As a result of cost savings and consumer demand, the hotel industry has jumped on the green and sustainability bandwagon. Rarely do you find a hotel that still uses incandescent light bulbs, does not have some type of policy limiting how often sheets and towels are washed, or has not installed aerators or low-flow systems in faucets and showerheads. These actions not only help promote sustainability, they help improve the bottom line as well.
As to consumer demand, studies continue to indicate hotel guests prefer green and sustainable hotels. Many corporations looking for lodging for their staff now make this a requirement. Recognizing this, some major hotel chains have gone as far as to have all of their properties LEED certified or to have opened entirely new properties with hypoallergenic guestrooms built and furnished using environmentally preferable materials and maintained using green cleaning products.
However, green hotel properties deal with a unique problem. As green and sustainable as a hotel becomes, employees and management can carry the ball only so far. At some point, hotel guests must do their part to ensure the property’s green and sustainability program is effective. They must turn off lights and televisions that are not in use, turn down or turn off HVAC systems when leaving the room, and make sure they are not using any chemicals or products that might prove to be an irritant for the next guest or housekeeper.
HVAC System Controls
To address this challenge, some properties have tried to take matters into their own hands. For instance, some have put more controls on their HVAC systems, limiting the temperature range. However, there has been some guest dissatisfaction with these limitations, and the units may not take into consideration the vacancy factor, operating in each guestroom whether it is occupied or not.
A keycard system that is found in most foreign hotels—but rarely in the United States—is another alternative. The guest puts a keycard in a wall-mounted device that turns on lights and electronics and, when removed, turns everything off. While the system appears to be well accepted around the world, some U.S. properties that have installed it report that it is not popular with some guests.
Also, some hotels with solar power are experimenting with a high-tech system that encourages guests to use electricity more efficiently. Each room has a wall-mounted unit with two lights: a green light indicates the energy supplied to the room is coming from the solar system; a red light means power is coming from the local utility company. As more power is used in the room, the green light fades and the red light glows.
The goal of such systems is for guests, seeing the red light, to turn down or turn off lights, HVAC systems, or electronics so that the green light shines. While some properties say these systems have gotten the attention of hotel guests and resulted in energy savings, other hotels indicate they are only moderately heeded and in far too many cases simply ignored.
Education Begins at Front Desk
What options are left? It appears the best solution is to educate hotel guests as soon as they check in to a property that the hotel is doing its part to be as green and sustainable as possible and that guests play a crucial role in making the program a success. The first step in the education process starts with hotel staff. They must be aware of the hotel’s green and sustainability program and the need to educate all new guests about the program and how they can help.
Some areas of education would be:
• Post signs to indicate low-wattage bulbs are used throughout the guestroom, and remind guests to turn off all lights, televisions, and other electronics when not in the room.
• Point out recycling stations in the hotel and in the guestroom.
• Review how the HVAC system is operated and, once again, ask guests to turn the unit down or off when the room is unoccupied.
• To remind guests of the need to use water efficiently, mention that low-flow faucets and showerheads have been installed.
While many hotel guests prefer a green guestroom, they do not always realize the essential role they play in ensuring the room and the property remain green and sustainable. Their participation is necessary. Educating them on this fact is the key to making it happen.
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry and CEO of Sustainability Tool LLC, an electronic dashboard that allows organizations to measure and report on their sustainability efforts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.