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Thursday, June 2, 2005 09:01 pm

earth talk 6-2-05

Dear “Earth Talk”: Many hotels now ask guests to reuse towels and not request new sheets every day as a way to save water and energy. What other eco-friendly trends, if any, are taking place in the hospitality industry? —Jenny Baker, Bozeman, Mont.

Asking guests to reuse towels and keep sheets for more than one night are just a few of the many ways the lodging industry has been rapidly “greening up” operations in recent years. According to the Green Hotels Association, a trade group of hotels, motels, and inns across the United States that is committed to sustainable business practices, thousands of member establishments share common goals of saving water, energy, and other resources — while saving money — to help protect the planet.

Travelers don’t seem to mind. Such minor concessions as saving towels and sheets are garnering some 70 percent participation among guests, according to GHA, and in the process they’re saving lodging establishments as much as 5 percent on utility bills.

Other examples of green-friendly hospitality strategies abound. Shower-wall-mounted body washes (ubiquitous in Europe) are replacing those tiny individual soap bars and disposable shampoo and conditioner bottles. Room lights are being retrofitted with energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs in lieu of incandescent energy hogs. Some establishments are installing “occupancy sensors” so that lights turn on and off automatically when guests enter or leave their rooms. Still others are providing cloth laundry bags made from retired sheets and installing “low flush” toilets to save water.

Hotel restaurants and banquet facilities are also getting in on the act, serving water “upon request only,” shunning disposable paper and plastic in favor of reusable pitchers and pourers for cream and sugar, and using small serving dishes in place of single-serving pouches for butter and jellies. Some are also using coins or chips for car-parking and coat-checking instead of paper tickets. Outdoors, solar energy is powering signs and, in tropical areas, heating water. And mowed landscaping is being replaced by plantings and other kinds of ground cover to reduce lawnmower use and its inherent air and noise pollution.

Green Seal, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of environmentally friendly products and practices throughout the business world, began working with the lodging industry a decade ago, educating the 54,000 U.S. hotels and motels about the economic benefits of environmental choices and publishing Greening Your Property, a comprehensive guide to green purchasing and operations for the hospitality industry. The guide helps hoteliers find environmentally friendly options for nearly everything they buy — from industrial cleaners and floor-care products to paints, lighting, and recycled paper towels, tissues, and napkins. Additionally, Green Seal’s hotel-certification program helps tourists, meeting planners, and business travelers identify environmentally responsible lodging options.

The green trend has proliferated mainly at smaller independent hotels, but the large chains are paying attention, too. Indeed, placards asking guests to reuse towels are already ubiquitous at hotels operated by the likes of Best Western, Marriott, Ramada, Sheraton, and Westin, to name a few. And many of these chains have enacted far-reaching practices and policies involving environmental sustainability.

For more information: Green Hotels Association, www.greenhotels.com; Green Seal, www.greenseal.org.

Send questions to “Earth Talk” in care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881, or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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