Going "green" to make more "green"

06 Feb 2009|tommy

At Cheskin, most of us travel pretty heavily. We spend significant time in hotels, in airports, and in taxis. As we all know, routines often go un-examined and the standard of service – and subsequently the experiences we encounter – go unnoticed and are accepted norms. The only thing that prompts surprise is a particularly good or bad experience.

Last week a group of us sat down internally to break out of that routine and to look at those aspects of life that we take for granted. We decided to talk about hotels – the experiences they provide and the similarities and differences among different chains, different locations, even different countries. All with an eye toward identifying opportunities for hotels to deliver better and more unique experiences.

Green is good? Profitable?
Hotels have to walk a fine line when it comes to keeping “green.” Most consumers (if asked) will say that it’s of paramount importance that companies be environmentally responsible. For most hotels, that’s meant putting cards in the rooms with instructions for what to do if guests don’t want towels washed, don’t want sheets changed, etc. But hotels often promise luxurious experiences for guests. And it can be troublesome to simultaneously deliver luxury (which for many is indulgent) and be environmentally responsible (which requires sacrifice).

On top of this, it’s not always clear that the “green” message makes it throughout the organization. As a guest, I often find that housekeeping changes out my towels even when I indicate I don’t need them changed. In-house amenities such as the coffeeshop in the lobby don’t offer anything other than disposable cups. The ubiquitous hotel copy of USA Today gets put outside empty rooms where no one reads them. All practices that directly contradict the green message.

In our internal conversation, a colleague pointed out that most hotels don’t seem to sacrifice much for “going green.” Charging guests for in-room bottles of water may actually be less about plastic in landfills and more about generating revenue. Similarly, is reusing linens (when it’s actually done) less about saving water and more about reducing labor on housekeeping?

Other Opportunities
We discussed other ways for hotels to go green in more meaningful ways. For instance, hotel restaurants generally have a pretty uniform menu whether I find myself in New Jersey or LA. Why not introduce the local food movement to the hotel restaurant? Why not make a commitment to buy only from local providers and serve primarily local specialties? Just like other initiatives, I’ll bet hotels could use this as a revenue generator. I’d be willing to pay a bit more if I knew I was getting a local Georgia heirloom tomato rather than a flavorless out-of-season red block of “tomato.” I imagine that it’d be quite an experience to enjoy local cuisine, local produce, even locally-raised meats when I travel. While some hotels seem to do this on an occasional basis, in our experience it’s not the norm. And while the cynic in me says, “yeah – another way to go ‘green; and make some ‘green,’ too”… this is one area where I’d be happy to be a sucker.

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