Eco-Friendly Hotel Industry Trends
Climate change is no longer a theory to be debated on talk radio and cable TV — it is a fact of life. Many venues in the hotel industry are using whatever tools and technologies they can to reduce their use of energy, water, and otherwise present a green experience for the traveler. The brightest and most visionary of hotels are making adjustments and being very alert to the need to reduce their carbon footprints. And they are not just doing it to attract eco-minded guests and make a positive impression; they are turning to green concepts and technologies because it is the right thing to do to help reduce the greenhouse gases that are a main source of the problem.
Hotels are Going Green
“When you consider how oftenâ€¦ sheets on the bed are changed and laundered, how many bars of fragranced soap are used only onceâ€¦ and how much electricity is used in a typical hotel, the impact on the environment is staggeringâ€¦ Is there really any need to have fresh sheets every day? You don’t change the sheets on your bed at home every morning, so why should you do it when you’re in the hotel?” (Albright, 2008)
Roland Conrady and Martin Buck have published a book called Trends and Issues in Global Tourism 2011, and in the book the authors’ first point to the facts of global climate change. If there are executives in the hotel and hospitality business that are not yet on board as to the reality of climate change, this book is a good starting point. For example, essayist Andreas Walmsley points to the sea levels — rising an average of 1.8 mm each year from 1961 to 2003 — and the melting of the Arctic sea ice — which has shrunk by 2.7% per decade since 1978 (Walmsley, 2011, p. 77-78).
The tourism industry makes a contribution to climate change, the authors explain; in fact the tourism industry contributes about 5% to the annual global warming statistics (Walmsley, 78).
Meanwhile, the tourism industry is going to be — and already is in some places –negatively affected by climate change as coastal regions will continue to experience erosion and mountains will have less snowfall for skiers and other outdoors enthusiasts. Hence it behooves all hotels everywhere to cut back on their use of electricity, as one important contribution to the over greenhouse gas problem. That is because much of the world’s electricity is produce through the burning of fossil fuels, one of the main contributors to climate change.
The authors are quick to point out (p. 80) that hotels, while “improving a businesses’ environmental performance” are not necessarily doing it as a “purely selfless act.” The IHG hotel corporation introduced its “Green Engage” campaign in 2009, and that move was designed to help the chain become more energy efficient. In fact, the authors mention that if all 4,000 of IHG’s hotels adopt the changes that management has laid out for its properties, there could be a savings to IHG of $200 million. And so while making a positive impression on consumers that may wish to stay at the hotels, there is also a huge savings in being environmentally efficient.
Walmsley (p. 81) points out that hotels can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by: a) reducing or eliminating energy use; b) improving the efficiency of their energy use; c) increase the use of renewable energy; and d) by “sequestering carbon.” Heating and cooling hotels and hotel rooms uses an extraordinary amount of energy. Especially in tropical climates, going without air conditioning — or in cold climates, going without heat — is not practical, the authors assert. But in many cases hotels turn the air conditioning down (lowering the temperature) so cold that guests wind up having to change the thermostats in their rooms.
This is clearly a terrible waste, and likewise it is wasteful to keep an empty room cold all day while waiting for guests to arrive. And so there are little things hotels can do to reduce carbon footprints and lower their energy costs. it’s called going “green” but in fact it is practical and cost saving — plus it is a marketing approach the attracts environmentally minded visitors.
The idea of giving hotel guests the option — those staying more than one night — of not having their linens changed is a progressive and practical idea. The Green Hotel Association (GHA) suggests using “printed towel rack hangers and sheet changing cards” in the bathroom of hotel rooms. The sign on the hanger mentions that guests do not have to have their linens changed (sheets, pillow cases) if they prefer not to; they can help the hotel save water — in fact the GHA notifies the hotel guest that “millions of gallons of water are used to wash bed sheets” every day. So when the “sheet-changing card is left on the pillow, the room attendants” know to just make the bed but don’t wash the sheets (Fostering Sustainable Behavior).
The obvious positive aspect of this is not just water savings but the electricity that it takes to heat the water and run the huge industrial clothes washing machines represents even more savings. There is no negative aspect to asking the room attendants to leave the same sheets on. In addition, a card in the bathroom asking people to put their towels on the rack and that will let the attendant know that he or she does not need to bring in fresh towels, another way to save water and energy. The Website Fostering Sustainable Behavior states that in the many hotels where these towel and sheet cards are placed the participation rate has been “70 to 90%,” which translated into an overall savings to each hotel that does this of 5%. The Regal Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles has saved about 1,700 pounds of detergent and 375,000 gallons of water each year by placing the cards in the bathroom.
The only problem that could possibly relate to avoiding washing sheets, pillowcases and towels is that the person in charge of loading and unloading the washing machines might not have enough work to do (which frees him or her up for other green-related tasks!). Another example of saving energy in a green-inspired practice is the Lowry Hotel in Manchester, England. This five-star hotel has installed a “building management system” which automatically turns air conditioners and lights of in parts of the hotel that are empty and unused (Walmsley, p. 84).
Not only does it reduce energy use, the Lowry Hotel’s investment in a building management system saves the hotel about $55,000 annually — and moreover, the Lowry is reducing its carbon emissions by 350 Tons a year, Walmsley explains (p. 84). Another hotel that is using green strategies to reduce greenhouse gases is the Strattons Hotel in Norfolk, UK. This is a boutique hotel that offers a 10% discount to guests if they arrive by public transportation (in other words, they don’t show up in a rental car or their own car). The staff at the Strattons received bonuses related to their environmental performances.
The Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association believes that when energy efficiency is truly practiced in hotels by using green technologies and equipment, there can be a savings of 20% in energy costs (Walmsley, p. 84). Motel 6, the largest chain in North America, is redesigning their rooms using fluorescent lighting and “wood-effect flooring made from unused industry scraps” (Walmsley, 85). Motel 6 is also installing solar panels on the rooftops of their motels, and installing “high efficiency laundry equipment,” Walmsley explains.
In conclusion, the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to investing in energy-saving strategies and green policies in hotels. Probably the most practical eco-friendly plan that this paper has reviewed is the idea of printed towel rack hangers and sheet-changing cards that guests can put on their pillows, letting the attendants know they don’t need their sheets changes. Some of the other ideas suggested and reported in this paper are far too expensive for a small hotel or for a hotel that is already undergoing infrastructure renovation; for example, installing a building management system like the Lowry Hotel did would be financially prohibitive for many hotels. However, putting in place options that people can use like asking that attendants not change the sheets saves detergent, water, electricity — and helps the hotel be environmentally responsible as well as saving the hotel money.
Albright, Evan. The Book on Going Green. Raleigh, NC: LuLu.com. 2008.
Fostering Sustainable Behavior. “Energy and Water Reduction: ‘Green’ Hotels.” Retrieved
February 22, 2012, from http://www.cbsm.com. 2010.
Walmsley, Andreas. “Hotels and Climate Change: Setting the Scene.” In Trends and Issues in Global Tourism 2011, R. Conrady and M. Buck, Editors. New York: Springer.
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