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I Want My Hotel Room Clean. Really Clean
Illustration for TIME by Bernard Chau

It's not easy being green. But a lot of hotels would like to get that way. Just ask Christopher Balfe, director of America's HVS Eco-Services. Balfe's firm inspects hotel properties worldwide to ensure they meet basic environmental standards in several areas: waste management, energy efficiency, water conservation, legislative compliance and employee education. Those that pass his test are christened "ecotels," short for ecologically sound hotels. Many mean well but fall short, says Balfe. "Recycling is more than just buying the right paper. Protecting the environment is an expensive proposition."

Balfe's company also offers hotels advice on how to take that kind of broad approach to environmental responsibility. Among his suggestions: insist that suppliers bring less waste in the form of cardboard boxes, oversee solid waste disposal even after it has left the site, and even offer air-purifying systems in each room. "Green means business and customers taking greater responsibility," says Neil Jacobs, group director of Four Seasons Resorts in Singapore.

There are limits, of course, to how enthusiastically customers will take to such measures. "We can encourage our guests to be greener," says Jacobs, "but we can't dictate how they should respond." If customers had the choice, for instance, most would probably opt for disposable shampoo and bath oil containers rather than waste-reducing refillable ones. "Guests will tell you they prefer the higher level of hygiene in disposable bottles," he says. "They think the refillables are dirty."

Besides providing a sense of "doing good," being green can help the bottom line. Robert Hutchinson, regional marketing director for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, says his company has four ISO 14001-certified eco-friendly hotels in Asia. They are inspected every six months to ensure compliance and continual improvement. The addition of energy-saving lightbulbs, biodegradable cleaning materials and water-saving devices in recent years has already paid for itself, he says. At the Tokyo Bay Hilton in Chiba, one of only two ecotels in Asia (the other is Bombay's Orchid), environmental-awareness training for the staff has brought down energy usage 5%, according to Balfe. The Westin Resort in Macau says it has saved $650,000 since 1995, when it implemented energy-saving programs to monitor how efficiently its air-conditioners operate.

Hotels can do more. "Simple things," says Balfe. They can end the use of paper coasters and napkins and install recycling bins in every room. By filling an old one-liter soft-drink bottle with water and placing it in each room's toilet tank (so less water is displaced with each flush), they can reduce water use by as much as 30%. And they need to remind customers to pitch in as well.

In the end, hoteliers the world over may conclude this is the only way to go. The 21st-century consumer is likely to pay far more attention to how environmentally responsible his or her hotel is. Some inns may find it difficult to get with the program, but no one ever said going green would be a walk in the park.


March 29, 1999

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