Motel 6: Sustainability Means We’ll No Longer Leave the Light on For You

Accor's Novotel and Pullman hotels in Sydney, Australia (courtesy Wiki Commons)
Accor's Novotel and Pullman hotels in Sydney, Australia (courtesy Wiki Commons)

If you live in North America, you have heard those ads on the radio for Motel 6, which since 1988 have featured NPR commentator Tom Bodett saying that the 50-year old chain will “leave the light on for you.”  Despite the competitive hotel industry, travel consolidator web sites and growing interest in services like AirBnB, Motel 6 still thrives. In 2009, the chain, now owned by the French hotel group Accor, opened its 1000th property in Biloxi.

For those who live on the other side of the pond, Accor is a leading brand that owns a bevy of chains. From the large discount hotel brand Ibis to the more posh Sofitel, the US$7.7 billion (€6 billion) company shows no sign of slowing down.

Credit hotel companies like Accor for having an important role in reinventing old properties: abandoned banks and apartment buildings over the last 20 years have been renovated into hotels and inns. But that smart reuse also means increased energy and water consumption.

With all those properties, the environmental and social impact of the hospitality industry is enormous. More companies like Marriott are working on improving their performance, but the challenge of inspiring thousands of managers, tens of thousands of employees and franchisees is like forcing an aircraft carrier to turn around on a dime. Even the most conscious hotel employee faces a huge hurdle: guests.

Most of us, whether we travel for business or pleasure, seek an experience where we do not have to behave the way we do in the office or home. When someone else is cleaning your room and changing the linens, we allow ourselves to behave more decadently. We also do not want to hear about the low wages and meager living conditions with which many hotel employees endure day to day.

Accor has ramped up its corporate responsibility (CSR) efforts in the following ways:

Green building: The establishment of waste sorting procedures before new properties are built, greener roofs and smarter water stewardship are becoming more integrated in their hotels. Novotel properties in France are also ditching pesticides in the quest to have more natural gardens on their hotels’ grounds. With the massive amount of water hotels use on a daily basis, smarter construction is a must Accor’s competitors should follow.

Local = Social: Accor claims 88 percent of supplies purchased for its hotels are sourced locally. The company also promises to develop closer relations in the communities in which it operates.

Empowering employees: Accor pledges to train its employees around the world on ethics, AIDS awareness and efficient water use. With 40 million cubic meters used annually–the waste equivalent of a European city of 170,000–Accor’s sustainability team has a lot of work on its hands. Such programs like improved energy efficiency and recycling depend much on employee engagement.

Mobilizing hotel guests: Hotel guests are the biggest factor in determining whether Accor can succeed in the long run. Besides the reminders about towel reuse, more healthful food choices, malaria awareness and biodiversity programs will prod hotel guests to be more mindful about their environmental and societal impacts.

So what is Motel 6 doing? Room flooring made from industrial scraps, more LEED certified buildings, low flush toilets and proper disposal of hazardous waste are among the initiatives Motel 6 is undertaking. If those lights are still on, you can be sure that most likely they are compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).

Think of Accor as working as a globally dispersed sustainability and innovation laboratory. From studying the effects of radio waves on guests to carbon audits, Accor is taking a risk in learning how it can redefine the travel experiences. So can a hotel chain teach its guests about local economies, global warming and environmental degradation? Will guests want to listen? Accor’s progress will be a compelling story to follow the next few years to see how these new policies thrive.

You can take a tour of Accor’s initiatives here.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).