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False eco-claims in the hospitality industry

There is an increasing trend in going green and claiming eco-friendly services. Many companies including hotels are marketing more eco-friendly alternatives, but are consumers aware of the legitimacy of these “greener” options. Many hotels spend more time and money claiming to be green rather than actually applying these practices to reduce their environmental impact. They slap a green label on anything possible to attract visitors. Of course the savvy eco-friendly traveler will pay a little more to help the environment, but are they really getting what they paid for. Lets take towel usage as an example, it is common to see a place holder to give visitors the option of reusing their towel by hanging them up, thus reducing water usage. Think about it, housekeepers replace towels on a daily basis, does one towel really make that much of a difference. A great amount of water is still being used, making the reuse of a towel insignificant. The same situation goes for sheets, but in reality, not getting your sheets washed everyday during your stay does not save the planet, and often, sheets and towels end up getting washed anyway. Another green alternative in some hotels are the use of recycling bins, but unfortunately housekeepers are still seen throwing recycled items into their trashcans when cleaning rooms. At the end of the day, these placeholders are suggesting that we recycle in anyway possible and to always choose an environmentally friendly alternative. This should remain unchanged although the effect of reusing towels and sheets seems to be insignificant compared to all other energy used in a hotel building.
For hotels to be less green washed there should be only one organization to oversee the legitimacy of a green hotel. Because of independent organizations, standards are obviously going to be different. So some hotel may have certifications that would not pass another organizations requirements. But this would be difficult for one place to oversee all hotels worldwide, which choose to take a more eco-friendly route. Or better yet, one towel per person, no sheets washed until check out, reduce prices for customers because they wont have a fresh pillow case or towel every morning.

Twambo Moyo

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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 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.