By Kathleen Ferris
There is almost always a decision to be made in a hotel bathroom. You can save water and hang up your towel for a second day’s use or throw it on the floor, signaling the housekeeper to provide you with a fresh one.
Can a towel make a difference? Or are these little signs in the bathroom just something a hotel does to help promote its “green” image?
Signs asking guests to make the water-saving decision began showing up in the 1970s in regions suffering from drought and shortages. The signs proliferated in the mid-1990s when they became common in most major hotel chains. Northern Arizona University research indicates that 78 percent of the more than 1,000 hotels in Arizona were using the cards by 2011.
Next came the little card sitting on the pillow or the nightstand. These cards ask guests to place the card on the bed the next morning if they are willing to sleep in the same bed linens for a couple days.
Both of these signs proliferated, not because the cards were good public relations, but because they proved to be cost effective.
Hotel and lodging businesses account for about 15 percent of the water used in the country’s commercial and institutional facilities, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program. About 30 percent of the water consumed by hotels is for laundry. The American Hotel and Lodging Association reports that reusing linens and towels reduces a hotel’s laundry loads by an average of 17 percent.
Hotels save on their water and sewage bills. They also save on labor and energy costs and their sheets and towels last longer. Just how much a hotel can save depends on location and the cost of labor and water. It also depends on the age of the hotel and the water-efficiency of bathroom fixtures and laundry facilities.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association has calculated the annual savings for a typical 300-room hotel with an occupancy rate of 72 percent and 22 percent of guests participating in the linen/town reuse program. The average savings for one year:
- Money: $15,957
- Water: 51,840 gallons
- Detergent: 346 gallons
That’s a little more water than the average person uses at home annually. More can be done.
Incorporating water-efficient products and practices into restrooms, kitchens, mechanical systems, such as those that provide a building’s heating and cooling, and landscaping save more water. These products and practices save energy and money, too. After implementing water efficiency practices in its mechanical systems, an Atlanta, Georgia hotel reduced its overall water use by 35 percent over three years. Now that’s real savings. The hotel also saved $1 million in water and sewer costs annually.
Working with water providers and other partners, EPA launched the WaterSense H2Otel Challenge in 2014, a campaign to assist hotels reduce water use. Hotels that sign up for the challenge will find resources to help understand their water use, evaluate savings opportunities, and make changes indoors and out to reduce water use and enhance their properties. WaterSense labeled products, for example, are independently certified to use less water and perform well, so they help hotels ensure a superior guest experience.
“Hotels that reduce their water use will not only help their community save precious resources, but can gain a competitive edge in today’s green marketplace,” said Veronica Blette, EPA’s WaterSense branch chief. “Since 2006, WaterSense has helped Americans save hundreds of billions of gallons of water, and now we’re building on that success to help hotels take their sustainability efforts to the next level.”
If you are a hotel interested in learning more about the H2Otel Challenge, contact your AMWUA member water conservation office (they are all WaterSense Partners) or visit www.epa.gov/watersense/commercial.
For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.