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Linen and towel reusing programs are nearly a ubiquitous practice across the hotel industry, continuing to save hotels money while saving the environment.
By Glenn Hasek
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the word “greenwashing.” Ironically, the word’s origin is in the lodging industry. It was in 1986 that New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt wrote an essay regarding the industry’s practice of placing placards in each room to promote the reuse of towels to “save the environment.” Westervelt suggested that the real reason for the placards was to help increase profitability. For the most part, of course, he was not wrong.
A lot has changed in the lodging industry over the past 30 years, but the program Westervelt complained about has not gone away. In fact, it has become an expected part of doing business. According to the most recent Lodging Survey (2014) prepared by STR for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, of which there were almost 10,000 participants, 93 percent of respondents said they offer a linen/towel reuse program to guests. That is way up from 52 percent in 2004. In the upper-upscale and upscale segments, 98 percent of respondents said they offer the program. In the economy segment: 77 percent.
Asking guests to give up the refreshing of towels or updating of linens has both business and environmental advantages. According to Cole Wilcox, director of sales and marketing for Green Suites Hotel Solutions, which provides printed materials to help hoteliers carry out linen/towel reuse programs, a 100-room hotel can save $15,000 per year in energy, water, wear and tear on linens, towels and housekeeping labor. Wilcox says properties using his company’s door hangers and pillow cards, which feature images of nature and wildlife, typically see an 80-percent guest participation rate.
On Earth Day, April 22, 2013, TripAdvisor launched its GreenLeaders program, a way for hotels to be recognized for their green efforts on the TripAdvisor site. Globally, more than 11,000 properties have earned recognition. A linen/towel reuse program is one of the green initiatives a hotel can get credit for in the GreenLeaders application. Guests visiting properties participating in GreenLeaders can post critiques of a property’s green initiatives, including whether or not a linen/towel reuse program is carried out successfully. Other green hotel recognition programs similarly give credit for offering linen/towel reuse.
Make a Green Choice
At least one company, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, has taken linen/towel reuse steps further. In 2009, it launched its “Make a Green Choice” program that gives guests the option of opting out of all housekeeping in exchange for a gift card or loyalty program points. That program still exists, and between 2009 and 2013, according to Starwood’s current website, more than 5 million guests participated, saving more than 223 million gallons of water and 961 kilowatts of electricity. Starwood says one guest opting out of housekeeping for one night can help save 49.2 gallons of water, 0.19 kWh of electricity, 25,000 BTU of natural gas and 7 ounces of cleaning product chemicals per night (may vary by brand and region).
According to a recent study by U.K. power and gas company E.ON, half of hotel guests would be willing to be an “eco-customer” if they received a 10-percent discount for adopting environmentally friendly behaviors such as using a single towel during their stay.
Importance of Housekeeper Training
Often impeding the success of a linen/towel reuse program are housekeepers who would like to see a neat room rather than one with used towels hanging and waiting to be reused. Scot Hopps, director of sustainability for the Saunders Hotel Group, which operates four hotels in Boston, says that it has been an ongoing challenge to get housekeepers to honor guest requests about reusing linens and towels.
“It has always been part of housekeeper training,” Hopps says. “We make a point to revisit that in training.” Hopps suggests having housekeepers document their adherence to the steps of a linen/towel reuse program and inspect their adherence on an ongoing basis. He says housekeepers are more apt to allow linens to stay on the bed than to allow guests to reuse their towels.
Green Suites Hotel Solutions’ Wilcox further emphasized the importance of housekeeper training, adding that his company, through its Project Planet Program, offers support and training materials for housekeeping staff – DVDs, instruction cards, posters, tracking sheets, and even a calculator for measuring cost and environmental savings.
Opt Out, Not Opt In
The Saunders Hotel Group was one of the first hotel companies in the United States to offer a linen/towel reuse program. “We have it running in all of our hotels,” Hopps says. “By now it is just about ubiquitous. Everyone has their own play on it.”
The trend in recent years has been toward “opt out” types of linen/towel reuse programs. If guests wish to have new towels or linen changed, they must take the step of requesting that – by placing a card on the pillow or bed, for example.
At the Comfort Inn & Suites Boston/Airport, a Saunders Hotel Group property, the average guest stay is just 1.1 nights so a linen/towel reuse program is mostly a moot point. As the hotel is an airport property, guests don’t stay long enough to participate.
Hopps says hoteliers would be foolish not to offer a linen/towel reuse program but also is a bit skeptical. “While it is an iconic element of a green hotel, I don’t think the efforts have done any favors to hotels in getting the sustainability message out. Most people just assume you are doing it because it saves you money.” ■
Glenn Hasek is publisher and editor of Green Lodging News, a website (www.greenlodgingnews.com) and weekly e-newsletter. He frequently writes about sustainable topics of importance to hotel owners and operators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A 100-room hotel can save $15,000 per year in energy, water, wear and tear on linens, and towels, and housekeeping labor by participating in a reuse program.
223M gallons of H2O
5 million guests participated in the Starwood Hotels and Resorts loyalty green program, saving more than 223 million gallons of water and 961 kilowatts of electricity.
1 guest, 1 night
Starwood says one guest opting out of housekeeping for one night can help save 49.2 gallons of water, 0.19 kWh of electricity, 25,000 BTU of natural gas, and 7 ounces of cleaning product chemicals per night.