Taking showers in your guestroom uses valuable energy and water resources. As part of our ongoing commitment to environmental conservation, we ask that you help out by taking a cold shower. Cold showers reduce the need to heat the water and also result in less water usage because you won’t be in there for as long.
Taking a cold shower has many benefits: It increases circulation, it ages the skin less, it helps cure hangovers, and it’s an invigorating way to start your day. Historically, several famous people also are cold-shower advocates …
So please help us save the planet by taking a cold shower! Thank you!
Obviously, this is a fake program, and people laugh whenever I joke about it. Yet is the now-common practice of hotel linen/towel re-use program as a “green initiative” any less ridiculous in its approach? Is it possible that guests now receive an unintended message? For example:
Washing towels and bed linens in hotels uses a lot of water and energy.
Unintended message: Your stay in our guestroom is bad for the environment.
We are committed to environmental conservation and preservation. Please help us save the planet by reusing your towels and bed linens.
Unintended message: You can feel less bad about your environmental impact by giving up something during your stay—and by the way, this saves us money too!
Recently, I saw some studies presented on guest participation and preference in which the linen and towel re-use program was a key guest-facing program under consideration when researching whether the guest would “participate in our green initiative” or “be willing to pay more for green.” The study didn’t find much guest enthusiasm or increased uptake.
On one hand, of the dozens of hotels I either stayed at or audited this year, every single one had some form of linen and towel re-use program. It looks like this is becoming a common industry practice and not necessarily a green one. But perhaps the approach itself should be reconsidered. For example, why is such heavy messaging given to such a simple program? Why does the guest have to feel guilted or swayed into participating? Why have we assumed that the guest really cares or notices if bed linens have not been changed in the first place? And can something else not be done to innovate?
Also, as “green” permeates all facets of business and society, the guest is now more aware of some of the issues and is more inclined to ask, “What is the hotel actually doing for its commitment, aside from asking me to change the habits of my stay?” (The true environmentalist reads the card and thinks, “This hotel considers a linen/towel re-use program to be ‘conservation’? Really?”)
If we were to continue with this logic of making the guest feel guilty during their stay and then offering redemption through service sacrifice, imagine where this might lead as more environmental concerns are brought to the attention of consumers.
Chocolate, for example, carries with it a number of causes for concern or attention: the environmental degradation caused by unsustainable chocolate farming, the endemic child-labor issues for which it has been prone, the three-continent journey the cocoa might travel to get to the end consumer, the polemic issue of genetically modified cacao plants and the immense amount of freshwater needed to produce it. Even if those don’t strike a chord, the potential rising cost of chocolate due to resource constraints and historically unsustainable farming will. This leads us to the next questionable hotel initiative:
The production of chocolate uses immense natural resources and is highly prone to child labor risk. As part of our ongoing commitment to environmental preservation and social responsibility, we stopped placing chocolate on your pillows as part of our turn-down service. If you would like to receive chocolate on your pillows, please place this card on your bed (and be sure not to confuse this card with the change-my-sheets card) and we’ll hook you up with the guilty bedtime pleasure.
HotelManagement Ad Will Appear Here
Is it likely? Probably not. If anything, fair-trade, sustainably-farmed chocolate will be the quick fix for those who can afford it. But will the hotel have to mention that to guests? How will chocolate be treated in hospitality in the future? How much money will be saved in the future by eliminating the chocolate mint from hotel pillows, and will the guest be willing to pay more?
Perhaps I’m overly critical of the current mindset to guest-facing green initiatives, yet the fact remains that as the consequences emerge, choices will have to be made to keep guests engaged in your product.
Critical thinking is always the best exercise for sustainability. For example, why did the airline industry start charging more for checked baggage instead of asking the passenger to help save the planet by carrying less baggage in order to help reduce fuel consumption? And why have some hotel companies gone the route of incentivizing guests to opt-out of room cleaning altogether, instead of tacking on a room-cleaning fee?
Getting back to the linen/towel re-use program, I’ll offer three other spins that we might see in the future:
1. (As I saw in Spain this summer …)
The municipality of Madrid is facing freshwater scarcity and shortages. Please help us reduce our impact on Madrid’s water supply by ….”
This initiative was still heavy on the guilt, but the point here was to focus on a specific resource constraint, not “the planet” or something vague. These are the real problems we’ll face, and this is how we have to deal with them.
2. (As I see in some hotel chains now …)
We will change your bed linens every three days. If you want them changed earlier, place the card on the bed/call us.”
No claims of guilt and no attempts to save the planet. Just a new common practice for the industry to change linens.
3. (Paraphrased as overheard during a guest lecture by author, designer and sustainability advocate William McDonough in the fall of 2000, and one I would still love to see one day ..)
Take as long and hot of a shower as you want, and let us know if you need fresh linens or towels. Our hotel is powered by 100% renewable energy, our building actually produces more energy than it consumes and gives the excess to the local community, our roofs capture and use rainwater and our treatment system is so innovative that the water going down the drain will leave the hotel cleaner than when it came in. You are helping to save the planet just by staying with us.”
The third scenario is obviously easier to say than it is to execute, but we’re actually much closer to that possibility in 2012 than we were in 2000. And, with hope, one day far in the future, boasting about the third initiative will be considered just as lame (read: common) as the linen/towel re-use program.
But for now, I wonder if the guest would participate, pay more and have increased satisfaction in a hotel like that.
Eric Ricaurte works with the hotel industry and its leading companies to advance sustainability through reporting and measurement. His current activities include consulting, industry engagement, academic fellowship, column writing and publication authoring.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.