is scheduled to open in summer 2010.

"We're in the hotel management franchise industry," said Marriott President and Chief Operating Officer Arne Sorenson at Greenbuild in Phoenix. "This is a nicely wrapped solution for franchisees."

With the prototype as the baseline, operators are free to pursue higher LEED ratings as they wish. "We expect many to work their way up the chain to get higher certifications," Sorenson said.

As with other aspects of its sustainability program, Marriott intends the green building expansion plan to be a market differentiator among customers looking for environmentally friendly places to stay when traveling.

Although it's tough to collect data on how big a role the green element plays in customer selection of the company's brands on a wide scale, Marriott has had some success with feedback from its meetings, events and business clients served by the company's corporate sales.

Noting that firms increasingly have their own sustainability goals for travel, events and meetings, Sorenson said, companies have told Marriott "they like what we're doing."

In terms of prototypes, the program is not likely to touch Marriott's full-service brands, he said, but that does not preclude properties across the brands from pursuing LEED certification as single sites and under different certification types, such as for existing buildings.

Fifty hotels under Marriott brands have been registered as LEED projects. Fifteen are open or are scheduled to open before the close of 2010. Within the hospitality industry, only 31 hotels in the U.S. currently hold LEED certification.

Marriott's Inn & Conference Center at the University of Maryland in College Park was the first LEED hotel in North America. Among more recent certifications, the Portland Courtyard City Center in Oregon attained a LEED-Gold rating.