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Sustainability: Travelers Care About Being Green. Or Do They?

Environmental concerns are slowly seeping into all aspects of consumers' lives, and travel is no exception. As with most green awareness campaigns, however, just how concerned travelers are is a gray area.

A recent TripAdvisor survey assessing travelers' levels of commitment to the environment claims a sizeable number keep their green mentalities while on the road. A full two thirds believe environmental measures in the travel industry do make a difference. One third would pay more for green hotels (perhaps like the ones featured in this New York Times article), while almost 40 percent would pay more for a flight that was less harmful to the environment. Moreover, TripAdvisor found most travelers (78 percent) are willing to give up the daily change of sheets and towels once so common in the hotel experience.

Funnily enough, this is the exact opposite of the findings of ELEMENT Hotels. According to their survey, 75 percent would not give up their daily fresh linens. On the other hand, 34 percent of those survey respondents claim they change their sheets and towels every day in their own homes, something that is completely incomprehensible to me. Do they really do laundry every day, or have that many spare sets of sheets?

The overall gist of the ELEMENT survey, which actually does make sense, is that people pay less attention to the environment while traveling because they're not paying for cleaning and utilities and they're just lazy. A majority of travelers are likely to leave a light on when they leave a room, leave the bathroom light on all night, or open a new shampoo bottle every time they shower. This fits in with the general indifference most consumers feel towards the environment when it doesn't affect them directly.

ELEMENT outlines a number of steps their hotels will take to cut back on their environmental impact, including reducing the amount of water used in sinks and toilets. They claim this will save about 4,300 gallons of water per room each year. Apparently the average hotel room uses 200 gallons of water every day. I'm not sure if this is really that much though, considering the average American uses over 100 gallons of water a day.

Do you maintain your green practices when you're away from home? What kinds of things can hotels and other travel-related businesses do to reduce their environmental impact?

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  • KoAnn

    Great topic, Liz! In fact it's one Fast Company editors will be exploring as part of a panel discussion at the upcoming Sustainable Brands 07 in New Orleans next month (http://www.sustainablebrands07...) According to National Market Institute (the LOHAS researchers) the retail and brand “New Luxury” explosion that made consumers expect an extremely high level of experience at every touch point is now evolving beyond the physical and emotional dimensions to the experience of fundamental core values. From luxury hybrid cars to couture dresses made from organic and sustainable fabrics, they report that for a growing category of affluent purchasers, it is not enough to have it all, consumers also want to feel better about what they have.

    According to Gwynne Rogers, NMI LOHAS Business Development Director, “Consumers are aspiring to achieve the double pay-off of exclusive experiences while supporting guilt-free and eco-friendly goods and services." As far as travel goes, the World Tourism Organization recently reported that luxury eco-tourism is the fastest growing market in the tourism industry.

    Yes, consumers are lazy, but we believe more of them will support brands that help them do the right thing by doing if for them, or by making it easy to make their dollars to the work for them. Come join our discussion in New Orleans and be inspired with us to find creative ways to fuel this emerging taste among a range of stakeholders for more "sustainable brands!"

  • Johanna Rothman

    I really care about enough water pressure to clean myself in the shower at a hotel. I normally take 10-minute showers. At one hotel, I took close to a 30-minute shower because of insufficient water pressure.

    I really care about washing my hands with soap (don't care if it's bacterial soap) when I'm in an airport, at a conference, or anytime I need to wash my hands. I dare you to do that and get the soap off in less than 10 minutes, especially at an airport.

    If I don't feel secure in my room, I will leave a light on.

    The real key is how well can I get clean, and how secure do I feel? Help me stay clean and make me secure, and I'm green. Make me uncomfortable, and I'm not. It's just that simple.

  • Phaedrus

    This makes perfecr sense. Until hotels start charging a premium for frsh sheets and towels (or giving credits for reusimng them. The vast majority of people only act green when it affects their budget, which is why they are 'greener' at home, when the have to spend time and money washing their sheets and towels, but don't when traveling.

    Even with the best intentions, it can be difficult to remember to place the card and towels in the proper spot to ensure that they are reused. Thankfully, several hotels now seem to be reusing sheets and towels as the default.

    Finally, I would be interested to know that percentage of travelers who spend more than 1 night is a hotel room, and are able to resue their sheets and towels

  • Georges

    For a very cool, interactive case-study about what a hotel chain (Scandic) in Europe has done to go way beyond what's happened in the US so far, check out:

    Gives an interactive history of what they've achieved since 1994, the strategic approach they've taken and how it's benefited them financially.

  • Jack Hawkins

    @Paul Swansen: I agree that execs and other self-important poseurs should set an example; but the vast majority of travelers are not. I think that if the majority of people can be more conscious of the small changes they can easily make we would see a large aggregate improvement. For example, turn off lights when you are not in the room!

    As for travelling - if you fly anywhere you are using one of the worst polluting systems.

    Take a look at this Guardian UK article:

    And this research paper describing the effects of airplane travel and contrail radiative forcing:

  • Paul Swansen

    How about the executives that use limo's. What ever happened to the green limo services that were using the Prius or other fuel saving vehicles or technology?

  • Jonathan

    I travel a lot and I am environmentally conscious of things like lights, AC, hot water, etc. I don't care about the sheets being changed every day.

    The one thing I do like is fresh towels. That is an indlugence I will give myself when I travel that I don't give myself at home.