Sustainability has been on the minds of hoteliers for as long as it has affected hotel guests, but it wasn’t until the late 2000s that the switch to sustainable business practices was profitable enough for the idea to “tip” in the eyes of operators.
Ronald Lewis, associate brand manager at The Dial Corporation, a producer of personal care and cleaning products for hotels, said that hotels are more interested in sustainable products than ever before, with the majority of attention being paid to recyclable materials in the hotel guestroom and strategies to reduce water useage and the overall carbon footprint.
For Dial, the biggest shift has been in the reduction of packaging used in bar soap and bath-related products in the guestroom, which often contain scarce amounts of actual product but take up a sizable space in the hotel dumpster after a guest’s stay. Simple switches, such as eliminating plastic bags from packaging and switching to biodegradable materials such as cardboard boxes or recyclable goods are very attractive for hotels.
Dial’s current answer to guestroom bath sustainability is wall-mounted dispensers, which are loaded with cartridges and can be used multiple times by a number of guests before being replaced. This system can be in place for up to six months, depending on guest traffic, and spares the environment several tons in plastic waste. But does such a system have any effect on guest bookings?
“Guests aren’t specifically looking for wall dispensers, but a family in a hotel in most cases is still given one bottle for everything,” Lewis said. “Even if its five products, that’s not enough for five people. A wall dispenser serves a convenience role as well as being a green play.”
EVERYONE WANTS IN
One thing is clear: Every brand wants in on the savings. Data from 2015 found that Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, for example, reduced its energy use by 12.08 percent, carbon emissions by 16.07 percent and water use by 17.26 percent across all of its properties between 2008 and 2014. According to Joseph Ricci, president and CEO of TRSA, a trade organization for companies and suppliers in the linen business, these types of savings would not have been possible were it not for innovations in the hotel laundry process, including programs that allow guests to bypass housekeeping for the sake of saving water and energy.
“The biggest factor for hotels is simply not doing laundry whenever they can,” Ricci said. “It is estimated that these programs can reduce water usage by 52,000 gallons annually for a 300-room hotel, and these programs are increasingly being used by guests.”
According to an online survey released by TRSA in 2015, 55 percent of consumer respondents were aware that hotels had a linen-reuse program in place, and 62 percent of them said that these programs gave the hotel a more favorable image. And that is without getting into advancements in the actual laundry process, which are capable of recycling water for use elsewhere in the property. These technologies, while expensive, are seeing more use in water-volatile areas of the U.S. such as California. Moreover, the strategy is paying off in bookings, because although travelers appreciate linen-reuse programs, Ricci said that they much prefer sustainable laundry operations behind the scenes to being pressured to keep their towels for another night.
“Hotels may not want to pay for these investments, but customers are making more decisions based on corporate responsibility every year,” Ricci said. “And it’s not just millennials. All generations of Americans are looking for companies that spend money in the name of social responsibility.”
PLAYING CATCH UP
One trend that Ricci said the U.S. is picking up on is the greening of cleaning products. Chloride and phosphates, which have been phased out of use in Europe, are slowly losing ground here, as are disposable cleaning tools, which are being replaced by reusable cloths wherever possible.
But all of this is for nothing if hotels fail to properly communicate their green victories to guests. In the same TRSA poll from 2015, only 43 percent of respondents said hotels were changing sustainability strategies to protect the environment, compared to 77 percent who said hotels are going green to save money. While this may appear true to guests who see a sign telling them to reuse their towel, a hotel investing in more expensive yet sustainable detergent has no other reasoning.
“When you are in a hotel you can see all of the signs of sustainability, but don’t forget to convey to the guests that this is still about hospitality,” Lewis said. “Even if you have a wall dispenser for shampoo, hotels can provide the comforts guests need if they ask. We just aren’t trying to fill the countertop anymore.”
“Talk about it,” Ricci said. “Talk about water, detergents, and show them that it’s just an option. You can educate the consumer; these are smart folks.”