A NEW BREED OF ECO-HOTELS ARE SET TO CHANGE OUR CULTURAL CAPITALS

7 -min. read

Dear Guest,

Every day, millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once … thank you for helping us conserve the planet’s vital resources …

*throws clean towel on the floor*

The cynical view is, of course, that we’re being led to assist in the cost-cutting of big hotel brands. Small ones, too. After all, the time saved by employees on replenishing and washing laundry equates to money. Lots of it. And there’s plenty of water … right? Understandable argument. Thing is, climate change is already starting to play havoc with water supply, droughts are more common, but it is one of the root causes of the aforementioned global conundrum itself that is the biggest problem here: energy. Think water just flows out of taps? Treating and delivering water uses up a worrying amount of energy; leaving your tap running for five minutes is the equivalent of leaving a 60-watt light bulb on for 14 hours. And that’s before we get down to the business of heating said resource to wash said towels.

*hangs clean towel up on the bathroom door*

marriott-towel-reuse-signLaunched a couple of years back, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense H2Otel Challenge is targeted at encouraging hotels to put the best processes into action — saving water, money and, the big one: reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Casino hotel group Caesars were the first to sign up. Not surprising: under the guidance of Eric Dominguez (Corporate Director – Utilities, Engineering & Environmental Affairs), the installation of more efficient laundry facilities had already saved the chain between $135,000 and $218,000 per year on water heating. Conserving an astonishing 30 million gallons per annum.

Sure, cutting costs is a big motivator, and at typically 16% of a hotel’s water usage, laundry comes at a big cost. No wonder hotels are going to all lengths to ensure you keep you hanging up your towels. An extensive 2008 experiment by behavioural scientists Noah J. Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini and Vladas Griskevicius saw motivational strings pulled on a selection of unwitting participants. The crux? Social acceptance. Tests were carried out with two differing towel cards — one with the usual ‘help us help the environment’, another with a different tact: ‘join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment’.

Published as part of the ongoing series Journal of Consumer Research, the trio’s motivation through social norm messaging goes on: ‘Almost 75% of guests who are asked to participate in our new resource savings program do help by using their towels more than once. You can join your fellow guests in this program to help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay’

The crafty buggers.

And they didn’t stop there, a second study used what they call ‘descriptive norms’, specifying the guest’s room number in the card messaging. Peer pressure is alive and well. But what next? It’s 2016, and the world is already falling to bits. There are plenty of hoteliers, travel destinations doing interesting things prefixed with eco-, or green-, but wood huts in tropical climes are one thing, what about new-build city hotels…in major international hubs of creativity? The hotel industry at large needs a sea change.

1 Hotel Central Park
1 Hotel Central Park

Having created W Hotels, and ushered in a new standard in the design-led hotel experience, Barry Sternlicht is determined to do something positive — and it doesn’t sound like mere lip service. Debuting in South Beach last year, and rapidly expanding, Sternlicht’s 1 Hotels chain is the seasoned hotelier wanting to leave a positive mark on the world. 10 years as ‘Chairman and CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts’ may lead the cynic in you to think this is just another big-name chain with a compulsory sustainability policy, but he sounds keen to push boundaries — telling Paper magazine last year: ‘I’ve seen the receding glaciers and you know that all these fossil effluents are changing the environment. You just know it. You can see the impact. You don’t have to guess. It’s not a discussion. It’s fact.’

1 Hotel Central Park
1 Hotel Central Park

Maybe it was the lack of snow at his personal ski resort that really pushed him over the edge, but the important thing is that Sternlicht is doing something. Peer pressure towel cards? Nah, not here. 1 Hotels have a five minute sand timer in their showers. This is a hotel brand not content with being green, time spent here will leave you questioning your everyday approach to sustainability. Their hotels are designed with recycled and reclaimed wood and materials; there are organic uniforms; food made with fresh organic ingredients; Keetsa hemp mattresses; triple filtration water system. But the big thing? Here we have eco-hotels aimed at the creative class. Lobby-culture is still in place; high-tech leanings are still indulged. The concept of a green hotel may be nothing new, but this strain of green hotel has my attention piqued. (Read more about 1 Hotel Central Park here.)

Now, hotels with an environmentally-sound frame of mind are nothing new across the pond either, even those with a strong design edge — Cornwall’s The Scarlet is a real treat, with an exhaustive commitment to responsibility; Alentejo in rural Portugal is home to Ecorkhotel, the world’s first hotel clad entirely in cork, a 100% natural product — but how are Europe’s city centres fairing?

Ecorkhotel, Alentejo
Ecorkhotel, Alentejo

Indeed, Barry Sternlicht could look to Vienna’s Boutique Hotel Stadthalle for inspiration … they really are pulling out all the stops; the first city hotel in the world with a zero-energy balance. So that’s a lot of solar panels; plans for three wind turbines on the roof; a major upcycling programme (firewood coffee tables, nightstands made from old books); the city’s largest lavender field (on its roof!); toilets flushing with water from their well. In a city rich in culture— classical to cutting-edge — the Stadthalle is further proof that you needn’t be in the middle of nowhere to maximise sustainability.

Boutique Hotel Stadthalle
Boutique Hotel Stadthalle

Flying the flag for chains, NH Hotel Group — the third largest in Europe — are, like Portugal’s Ecorkhotel, looking to wine for inspiration; their Cork2Cork programme harvesting used bottle corks from 77 of their hotels to be used in construction and insulation.

There are clearly plenty of bottle stops being popped, Lisbon’s Inspira Santa Marta Hotel is another outfit savvy to cork’s possibilities; its thermal characteristics leading to energy-saving flooring. The former 18th century print factory is another city hotel with a big list of pros in the green department, and looks to Spike Lee for its mantra: Do the Right Thing. Which means a big focus on social responsibility as well as environmental.

There is a problem that everyone intent on minimising their environmental impact will face, however. External forces. Going to ban Coke because you’re not happy with their policies; forgot to check on the provenance of a bunch of new designer chairs you took receipt of? I don’t have the answer, but a trip around the world may offer a clue. Canberra, Australia’s unglamorous capital. The city’s award-winning NewActon precinct. Nishi, a mixed-use building built to the highest sustainable specifications.

Hotel Hotel, Canberra
Hotel Hotel, Canberra

It is here where the Efkarpidis brothers — Nectar and Johnathan — and over 50 of the country’s leading designers and artists have collaborated on an entirely unique space that could offer a blueprint for conscious, culturally-minded hotels. Occupying the bottom three floors of Nishi, Hotel Hotel is a meandering space that emits creativity from its every recess — a filmmaker with zero experience in interiors designed its rooms; Melbourne’s March Studio have filled a staggering foyer space with over 5,000 offcuts of recycled timber; an artist more acquainted with galleries created a mirror that sits behind the reception desk.

Adam Goodrum Feasting Table and Chair by Broached Commissions at Hotel Hotel, Canberra © Photo by Scottie Cameron
Adam Goodrum Feasting Table and Chair by Broached Commissions at Hotel Hotel, Canberra © Photo by Scottie Cameron

What is my point? Aside from the stupendous eco-credentials of the building in which it is housed, aside from the countless environmental considerations made in the hotel’s design and operation, compulsively collaborating with the country’s top creatives opens up a whole new world of responsibility. Independent makers care about provenance; groundbreaking design studios care about accountability; visionaries will favour found objects over the mass-produced. Think the creative class will check in and check out without noticing their surroundings? Wrong. The travellers attracted to Hotel Hotel’s individualistic approach will revel in being exposed to new creatives, those creatives will revel in that exposure, their suppliers will … you get the picture. A cycle of thoughtfulness set in motion by a community of collaboration.

If Hotel Hotel’s guests are remotely as considered as their approach, do you think we’ll need towel cards? I get it. Not two hotel guests are the same. But creativity has the power to inspire, and we’re all in this together. Stay considerate friends … thank you for helping us conserve the planet’s vital resources …

mm

James Davidson
James Davidson is a contributing writer for THE SHIFT and editor-in-chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.

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