Green hotels. Should they be thrown out with the trash? Before I’m tarred and feathered, let me explain.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m an environmentalist. This lofty title is reserved for the likes of Glenn Hasek, publisher of Green Lodging News; he’s a man who lives and breathes by his code of environmental standards. In my bio I claim to specialize “in selling and marketing products that combine luxury, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility.” All true. I’m proud of the environmental programs with which I’ve been associated over the years, including One Percent for the Planet, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the New Hampshire Sustainable Lodging and Restaurant Program, the Leaping Bunny Program; the list goes on.
This is taboo, of course, but I think it’s an important question to ask. Playing devil’s advocate: is there a case to be made that the average luxury traveler could care less about sustainability and green hotels? Could some even deliberately scorch the earth by keeping the air conditioning on at 65 degrees Fahrenheit so that their room is nice and cool when they return from the beach? Or conversely, are there guests that crank up the heat so that their suite is nice and toasty after a winter day on the ski slopes? After all, when the luxury guest travels, he or she wants to be catered to, and in such a fashion that all their expectations are not only met, but exceeded. This type of discerning and demanding clientele are paying, at times, twice the amount of their monthly mortgage payment for the privilege of staying at your hotel, and that’s just for one night. This is before they’ve ordered room service, chosen a spa treatment, played a round of golf, rolled the dice in the casino, and so on. You get the picture.
My point is this: if your guests are dropping some serious coin to stay at your Forbes Four Star property, or any hotel deemed boutique, upscale, etc., do they really need a display card talking about all of your environmental efforts? Do you really need to fill a guestroom with collateral that screams “we’re part of the green hotels movement” when you’re charging $575 per night? I once ran into this, and I got a little queasy.
SAVE MOTHER EARTH!
Bed sheets washed daily in thousands of hotels in this word use millions of gallons of water and tons of detergent.
Sheets are customarily changed between guests. If you feel that your sheets need to be changed daily, please leave this card on your pillow each morning. Housekeeping will be pleased to accommodate you.
PLEASE DECIDE FOR YOURSELF.
Sheets are customarily changed between guests? I went to ol’ Merriam-Webster Dictionary to make certain I fully understood the definition of “customarily.”
Then I crossed checked that with a thesaurus and, yep, I was (disgustingly) correct.
No, sheets should not be “customarily changed between guests.” They should ALWAYS, without exception, regardless of circumstances, be changed between guests. Seriously? Are you telling me that you “usually” change the sheets between guests? No. That’s wrong. It’s revolting. I rest my case.
Next is the lecture I get on a near constant basis. Ever see something like this on a card in your room?
HELP PROTECT OUR ENVIRONMENT!
Every day tons of detergent and millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have been used only once.
PLEASE DECIDE FOR YOURSELF
A towel on the rack means “I’ll use it again.”
A towel on the floor or in the tub means “Please exchange.”
Finally, if a luxury, green hotel wants to triple down on this environmental megalomania, I’ll see something that resembles the following message.
We are working to serve and save this planet. You can help. We recycle the following items from our guestrooms:
* White Paper
* Corrugated Cardboard
* PET (1) and HDPE (2) Plastic Bottles
You can do your part by leaving these items on the table/counter or in the recycling receptacle.
PLEASE DECIDE FOR YOURSELF
I imagine a couple on their honeymoon at a luxury property, with one of the pair anxiously awaiting to enjoy the various amenities offered on property when the other one goes, “Sweetheart, one moment. I’m checking to see what type of plastic these water bottles are made of and, once I’m done separating the white paper from the colored paper I was going to throw away, we can head to the spa.” Two words: Yeah. Right.
Let me tell you a story of two men, both of whose names and personalities and been slivered, totally deconstructed and rebuilt into two entirely different men, obviously to protect the innocent and the guilty. No less, these are two real people.
Jack Willington is the head of a big time Silicon Valley startup and, in fact, is one of those serial entrepreneurs that has managed to make a ton of money on most of his ventures. An environmentalist he is not, and he is unapologetic about it. In a recent interview, I asked him about the “green hotels” trend, particularly in the luxury sector. His eyes rolled.
“I stay at [hotel to remain nameless] in Los Angeles because I get a newspaper delivered daily and they don’t care if I throw it away. No signs, no cards, no paraphernalia asking me about changing my f****** sheets. Hell, I carry a soft bag and used to bring a steamer along so I could get out the wrinkles. Know what’s much more effective, ‘D’? The shower. You just take that suit, hang the thing up in the bathroom, crank the water up to scalding, and thirty minutes later you’ve got a suit that’s as wrinkle free as if it just came from the dry cleaner. It probably took 1000 gallons of water to do it, but I had other things I had to do. I drop cash like that on a hotel not to be bothered, and that’s what I get.”
Alan L. Jackson is an Environmental Lobbyist in Washington, D.C. He makes well into six figures, travels more days out of the year than not, and has a taste for the good life. He also practices what he preaches, and when it comes to green hotels, there’s no difference between one that markets themselves as such, and one that doesn’t.
“I don’t need a daily sheet change. It is rare if I stay at a hotel more than a couple of weeks and, maybe, at the two-week mark if I’m there, I’ll ask them to be laundered. Often times they have recycle bins, but so many people are misinformed. Those shampoo bottles they give you? If they’re not empty, they can’t be recycled. I throw them away, otherwise everything else in the bin can’t be recycled. I am a frequent patron of the mini bar, and I always recycle any glass or aluminum as a result of my indulgences. To make a real difference environmentally, especially for the road warrior, he or she has to be extremely well-informed. To be honest with you, if you’re not inclined towards environmental practices by the time you walk into the hotel, all the little signs and bits and bobs aren’t going to change your mind. It’s clutter. I don’t mind it, and honestly, I appreciate what the hotel is trying to do. But the Ritz-Carlton isn’t going to open your eyes to the necessity of sustainable practices. Their job is to make you feel comfortable. If you want to do the ‘earth friendly,’ the ‘green’ types of things that get all the hype that ‘green hotels’ spin, you’re going to know about it, be educated on it, and already be doing it at your own home prior to stepping foot in the hotel. I think it’s that simple.”
What’s my point? Are green hotels and luxury hotels mutually exclusive?
The signs, the constant badgering to have “green meetings,” the tent cards begging you to reuse your towels, recycle everything, and to never change your sheets just serves to irritate the luxury guest who only wants to be pampered or, should they be a business guest, left alone unless otherwise summoned for service. If you have an environmentally conscious guest, he or she does not need the overt signage as a reminder to do what he or she feels is right. They are probably already composting at home. They probably have several recycle bins, separating out the various types of paper and plastic as necessary. They’re going to do it anyway, without the intrusive signs. The truth is: no hearts or minds will be changed when a guest visits your hotel. The environmentally friendly person will make any property part of the list of green hotels to which they’ve traveled.
Sure, truly green hotels exist. You could stay at Girraween Environmental Lodge in Australia, The Green Hotel in Mysore, India, or Tiamo Resort in The Bahamas; they all cater to the environmentally-friendly guest. They’re on the extreme side of the environmental spectrum when it comes to travel and green hotels, and their allure stokes that extreme kind of environmental guest. Such signage – and probably more of it – is quite appropriate and attractive in their respective environments… no pun intended.
When I’m staying at Hotel on Rivington in New York City, when I wake up in my gorgeous room the day before the hospitality industry’s biggest convention, I want to simply enjoy the view of One World Tower while the sun rises to gently lift my eyelids. I don’t want to have to worry about various assignments given to me throughout the room about “doing the right thing.” I don’t need them, because I already know what the proverbial “right thing to do” is, and all I’m reminded of when I’m there is that I’m a welcomed guest, and that my needs will be attended to. I still recycle. I don’t steam my suit in the shower for hours on end. I’m as conscientious about my behavior at a hotel as I am at home.
As a reminder, I’m Derek Hunter, and I specialize in “selling and marketing products that combine luxury, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility.” I appreciate the environmental efforts green hotels make, and so do many other earth-conscious guests. Trust us, me included, to do the right thing without constantly reminding us because, I promise: