There is a difference between saying you want to do good by the planet, and actually doing something meaningful. (Photo: Thinkstock)
I’m pretty serious about doing the right things for mother earth, but whenever I see one of those hotel flyers that says “save the planet! Don’t wash your towels!” I cringe a little. Don’t get me wrong, re-using towels is a good idea but it’s not going to “save the planet” and the preachy nature of the flyer begs the question—perhaps this hotel really cares more about the labor savings? And why are they making me decide for them?
The good news is that beyond avoiding towel washing, there are plenty of meaningful things happening right now at hotels around the world that really do lessen our impact on the environment. The even better thing is that most of these happen with zero effort by the guest and save money too!
1. Key-card operated lights.
Don’t tell Motel 6, but “leaving the lights on” makes no sense if no one’s home. In most European hotels, in order to make the lights turn on you need to stick your key-card into a little slot as you walk into the room. When you leave, you take the key with you and all the lights go out. This has the added bonus of giving you an obvious place to put the key-card so you don’t lose it somewhere under the bed.
2. Inviting and obvious stairways.
Nothing annoys me more than having to take an elevator up a single story. It makes me feel lazy and it’s a waste of energy. But all too often, hotels hide their stairways in dingy corners of the building behind “emergency exit” signs that make you feel like a criminal for using them. If a stairway is attractive, well lit and obvious then people will gravitate toward using it instead of the elevator, at least for 2 or 3 floors. It makes you feel more healthy too!
I would happily walk down this staircase at the H2 Hotel in Healdsburg in California’s wine country. (Photo: Nick Aster)
3. Setting the AC to a reasonable temperature.
In hot climates, air conditioning can be a necessity. But there’s no reason you should be shivering under a down comforter in the middle of the Caribbean. Air conditioning should be set to something like 72 in most cases and people can have the option of turning it lower if they really crave a chill. Better yet, windows should always be operational—a natural night time breeze is always more pleasant than the AC even in relatively hot climes!
Related: The Who’s Who in the Low-Carbon Economy
4. Fresh water on tap - including sparkling!
Generally speaking, in the developed world, tap water is perfectly fine to drink. Despite this, some hotels think they’re doing guests a favor by offering ludicrously priced bottles of supposedly superior liquid for sale in rooms. A better idea is to place a nice looking tap in the hallway with chilled, filtered water and carafes that guest can fill themselves and keep in their rooms.
Sparkling water on tap at the H2. (Photo: Nick Aster)
Some hotels, like the H2 in Healdsburg, CA, (which is also LEED Gold certified) even offer a sparkling option to satisfy your middle of the night water needs.
Once you settle into your hotel, wouldn’t it be nice to forget about the car and be able to walk to restaurants, shops, and other interesting things? By locating in a downtown or a walkable neighborhood guests can save money, time and energy. Plus they’ll have a much more pleasant experience as compared to those hotels out among the strip malls. Better yet, locate the hotel next to a train or major transit station and you won’t even need a car to get there at all!
6. Free bikes for guests.
With cycling on the rise, some hotels offer free (or very cheap) bike rentals so your range of exploration becomes vastly bigger. The H2 Hotel for example, is close enough to vineyards that a bike-powered wine tasting expedition is easily doable, avoiding traffic, parking and those pesky carbon emissions.
I recently stayed at the Tierra Atacama in San Pedro, Chile. They also offered bikes completely free of charge that would allow you to set out on your own and enjoy the splendors of the Atacama desert.
7. Big shampoo dispensers in the shower.
All those little shampoo bottles hotels give you wind up in the same place - the landfill. Even if you only use one squeeze, practicality makes refilling them an impossibility and they are typically difficult to recycle. A better choice? Big dispensers of your favorite brands in the shower with a pump action. This cuts the plastic waste down to near zero and saves the hotel oodles on refills and hassle—plus they’re easier to get what you need out of them!
8. Serve local food in the restaurant.
Local food’s obvious environmental advantage is that it generally has a lower carbon footprint to travel from farm to table. But most interesting is that it gives the hotel something to talk about and a way to connect with travelers and the community. It’s always more interesting to sit down and hear a story about the place your food is coming from as opposed to being fed something anonymous from god knows where. The result is a deeper relationship between hotel and guests, and a richer experience for your stay.
I celebrated my engagement last year at the Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma County. Their Michelin-starred restaurant is renowned for serving up local fare. The food they serve is sourced from the owner’s ranch or local artisan farmers. The menu changes depending on what is in season in Sonoma County.