Why do some people like to wear uncomfortable slippers?
This thought occurred to me while sipping coffee by a breakfast buffet, having just seen a fellow guest walk past in a pair of five-star hotel slippers. This, in turn, led me to wonder how many pairs are worn just for a few minutes before they’re thrown in the trash? How many pairs of hotel slippers end up as landfill? And why is it many hotels remove the plastic packaging and place them next to my bed when I don’t want to use them? Are these slippers also thrown out?
There are many required amenities in the five-star, modern-day guestroom that produce significant waste daily.
Take hotel beds. Since the introduction of the Heavenly Bed by the Westin brand 10 years ago, hotel groups have placed significant emphasis on their guests’ “sleeping experience.” The bed I slept in last night had six pillows and three cushions. While it made the bed inviting and set the tone for a five-star experience, I only need one pillow. In all my travels, I’ve yet to meet anyone who needs more than three. Unfortunately, when I check out, all will be washed, as will my super-size king bedsheets of a quality as high as their thread count (which is proportionate to the volume of water required to clean them).
From the super-size king bedsheets to the small plastic bottles of the bathroom, environmental waste is ubiquitous. Dental kits, combs, sewing kits and shower caps—all individually packaged—are used once and thrown away. Many guests like to take home these amenities for no reason other than to stock their bathroom trophy cabinet.
Despite using copious amounts of water to provide guests with a “comfortable and luxurious shower experience,” my hotel asks me to hang up my towel should I want to reuse it and save water. Credit, where credit is due, this is a simple and effective way hotels can be more environmentally responsible—if only they followed through. Most of the time, I find the towel I’ve hung up has been folded neatly and placed back with all the clean towels. I suspect it’s a clean towel and my effort to save water has been wasted, or when I check out, all towels in the room are washed as it’s impossible to identify which towel I have or haven’t used—again wasting water.
A news headline distracts my environmental mental audit—difficult not to on a 52-inch plasma. Should I return next year, it will be bigger no doubt. Even the most basic four-star hotel seems primitive without a large-screen plasma. These televisions devour electricity and add to a hotel’s carbon footprint.
But they also add to the “guest experience.” Take everything I’ve mentioned out of the guestroom, and there would be many complaints—so we can’t blame hotel companies for providing them. But it begs the question: “Can luxury and sustainability coexist?”
In the resort space, many hotel groups have made considerable progress in environmental sustainability without compromising luxury, but urban hotels have yet to catch up. Even within the resort market, a sustainable focus has been confined to the small luxury sector.
I’d like hotel groups to offer more sustainable guestrooms for their guests. Perhaps they could offer “green rooms” or “green floors” for guests. These rooms could have smaller beds, with lower thread count sheets and a more appropriate number of pillows. Soaps and shampoos could be in containers that can be reused and refilled. Ideally, drinking water would be from the tap (or if not then filtered water provided in a reusable container as opposed to plastic bottles) and other bathroom amenities available on request.
If such rooms were available, I’d sleep better at night.
Damien Little is the Director of Horwath HTL’s Beijing office and has previously been based in both the Singapore and Hong Kong offices of Horwath. He can be reached at email@example.com.