By Roland Leiser
March 14, 2012
An unmade bed, wastebaskets full and overflowing, damp bath towels scattered on the bathroom floor, a vanity top spotted with shaving soap and used paper coffee cups on the desk. What’s wrong with this picture? Well actually, nothing. Although I am staying in a perfectly respectable hotel in Pittsburgh, the housekeepers aren’t on strike and I feel at home in the disorder.
Welcome to a new wrinkle in hospitality where some hotel chains and independent lodgings pay you to be "green" with a cash voucher or frequent guest reward. Just choose to opt out of daily room cleaning. It’s that simple. And with the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day coming up on April 22, hotel guests should be reminded of the Make a Green Choice program.
The initiative moves beyond the Green Suite Planet Earth and similar programs promoted in hotel rooms, which encourage guests to re-use their towels and bed linen. Starwood Hotels & Resorts with its Sheraton, Westin Le Meridian and W brands and Sage Hospitality, a management company for various Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott and independent hotels, have introduced Green Choice in some of their properties.
Savings on detergent, chemicals, energy, water plus reduced wear and tear on fabrics drive the program, according to its backers. Before it dropped the incentive last May, the 336-room Marriott Renaissance Blackstone, Chicago, estimated that water usage was cut by four or five gallons a day per room and 13 gallons of chemicals were saved a year, according to a press release of Sage Hospitality that manages the property.
Skip a day of room cleaning and you save enough kilowatt hours to power a laptop for 10 years, according to Sheraton’s web site (sheraton.com/greenchoice). And water? The 37.2 gallons would provide a person with almost two cups of HO 2 a day for a year. And so it goes.
Of 64 hotels managed by Sage at one point last year, 18 had participated in Green Choice, according to a Sage press release, but the number of managed properties and participants can fluctuate. Today, Sage’s list includes 53 hotels, says Kelly McCourt, vice president-marketing and the firm is awaiting directions from the brands on the direction they want to take. "We are in a holding pattern," she adds, while Starwood remains enthusiastic.
At the Sheraton Station Square, Pittsburgh, guests may earn a $5 daily voucher for up to three days or 500 Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty points a day on check-out. Most guests opt for the loyalty points, says Thomas Hardy, general manager, adding that about 15 percent of his eligible guests participated last year. Vouchers are good at its bar and restaurant. (I applied my two vouchers for an excellent if somewhat expensive breakfast). After the third day, a room will be cleaned regardless. Longer terms guests can resume choosing to decline maid service for days four and five.
Starwood heavily promotes Make a Green Choice. At the Sheraton Station Square, the hotel’s pro-environment message has been placed on the concierge desk, the check-in counter, in the elevators, in guest rooms, in electronic reading boards that announce hotel events and on reading boards outside meeting rooms. They are hard to miss. And put the door-hanger outside by 2 A.M. to collect the voucher and next day the room stays uncleaned and the beds unmade.
But not all hotel folks see eye-to-eye on the benefits. At Bethesda-based Marriott, "we have brand standards and Marriott franchisees aren’t supposed to offer" the program, says spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein but some Marriotts still do. The Courtyard by Marriott in downtown San Diego, for example, offers 250 Rewards points for each day up to a 500 point maximum. "The green initiative doesn’t save a lot of money," contends Goldstein although Marriott’s policy is not to change sheets each day for multiple stays.
UNITE HERE!, a union that represents a goodly number of housekeepers, likewise questions the benefits. Such programs represent a "new standard of lower services under the guise of incentives for guests and help for the environment," contends Annemarie Strassel, communications coordinator in Chicago. And, she adds, housekeepers must double their efforts to clean a room in the allotted time.
Are housekeepers’ income hurt when guests refuse service and don’t leave tips? It depends. One guest at the Westin Riverwalk, San Antonio,had declined daily maid service but she still left a tip.
Asked if the green initiative had reduced employment, Strassel referred me to Robert Demand, of Local 70 in Vancouver, which represents workers at Westin hotels. He didn't return phone calls for comment. Hotelier Hardy says that there’s never of question of job losses; he always needs housekeeping help.
Last year, the Renaissance Blackstone dropped the incentives at Marriott International’s request, says General Manager Wendell Bush, who held a similar position at the Westin Georgetown in Washington, D.C. But the hotel still supports a guest’s right to refuse housekeeping; it just doesn’t reward them," remarks Bush; "you don’t need to pay someone to be green."
Leiser is a Silver Spring, MD-based journalist.