The Best “Green” Hotel Message I’ve Ever Seen

I’m always suspicious of companies who tout how environmentally friendly they are, when being green happens to coincide with cost savings for the firm.  The best example is the ubiquitous message you see in hotel rooms asking the guest, in the spirit of the environment, not to have the sheets and towels washed during your visit.  I have a hard time believing that if the situation were reversed – that the green answer was quite costly – the hotels would be such tree huggers.  (For the record, I don’t care at all whether my sheets and towels get washed, so I cooperate.)

At a hotel in China, I finally found a “green” message that I found compelling:

Whoever designed this messaging understands behavioral economics.  The specificity of the message is powerful and surprising – who would ever think not washing five towels could save enough to offset planting a tree?  The reference to the United Nations gives it credibility.  And then in the last sentence they evoke norms suggesting most guests reuse the towels, a trick that has been shown to be powerful in driving behavior.

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  1. Chris says:

    I always hang my towel when I see such signs. I usually find that they replace them anyway.

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    • tung bo says:

      I agree with Chris. I always hang the towel back on the rack, only to see a new towel the next day any way. Thus, I think this really falls into the category of Appearing to be Green for marketing purpose and not saving money.

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    • Mark says:

      Chris – you’re right….you try to do a good thing and people who clean just negate your good deed. I often don’t let the cleaning people in (do not disturb) as I am almost never in the room so doesn’t get too messy

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  2. Brian says:

    I would be more impressed if they stated how many trees have been planted on account of guests reusing their towels.

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    • Peter says:

      That would necessitate constantly updating the sign with new total numbers of trees. Which would mean that the signs couldn’t be reused for very long, but that new signs would constantly be wastefully printed. Which would presumably necessitate cutting down trees, thereby undermining the very purpose of the entire exercise.

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  3. Eric M. Jones says:

    Sheets, pillowcases and towels…okay. I’m with you. But an ultraviolet light will cause the spunk on the bedspread, walls, chairs and carpets to be visible from orbit.

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  4. RGJ says:

    I have a feeling those new Chinese trees are likely to wind up as toilet paper at the earliest opportunity.

    Am I the only one reading every post here? :-)

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  5. RGJ says:

    ……follow on….which perhaps speaks volumes to the need to launder towels.

    Sorry. But there it is.

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  6. jkru says:

    I think it would actually work better if they said that if you hang your towel, they’ll replace it and if you leave it on the floor, you’re saying that you want to keep them.

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  7. Levente says:

    Never in my life did I see a hotel (mostly in Singapore, HK, Korea, Taiwan and a few places in Europe) where used towels were left in place despite the PR message promising to do so. I guess maids have no idea of the policy (or the campaign is really just a printed cardboard).

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  8. Dave F. says:

    I share the skepticism and would add that a single towel not washed could cover the cost of planting a tree, but we are fools if we believe that covers the cost of the land the tree is planted on. Something is fishy in the math…

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