Reusable tote bags, eco-friendly clothing, rechargeable batteries - it seems that "green" products are now available, no matter what your needs are. But the trend towards an environmentally friendly attitude may have had its first impetus, and it is still most visible today in the hotel industry; After all, we have seen shampoo in bulk dispensers, key card energy systems and low-flow toilets in many properties over the years and around the world. However, navigating the nuances of the green hotel trend can be a little confusing, so we decided to take a closer look at what is happening in the industry - what these practices cost (or eventually save) hotels, what types of initiatives are most useful to the environment, how travellers can find out if a hotel is really environmentally friendly.

Greenwashing: simple and inexpensive ways to be green

A term coined by environmental researcher Jay Westerveld; "Greenwashing" is the increasingly common practice of companies, especially hotels, which spend more money to promote their green practices and initiatives than to establish them. Hotels placing cards in rooms that inform guests that towels or sheets will not be washed (in an effort to save the environment), unless requested is one of the most obvious examples of this. Of course, it is an environmentally friendly way to significantly reduce water consumption and the amount of chemicals released by laundry detergent, but hotels end up saving a lot of money through practice. According to the Green Business Bureau, "this simple sign can save tens of thousands of dollars a year in electricity, water, detergent and labour". Although this practice corresponds to the often negative definition of green-washing, it benefits all parties involved, so we certainly don't see any problem with that. After all, who needs a fresh towel every day?

Refunds that also make it easier for hotels to implement green practices

Other green choices made by hotels may initially have a higher price, but they often result in profits across the board. Take the W San Francisco, for example, which has instituted several water-saving practices; public toilets now have waterless urinals, and outdoor landscaping includes drought-tolerant plants that require little or no irrigation. The US Green Building Council notes that it cost the hotel about $4,000 to implement, but thanks to the reduction in water consumption, they had a return on investment less than a year after incorporating these changes. Water reduction is an important conservation effort that the Orchard Hotel in San Francisco has also taken. The hotel has installed low-flow toilets and shower heads, as well as flow limiters that reduce water consumption by 20 per cent. Showerheads now generate only 1.5 gallons of water per minute, compared to the previous 2.3 gallons; very few guests would have commented negatively on the change. And the hotel certainly has no reason to complain either. Thanks to discounts from the California Public Utilities Commission and a free toilet bonus, plumbing changes cost the hotel only $3,500 and have a payback period of two to three years. This year, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) announced the launch of its environmental sustainability program, IHG Green Engage, in all its hotels, including InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts and Holiday Inn. The system measures and monitors the daily use of energy, carbon, water and waste for each hotel, so that properties can create action plans specific to their needs based on these figures.