Local hotels go green

Adam Debrowski

When somebody talks about “going green” or “lending a hand” in regards to the environment, usually some kind of sacrifice is involved.

Refilling an eco-friendly thermos instead of buying a 24-pack of pre-filled bottled water. Paying a dollar for an environmentally-kind grocery bag. Choosing a hybrid over a gas hog.

Going green when staying at a hotel is a little different because the burden placed on guests' shoulders is minimal by comparison.

Cutting down on daily changing of towels and linens has become one of the most popular of hotel conservation efforts among today's popular hotel chains. Instead of having bed linens and bath towels washed and replaced on a daily basis, guests have the choice of reusing them.

“[Guests] get the sheets on their beds changed every five days. However, we do change the sheets anytime if they request it,” said Jan Quiter, general manager of Staybridge Suites in Kalamazoo.

Staybridge’s environmental plan also includes the use of green laundry detergent. This change does not come without affecting the hotel's bottom line. The preferred “green” laundry detergent runs about 50 cents more per load, Quiter said.

To many, 50 cents is no more than an inconvenient pair of quarters rattling around in their pocket. To a large hotel, 50 cents a load is a sum that adds up quickly, especially when the hotel is near full capacity.

Green laundry detergent has been on the market for decades in a number of forms. The goal of eco-friendly detergent is to reduce or eliminate the use of surfactants, builders and bleaches, all of which cause a certain degree of harm to bodies of water. Surfactants are chemical compounds that are toxic to many aquatic life forms, according to the EPA web site. Builders are compounds that cause eutrophication, the harmful low-oxygen state of a river or lake.

InterContinental Hotels Group, which encompasses Staybridge and Holiday Inn, has a publicly comprehensive green strategy. According to IHG statistics, the average IHG hotel room water consumption is nearly 92,000 gallons per year. The amount is caused and heightened by a number of factors: running tap water, leaky faucets, high-volume toilet flushes, high-flow shower heads and the water involved in washing linens and towels. With newly-implemented strategies put into motion, IHG estimates those numbers for water consumption will be reduced by 10 to 20 percent.

The success of Staybridge’s, as well s other hotels’, eco-friendly policies are partly dependent on the actions of their guests. While some guests choose to re-use towels and linens, others do not.

“To be honest, I have to hang up my towel every day of my life, so I like the luxury of having a fresh towel,” said Karen Peterson, a recent Staybridge guest. “I do my part by being a fanatical recycler and reusing our towels at home, but when I go to a hotel and spend over $100 a night, I want the towels changed.”

Hotel guests seeking eco-friendly lodging can compare the green efforts of different hotel chains. Kit Cassingham helps run EnvironmentallyFriendlyHotels.com, a website devoted to providing an exhaustive list of hotels that are Earth-conscious. Included in each hotel listing is a score based on their eco-friendliness. There are a number of ways they determine the score and, wouldn't you know it, how the hotel handles their dirty laundry is first on the list.

Other scoring elements include alternative energy sources, composting, whether or not organic food is served, water conservation, the presence of recycle bins and others. Each hotel is rated on these items with either a green check mark or a red “X”.

“It can be overwhelming because there are so many options and paths to follow and the knowledge base to move forward may not be on the property in the sense of employees,” Cassingham said. “Initial capital investment and effort in training staff can be frustrating. Greenwashing can occur if the wrong steps are taken, or steps are taken for the wrong reasons.”

Greenwashing as defined by Greenpeace is “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” In other words, it's when a corporation boasts of their “greenness” with the intention of wrongfully spinning the issue to benefit their bottom line.

Going green is almost always beneficial for the hotel. A 2002 Purdue University study outlined some of those benefits, listing perks such as property cost reduction, improved competitive standpoints, energy savings and heightened customer loyalty.

According to the study, energy bills can be cut if the hotel maintains certain conservation measures. It also stated that profit margins can spike as high as 30 percent because of increased customer loyalty.

Eco-friendly decisions often come down to the individual hotel management though, according to Rocco Loverro, a media specialist for Choice Hotels International.

“[We have] an optional, property-level program that provides its franchised hotels with guidance for the most fundamental and easiest-to-implement green practices,” Loverro said. “We outline these recommended activities in addressable green areas such as energy conservation or waste reduction, which allows individual property owners to tailor their own environmental program to fit the unique attributes and resources of their hotel.”

Choice, which represents brands such as Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, and EconoLodge, is not alone in its corporate-level environmental concern. Industry giant Marriott Hotels also practices green habits, according to Marriott Customer Relations Assistant Danielle Jareske.

Marriott offers a collection of short videos on YouTube about their ecological efforts. The videos feature board meetings and community service to sales team trips to the Amazon. One video shows the use of recycled paper, compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycled plastic pens, which Marriott purchases 48 million of every year.

The list of objects and actions for local and national hotels to consider to be green is often staggering. Almost everything within the interior of a hotel room can affect its carbon footprint – a metaphorical, earthly credit score of sorts -- from the washing of towels and bed sheets to that small ink pen on the nightstand.

No pressure.