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‘Green’ is a wash in the hospitality industry: could we be doing more?


Xeros Water-efficient Washing Machine

The Xeros water-efficient washing machine demonstrates how new technology can transform the hospitality industry. Photograph: Courtesy of Zeros/Xeros


Powered by article titled “‘Green’ is a wash in the hospitality industry: could we be doing more?” was written by Jerry Weinstein, for on Friday 25th July 2014 13.00 UTC

For about 10 years now placards and door hangers have adorned the US hotel room with vague requests for greener behavior from guests: Please hang up your towel to conserve water; consider the planet with this don’t-launder-my-sheets-card. Still, Americans consume 25 gallons per day during their hotel stay. Multiply that by nearly 5m rooms, at an average 65% occupancy, and the hotel industry uses over 2.4bn gallons per month.

In June, the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) pledged a 12% decrease in water consumption in water-stressed areas by 2017. Considering global water shortages and severe drought in many areas, is this the best the industry can do where water conservation is concerned?

The challenges of a sea change

Rafat Ali, CEO of Skift, a travel intelligence company that provides guidance for the travel industry, says it’s extremely difficult to push through any sort of meaningful change in the industry. He notes that the $1.4tn hotel sector is actually very fragmented, and that brands are pursuing an “asset-light strategy” with investors and hedge funds owning the actual hotels.

Though the industry is more disparate than it seems at first glance, Rafat says that until last year the American Hotel & Lodging Association was united in fighting an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandate to install swimming pool ramps for the disabled. “If they are fighting that,” says Rafat, “Imagine trying to sell them on sustainability without any cost benefit involved. The pitch has to be cost.”

Enter Xeros, a Sheffield, UK-based commercial cleaning company whose water-substitute technology we profiled earlier this year. The company originated when researchers at the Leeds School of Textiles decided to try using polymers for fabric dye to strip laundry stains. The polymer beads, they discovered, worked extremely well as a partial water substitute. It also requires 50% less detergent, and the garment life is extended.

As of this summer, the company has partnered with all five major hotel chains. Jonathan Benjamin, president of Xeros North America, says it’s a slow process: “If I ask a General Manager how much water they are using in their laundry, they have no idea. One challenge we have is helping people understand this.”

Using Xeros’s proprietary front-loading machine, the company claims water savings that top 75%, and energy savings of up to 50%. The polymer beads can be reused approximately 100 times and are 100% recyclable. The company’s Sbeadycare program uses the old polymer to manufacture car dashboards. Best of all, the beads do a better job than the standard water-and-soap combo.

While the technology is exciting, cost is still a problem. Sterling Linen Services, a hospitality laundry in New England, was interested in adopting the Xeros technology, but the initial investment was daunting. The deal was ultimately made possible by Liberty Utilities, a small energy company serving ten states, which offers a rebate program for customers who invest in energy-efficient measures. Liberty commissioned an engineering study comparing Xeros to a commercial washer, finding that water use was cut by 80% and natural gas usage was reduced by 100%. Ultimately, it paid Sterling $28,000 as an incentive to adopt Xeros, based on projected water and energy savings

A blueprint for innovation?

Professor Rohit Verma, who researches green innovation at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, says that hotels are in fact feeling the pressure to conserve – from investors. At an industry roundtable he’s convened for the past six years, it is the investors who are pushing for sustainability reports like the one that Marriott publishes annually. In 2013, he and Professor Howard Chong, a faculty fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for Sustainable Future, studied Sabre’s Travelocity data for over 3,000 of its eco-certified hotels concluding that for hotel guests, “Green”… was a wash. Consumers were not more or less likely to book a hotel that Travelocity had designed as “eco-friendly,” nor did they shun these hotels.


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