Post contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern
It’s become a cultural expectation in our society for guests to receive luxurious treatment and be pampered when staying in a hotel. From freshly pressed sheets to a complimentary breakfast buffet, guests often take for granted the tasks done for them and simply enjoy their stay. A mindset to conserve resources, such as water and energy, is rarely demonstrated by hotel consumers; one of the greatest challenges to sustainability in the hospitality industry according to Imran Rahman. He explains how when people pay that much for an experience, they typically expect luxury. However, this challenge can be overcome and people’s mindsets changed if all hotel management stakeholders get on the same page to raise awareness for sustainable practices, an area upon which Imran focuses his work.
Imran Rahman, originally from Bangladesh, moved to the United States to pursue a Bachelor’s in Finance from Louisiana State University. After obtaining a Master’s in Hospitality and Tourism Management from the University of Massachusetts and a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Washington State University, Imran came to Auburn where he is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, & Hospitality Management. During his time at Washington State University, Imran’s interest in sustainability began as he learned more about green hotel practices.
Most hotels have at least one practice advertised as environmentally friendly- they ask guests to hang towels to be reused instead of washing each linen every single day. While definitely a step in the right direction, many guests see this as commonplace and expected, as about 90% of hotels currently practice towel reuse. More proactive hotels, those which Imran describes as certified by credible environmental agencies, have gone above this standard. The industry has seen more innovations develop, including rooftop gardens to grow vegetables for the hotel’s restaurant, bathrooms with low flow toilets and showerheads, and bulk dispensers for hygiene items.
However, even with technologies and practices such as these, Imran sees more potential for the hospitality industry. Specifically, he stresses the importance of hotels to advertise their sustainability to guests, making it a priority and visible presence in public areas of the building. This improves the public’s knowledge and raises awareness for the environmental solutions being worked toward. In addition, consumer momentum for sustainability is picking up; therefore, more innovative hotels will receive better reviews and in turn more business. This aspect is vital to hotel management because ultimately hotels are businesses with the goal to make a profit.
Money also plays a role, as many hotels choose whether to develop sustainable practices based entirely on economics. For example, the upfront cost of solar panels is often daunting for a hotel manager; thus, prohibiting their installation. When it is hard to quantify the money saved or a change is initially expensive, hotels are less likely to move forward with that idea. However, hotels that do move forward with bigger projects, such as solar panels, see the savings over a longer time period. Adding to the monetary savings, practices such as these are easily marketed, appealing to the growing sector of guests looking for responsible and innovative management in areas of sustainability.
In addition to studying sustainable hotel practices and policies, Imran researches customers perceptions of these new ideas and works to change consumer behavior in a positive manner. He believes by spreading awareness, hotels will find ways to offer more at a lower cost because there is profitability from a sustainability standpoint. As Imran noted, properties currently advertising as environmentally friendly or green can charge $9-26 more per night than comparable hotels. This added expense could help cover the cost from upfront installation of sustainable technologies, such as replacing all showerheads with low flow models or replacing toilets to be dual flush. However, in an ideal scenario the extra incoming money would be split between profits for the hotel and bringing savings back to guests, making a win-win situation for all involved. Imran suggests a program giving guests money back on their stay if they choose to participate in other programs encouraging sustainability. For example, if guests reuse their towels and recycle their waste appropriately, they could get a rebate on their stay.
Another exciting practice used by some hotels is their key card system to save energy. Right next to the door in some rooms, there is a slot where you place your card upon entering. This gives access to power on the lights, heating/cooling units, and other electrical usages. When you remove your card to leave the room, the power will automatically be turned off, ensuring nothing is being wasted when the room is unoccupied. If appliances are only running when guests are in the room, electrical draw would decrease, saving the hotel energy and money. Imran stresses the positive impact this could have, especially when multiplied across several hotel rooms in the building.
Overall, staying in a hotel should definitely be an enjoyable experience. It should not, however, come with the cost of sacrificing sustainability. So next time you’re staying at your favorite hotel for vacation, please enjoy your breakfast buffet and indoor pool to relax, but also ask what’s being done toward sustainability, participate in any ongoing programs, and encourage the hotel to continue making strides in this area.