Greenwashing Hotels

In hotels all over the world, placards and brochures are beginning to show up in guests’ rooms with sayings such as “Save Our Planet: Millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once. You make the choice.” and “Make a green choice, reward yourself and help the environment”. In reality, these programs do not do enough in terms of sustainability to warrant these claims about saving the planet. As a solution, regulations should be put in place in order to make hotels meet certain sustainability standards in order to call themselves ‘green’. Another solution would be to promote the use of bed and breakfast style living spaces in order to create more sustainable options while traveling.

In hotels all over the world, placards and brochures are beginning to show up in guests’ rooms with sayings such as “Save Our Planet: Millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once. You make the choice.” and “Make a green choice, reward yourself and help the environment”. In this way, hotels are able to brand themselves as being eco-friendly. Some hotels may be doing this with positive intentions, trying to lessen their environmental impact by using less water, less electricity, and less materials by starting recycling programs; but, overall these programs are greenwashing. The dictionary definition of greenwashing is “disinformation that is disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image”. By using slogans along the lines of “Using less towels at OUR hotel will reward you and save the planet!”, hotels are mainly aiming to bring in the population of people who strive to be eco-friendly by saying “You need to stay in OUR hotel in order to save the planet!”. In reality, even if these ‘green’ hotel programs are created with good intentions, there are many hidden trade-offs and benefits that benefit the hotel, not the environment. Examples include hotels that may install solar panels that are visible and create a good public image, but then failing to implement a water conservation program. The intentions of the hotel are also brought to attention when it is discovered that many of these programs bring more profit to the hotel than anything else because by having the customers opt to not have their room and towels cleaned, less cleaning staff is needed, therefore the company spends less money on employees. Finally, part of greenwashing is trying to maintain a good public image when your product or service is inherently not eco-friendly, the term we used in class was ‘mitigating guilt’. Hotels as a whole are not eco-friendly. The Responsible Tourism Initiative has stated that “Hotels generally use more energy per visitor than local residents, as they have energy intense facilities, such as bars, restaurants, and pools, and have more spacious rooms”. Also, “tourists demand more water than local residents on a per capita basis (Essex, Kent & Newnham, 2004). It has been estimated by Salen (1995) that 15,000 cubic meters of water would typically supply 100 rural farmers for three years and 100 urban families for two years, yet only supply 100 luxury hotel guests for less than two months (Holden, 2000). ” This shows that “Save the planet” programs in hotel are just helping the guests mitigate guilt by making a few changes in their stay such as using dirty towels or recycling in order to make them feel okay about using more energy and resources than they would staying in a smaller bed and breakfast. In conclusion, these ‘green’ programs do more to aid hotels in gaining competitive advantages, loyal customers, brand value, and recognition than they do in aiding environmental sustainability.

While saving water by washing fewer towels and trying to implement energy saving programs are steps in the right direction, they do not warrant “You are saving the planet!” slogans. It is hard to come up with a solution since hotels are businesses that use a lot of energy in order to run and make a profit. My solution would be to create a program, either state run or nationally run, that would create standards for green hotels. This is a better solution because it would lead to less greenwashing – in order for a hotel to call it’s programs ‘green’, the hotel would have to meet certain sustainability standards. It would be difficult to implement such programs because different sustainability practices work better in some areas than others, so even though creating a national standard is ideal, that will not work. Also, many people who stay in hotels regularly like having a home away from home that they can always count on, so creating large changes such as this may create social backlash. In order to make this solution into a reality, strict regulations would have to be put in place in order to insure that hotels really are reducing their impact, not just continuing to greenwash.

That solution of immediately going to regulation may seem simple, so my more creative solution would be to work on promoting bed and breakfast owners in order to help their businesses grow. As shown in the first paragraph, its kind of hard to have a hotel that doesn’t require more energy per person than the average resident. It would be more environmentally friendly to promote the use of local bed and breakfast locations rather than building more hotels. Bed and breakfasts are known for their ‘homey’ feel, so if they became more popular, it’s possible that energy could be saved in terms of building by using houses in neighborhoods that are not in use. Remodeling an old home to turn into a bed and breakfast is much better than going into an area and building a large hotel that may upset the culture and environment in a certain area. Using more bed and breakfasts would require a social change though. These areas do not offer guests a lot of privacy because the owner tends to live in the house, and guests usually share amenities such as TVs, bathrooms, and dining areas. If consumers were shown how cost efficient, energy efficient, and sustainable bed and breakfasts are compared to ‘normal’ hotels, this solution could work.

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