Dear EarthTalk: In recent years the hotel industry began to green up operations, but has it yet gone beyond leaving out little cards to encourage you to re-use your towels and linens?
-- Mason Singer, St. Louis, Mo.
Some hotels and hotel chains take sustainability more seriously than others, but the industry as a whole has certainly become greener in recent years.
Those little cards may seem like token environmentalism, but they can actually result in significant water, waste and cost reductions. The website Economically Sound reports that a 150-room hotel can conserve 72,000 gallons of water and 480 gallons of laundry soap every year by placing the cards in its guest rooms.
The Marriott chain reported saving as much as 17 percent in hot water and sewer costs at its hotels thanks to implementation of its Linen Reuse Program.
While many hotels and chains print up their own cards, thousands more purchase them from the Green Hotels Association, a nonprofit launched two decades ago to bring together hotels around the U.S. and elsewhere that share a commitment to the environment and sustainable use of natural resources.
The organization's Catalog of Environmental Products for the Lodging Industry contains a wide range of environmentally friendly energy- and water-saving products.
For example, 500 laminated copies of the group's best-selling card (asking guests to consider not having sheets changed every day) costs hoteliers just $200. Another example is the toilet-tank fill diverter, which saves about three-quarters of a gallon of water per flush while remaining invisible to guests. The little gadgets cost hotels around $1 and as such pay for themselves in no time thanks to reduced water bills.
The catalog also features dispensers that eliminate the waste of stocking every bathroom with soap bars and little bottles of hair and skin care products.
Another group promoting a greener hospitality industry is the World Travel & Tourism Council, which works to improve the quality of tourism around the world. Under its Environment Initiative, the council aims to solidify a global vision on how the tourism industry can foster sustainable development.
It has been especially proactive around the mitigation of carbon emissions and last year, along with the International Tourism Partnership and 12 major hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood, launched the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, which aims to help hotels reduce, measure and communicate their carbon footprints.
This is particularly relevant, says the council, for hotels' corporate clients who want to quantify the carbon footprints of their hotel stays, meetings and events.
Another positive trend is the Four Seasons' 10 Million Trees Initiative. The hotel chain is celebrating its 50th anniversary by planting 10 million trees across the 34 countries in which it operates with the hope that the effort will help combat deforestation and global warming and attract more customers concerned about the state of the planet.
Beyond what the major chains are doing, eco lodges run by or in partnership with native people or tribes have popped up all over the tropics and beyond; examples include Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambique, Africa and Posada Amazonas in the Peruvian Amazon. Staying at such a place is a good way to ensure that locals can benefit from tourism and not be tempted to pillage their region's natural resource base.
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