Green Room

When Green Is Another Word for Cheap

Hotels’ linen-reuse programs get me fuming. Which eco-marketing gimmicks do you find most annoying?

When my sisters and I were girls, we loved exploring the hotels my family stayed at on vacation. On arriving, we would race off to ride up and down in the elevator, thumb through the tacky bric-a-brac at the gift shop, and check out the pool, inhaling the sticky, chlorinated air. In the room, we’d fight over free postcards in the desk drawer, play with the phone in the bathroom, and salivate at the prospect of ordering room service and getting those miniature bottles of jam delivered to our door. This was a world that suspended the realities of life at home, and we reveled in every aspect of it.

My taste for luxury has evolved somewhat—I’m not nearly as taken with the M&Ms in the mini bar—but on entering a hotel room, I still immediately review the room-service menu, bask in the prospect of fresh, silky sheets, and inspect the bathroom to ensure I have fluffy, clean towels for every possible need. Then I spy one of those little placards, nestled among the tiny soaps or hanging from the towel rack, asking me to reuse my linens: “Save Our Planet … Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once … Please decide for yourself.” And, like that, my hotel buzz fizzles.

I’ll admit that I sometimes choose not to participate in this program and request fresh towels and sheets every day. Before you write in scolding me for being a wasteful person, let me qualify that by saying it’s not the program, in theory, I’m against. I’m all for saving the environment. But I don’t want to be guilt-tripped into going green. It’s the two-facedness of it that gets me—save our planet! Conserve our resources! It’s up to you, hotel guest. Forsake that washcloth (or two!), or those crisp sheets that are your right when you pay for the room, and to what end—so the hotel can save money on laundry? How many natural resources are wasted printing all of these little signs? Here’s an idea: Instead of printing out a placard for every room in the hotel, wash my towel.

It turns out there’s an entire business-to-business industry devoted to the packaging and sales of these party-pooping cards. If you visit the Web sites for any of the companies that sell these notices to hotels, you’ll find the message is more financial than environmental: “Being green goes directly to your bottom line.” Marriott, a hospitality company that’s demonstrated a real commitment to environmentalism, says it “saves an average of 11 per cent to 17 per cent on hot water and sewer costs at each hotel,” through the linen-reuse program. Of course, going green doesn’t always have to be purely altruistic—it’s great when there’s an additional upside. But these cost-saving initiatives put an onus of self-sacrifice on guests under the guise of environmentalism. In the service industry, it’s the business that should take responsibility for being environmentally sound, not the customers. There are a number of ways hotels can do this: installing water-saving toilets and showers, replacing light bulbs with CFLs, using solar energy, eliminating Styrofoam coffee cups, substituting room key cards made of plastic with those made of recycled paper.

If hotels really can’t do without these opt-in laundry schemes, at least they could be transparent about their motives and reward the guests for their sacrifice. “Reusing your towel not only saves our precious natural resources; it also helps us save money. By participating in our linen-reuse program, we’ll knock $10 off your room stay per night.” Now, that’s a program I can believe in.

The linen-reuse programs have been around for years. As the recession worsens, we’re likely to see a lot more businesses shaving pennies by shaming their customers into “going green.” Have you been frustrated by one of these eco-not-so-friendly schemes? Slatewants to know. Tell us about your green-business pet peeves by filling in the form below. Entries may be quoted unless you stipulate otherwise.

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