By Louise Oakley
Executive housekeepers share their environmental concerns with Hotelier Middle East...
Executive housekeepers share their environmental concerns with Hotelier Middle East at this month's roundtable debate.
Protecting the environment has become something of a hot topic within the hotel industry, and the housekeeping sector is able to play a significant role in this.
Speaking exclusively to Hotelier Middle East at a housekeepers' roundtable, hosted by chemical company Diversey at The Palace - The Old Town, executive housekeepers from some of Dubai's major hotel chains shared their thoughts and tips on how to minimise a hotel's impact on the environment. From using different cleaning products to avoiding over-use of laundering services, it is clear that ‘every little counts' and that even small changes can make a big difference.
And the value that eco-friendly products can bring to a hotel is not just seen in the reduction of energy or water used - a hefty financial incentive coupled with the power of a good reputation is making many hotels sit up and take notice of environmentally friendly solutions for their properties.
However, despite this positive shift, the housekeepers said that there needs to be a more unified approach to this subject. They suggested that hotels, suppliers, and municipalities could maximise the impact of these changes by working more closely to find solutions which could be universally implemented and regularly monitored, in order to ensure that every department in a hotel is being as eco-friendly as possible.
How important are partnerships with suppliers in providing environmentally friendly solutions for hotels?
Dorothee Stein: I think that suppliers must inform people about the things they are doing as a company, because we only get to know the product itself, but we also need to know who we are dealing with - this is essential.
Tatjana Ahmed: There are certain things which corporate offices advise us on - for example the packaging of amenities- but when it comes to cleaning we have more freedom, so it is important for us to discuss things with our suppliers because we need to know which products are on the market for us to make an informed choice.
Nadine O'Connor: We want to talk to suppliers so we can find out what their environmental output is. We want to know what is coming out of suppliers' sewage lines, what chemicals they are putting out, where it is going and how it is affecting where it is landing. And if we didn't talk to the supplier we wouldn't know any of this.
Marc Robitzkat: If you really want to see the benefit of being green, it requires a full mindset change in terms of training and application. As a supplier, we can provide our partners with great green products but unless they make changes internally, the products will not make as much difference.
Has there been increased guest demand for hotels to be more eco-friendly?
Laetitia Lasry: Particularly in residences, I have experienced guests saying they will not sign a contract with you unless they know you are an environmentally friendly hotel.
Jeanette Clift: Guests want us to participate in doing our bit for the environment, either in replacing towels and linen only when needed or with the amenities - they often ask what we are doing with the bottle afterwards and it is a very good question. But then guest demand keeps changing. If you are in a five-star hotel, it's all about expectations and people who are paying a lot of money often want the linen to be changed every day because they expect that from five-star service.
DS: Some of our guests are looking at environmental issues and they appreciate initiatives like our energy saving light bulbs. Initially you think the room is going to be less bright, but it is working and the guests like it.
Should there be a unified approach to environmental issues in hotels?
Somer Gundogdu: That is the fundamental question - at the moment there is a huge confusion in the marketplace. Everyone is talking about being more ‘green' but there is no clear definition of what being green means. The way I see it, we just don't have a common understanding of what green is and we really need to reach one.
JC: Let's agree on the basics for different brands or different styles of property so that at least we are doing something together, rather than everybody doing their own thing. The problem with that is that there is no way to measure it because everyone is doing something completely different. We have the DTCM classifying hotels so perhaps we should start including environmental issues in to this. We are all doing something, but is it enough? Somebody needs to take the lead and implement a system. I think it's great that everybody wants to do something, and they really want to do something good, which is the beauty of it. But somebody needs to take the lead.
How can products such as amenities be made more environmentally friendly?
NOC: We recently changed all of our amenities to completely natural, biodegradable products -even the tubes are biodegradable so you still give the guest that feeling that they can take something away but we know that if it doesn't end up in a recycling plant after being used, then it will still biodegrade somewhere after a certain period of time.
LL: Dispensers on the wall could be re-implemented, because some companies offer so many different products right now which look fantastic - you can have shampoo in one bottle, conditioner in the other and they look great. That is something we can definitely drive again, because it's time for a change.
Tahera Sultana: We did want to have shampoo, conditioner and body wash in one but the guests want each thing to be separate because they have come to expect that.
Dilki Cooray: People worry with having a dispenser on the wall. They want to know what is in there, how long it has been there, and has anyone else used it. So they are not as popular now as they once were.
MR: With five-star hotels people do have different expectations and some people are also not clued in to what it means to be green. But then you think of Six Senses, which is a luxury hotel company and people are paying big money to ride bicycles and eat only local produce. That is an example of a hotel which is luxury and environmentally friendly, and people go there with the express purpose of being green.
Green solutions can be quite costly; what is the potential return on investment for hotels looking at offering eco-friendly products?
MR: The first thing that comes up when hotels are looking in to green chemicals is the cost, but when you look at the entire process you can see that around 92% of the money you spend in this area is staff cleaning costs, and the rest is just a chemical. It is a very small fraction of the overall cleaning process, and you will make all of that money back in terms of water saving, energy saving, and staff time - all of which will save you money. So initially yes, green chemicals are more expensive but you will see a return on that in terms of savings.
NOC: I think it is about being prepared to make that initial investment, because once you have done that, it really does pay off.
DS: If a product simply makes your job easier and you are able to make a clear saving on time, this is something which is so important. It means that staff have an easier job and they are happier as well so you get much better results from them.
TA: And it's not just chemicals - there are systems in the market like chemical-free marble crystallisation which we adopted a year ago and it works in a way that you no longer have to strip your floors and there is no need for polish, so this saves us 22 gallons of polish. So it is looking at what you can save if you adopt certain systems, and what it is that you will get back from that.
What should hotels be doing other than looking at energy saving products and green chemicals? Can hotels do more?
NOC: I think that recycling is a big issue which everybody is talking about but not everybody is doing - people say they are recycling because they are putting their glass away but making sure that it goes back to the recycling partner and that you are doing it properly has a huge impact on the waste which we put out.
MR: A few years ago at the Green Climate Summit in Abu Dhabi, they held an exhibition adjacent to the summit about alternative energy and waste packing and there is actually a lot of interest in the region for this, but because of the initial capital investment that it demands, I don't think that the market is quite right for this yet. People are really hesitating on issues like this, and it is much like the scenario we had a few years ago where people were talking the talk but simply weren't ready to walk the walk. However, I think that this will all change in the future and that there is huge potential there.
LL: It is also important for you to know about the company that is collecting the recycling as well, because it could be that someone is collecting your glass and plastic but they are not actually disposing of it as efficiently as they could be, so you need to find out from them exactly how your waste is being recycled.
DS: Waste is actually revenue making. The companies who collect the waste quite often sell it on because they can actually make quite good money out of it. There are also the paper mills in Dubai which are very good at recycling paper - they are very organised when it comes to paper.