Towels, Thermostats and Transforming the Culture

Opening the door to my hotel room last week I was greeted by a blast of hot air and a well-lit room.  As I left the room each day, I lowered the thermostat and turned off all the lights.  Upon returning each evening, I was welcomed in once again by a hot, bright hotel room. 

After showering, I hung up my wet towels planning to reuse them.  However, the next day I had fresh towels.  So this time, when I put the towels on the bar, I placed the hotel card on top of them.  You know the kind I’m talking about – where the hotel asks the guests to do their part to conserve water and energy and save the planet one towel at a time.  Surely the housekeeper would get the hint.  Nope.  I once again had clean towels to shower with. 

This hotel is not only a well-respected business hotel with good service, comfortable rooms and many amenities; the company is also a strong proponent of sustainability.  Viewed as a key part of their business strategy, they are working hard to integrate sustainable practices into every aspect of their operations.  This towel thing has been around for years – long before the “S” word and CFL bulbs became mainstream. 

In conversations with clients and others in the hospitality business I often hear that many guests don’t respond to the hotel’s efforts to encourage sustainable practices such as reusing towels and turning off lights.  I wonder how many guests are annoyed that their efforts to save the planet are being derailed by the very employees of the hotels asking them to conserve resources.

As a sustainability consultant I realize that I look at the world differently than I did many years ago.  I notice things like recycle bins, healthy or local food choices, community involvement, energy conservation, leaking water faucets and plastic bags.  Companies who want sustainability in their organizations need to have employees that also look at their work through a new lens.  This is about more than training and little cards in hotel rooms.  It’s about embedding sustainability into the very fabric of the organization – the culture, systems, practices, processes and leadership.    This is how strategy gets executed. 

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