Workplace Wisdom

Which Environment Is Being Improved, and Who Really Benefits?

Twice in the past month I’ve stayed at hotels that asked me to participate in new, eco-friendly programs with names like “A Green Choice.” And twice, I agreed to do it, because of the promised savings of 37.2 gallons of water, 25,000 BTU of natural gas, 0.19kWh of electricity, and 7 oz. of cleaning-product chemicals “for each night you forgo full housekeeping.”

But I won’t be doing it again.

For many years now, almost all but the most luxurious hotels have been asking guests, in tones from pleading to peremptory, to reuse towels and linens in the name of environmental savings. Of course, going green helps the hotel save money on laundry, but guests can feel like model citizens and still return to a tidy room.

What’s the Right Choice for You?

In my case, things are even tidier in my hotel room than they are at home. I’ve always felt that one of the few advantages of being on the road so much — besides the personal and financial reward of the work itself, of course — is that someone else makes the bed and takes out the trash.

Frequent travel takes discipline, and my daily diligence on the road includes putting the toothpaste and skin-care containers back in my kit, placing every single article of clothing away in drawers and closet, and even arranging my work materials, protein bars, and vitamins in a single pile or a neat row. The reduced clutter helps me focus for early-morning and after-hours work. Plus, it helps me maintain the impression of being a professional guest, which is important when you think about the fact that the hotel staff are all strangers who have access to your room and your stuff.

Some people might experience a bit of internal conflict when they think about the trade-off of doing their own housekeeping to “help the environment,” so hotels offer a sweetener of points or coupons to encourage guests to make the “right” choice. But for me, those added bonuses barely factor in — I don’t want to be the kind of person who doesn’t want to help the environment or to “promote sustainability,” as one hotel’s thank-you letter, slipped under my door one night, put it.

It’s Not That Easy Being Green

But after I automatically said yes for the second time, I noticed a dearth of housekeeping carts in the halls. It struck me that my choice to promote sustainability for the hotels and their shareholders was most likely also putting housekeepers out of work. And surely the housekeepers who were still on staff were getting fewer tips — most people who forgo housekeeping probably assume they can forgo tipping too, despite the fact that someone is still making up the room for their stay and cleaning up after them when they go.

So here’s where I ended up: I’m completely willing not to have my sheets changed more than every three days (as is legally required for health rules) and I always hang and reuse my towels. If there’s a bin for recyclables, I use it; if there isn’t, I put the non-recyclables in the bathroom trash and any recyclables in the room trash, to keep them separated just in case.

But as my hotel room is part of my working conditions, and therefore a factor in my work performance, I prefer to follow the example of The Points Guy, an authority on travel and travel deals. He relies “on daily housekeeping to help me maintain a clean, organized environment” and prefers “the pleasure of returning to and working in a sparkling, orderly room.”

I want a fresh washcloth every day and to have the used one removed (along with whatever I’ve put in the wastebaskets). And I like whatever needs restocking to be restocked without my having to make a special request. So I’ll forgo the profit-generating incentives. Instead I’ll greet every housekeeper I see with respect and gratitude; I’ll also always leave a tip, because hard work should be rewarded and low pay should be supplemented. And I hope that even without making “A Green Choice,” my conscience will be clear and my travels will be successful.

Onward and upward,

LK

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