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Why Hotels Fell Behind On Sustainability and How They Caught Up

By 3p Contributor

By Megan Wild

In recent history, hotels have been accused of damaging the environment, and sometimes with good reason. The rise of mass tourism and cheap flights in the 1970s prioritized quantity over quality. And many once-pristine beach towns were transformed into polluted concrete jungles almost overnight. However, things are changing fast.

Sustainable eco-tourism is on the rise in many parts of the world, and even large hotel chains are now doing their bit for the environment. It makes sense for them too: Today’s customers care more about their impact on nature than ever before. And many environmentally-friendly policies actually save money for hotel owners. Here are a few ways the hotel industry is catching up when it comes to sustainable environmental practices.

Reducing water use is key

Water is an obvious but essential cost for all hotels and can account for up to 10 percent of a hotel’s total utility bill. It’s no surprise that reducing water use is now in vogue. Ever check into a Comfort Inn and notice a note urging you to reuse your towels and opt out of a fresh pair of sheets every night? The management isn’t just being cheap. Towels and linen reuse programs can save up to 6,000 gallons of water and 40 gallons of detergent every month at a single 150-room hotel.

There are many less obvious ways to save water. Hotels can install low-flow toilets that use around six liters per flush and can improve pool maintenance to make sure there are no leaks. Sprinkling lawns in the evening rather than in the middle of the day also reduces water consumption.

Waste reduction is good for the environment and your bottom line

By their very nature, hotels produce a huge amount of waste. According to one estimate, each guest produces about one kilo of waste per day. This can quickly add up to tons of daily waste for some hotels. Fortunately, hotels can mitigate this problem. Setting up a designated recycling bin in every room is a simple but effective step that an increasing number of hotels are taking up.

It’s also increasingly frowned-upon to use separate plastic shampoo containers for every stay – more hotels are using refillable containers for shampoo and other bathroom necessities. Another creative option to tackle a hotel’s trash problem: The Maho Bay Camp in the U.S. Virgin Islands has a Trash to Treasures recycling program that repurposes some of the hotel’s trash to make beautiful craft items.

Food is another huge part of the waste problem -- in fact, most of the waste in hotels come from food. Luckily, food is one thing that’s easy to reduce or recycle. Food waste can be used as compost and even turned into an energy source, while leftovers are easily donated to local food banks. Even restaurants in hotels are doing their bit by promoting locally-sourced ingredients.

Going solar is effective in sunny areas

Energy is an obvious sustainability problem for hotels and a potentially huge cost saver. Hotels are huge energy consumers: In the U.S., it’s estimated that each hotel room gobbles up over $2,000 a year in energy bills alone. Hotels are therefore primed to benefit from cheap green energy, particularly large hotels with huge power bills.

Using solar power and wind energy is a key way to achieve this. Solar is particularly promising, especially when you consider that so many hotels are located in places with large amounts of sunshine. Powering your hotel will be a lot cheaper than paying local electricity rates or even using generators. Dubai is even set to open its first fully-solar-powered hotel!

Cleaning must be done sustainably

Finally, cleaning is a major source of energy consumption and waste production in the hotel industry. Every room needs to be fresh, clean and nice-smelling, and that doesn’t come easily when hundreds of people use the same room every year. You can fight this by using sustainable materials for cleaning instead of industrial ones. Instead of using air freshener, for example, a few sprigs of lavender will usually do the trick!

One important thing to keep in mind, however, is that hotel equipment such as floor scrubbers need regular maintenance. Old and dirty machinery uses up more power than properly-serviced equipment. Improperly serviced equipment also leaves a hotel looking less-than-sparkling clean, which is something that visitors notice instantly. A few good companies out there can ensure that such equipment operates at optimal efficiency, allowing hotels to stay clean and sustainable in the long-term.

Sustainability is the way to go

In the end, hotels aren’t just businesses. In many tourism-dependent areas, they’re also major stakeholders in their local communities. It’s essential that the hotel industry keeps going down an increasingly environmentally-friendly and sustainable path. Coupled with the fact that the approach often saves money, the green trend taking over the hotel industry is likely here to stay.

Image credit: Pexels

Megan Wild is an advocate of commercial and residential sustainability. She has written for a variety of publications including  Engineering, Construction Equipment Guide, and RISMedia. When she's not tracking the latest energy trends, you can find her outside enjoying the great outdoors. Follow her on Twitter @Megan_Wild.

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