Dan Condon believes in recycling. Just not when it comes to his hotel towels.
Condon composts when he's at home in Boulder, Colorado. He eats local, organic and fair-trade food and drives a Honda CR-Z hybrid sports car.
You might call him green.
Except he's not so green when he travels for his work at an education nonprofit and stays in a hotel, which happens about 10 weeks per year. There, he uses a new towel every day. And don't try to bribe him with a drink or dessert coupon to get him to reuse the same one.
"I could care less about rewards for environmentally conscious behavior unless it's miles," Condon wrote in an e-mail.
If hotels can't convince a hybrid-driving recycling enthusiast like Condon to go green while traveling, how can they possibly convince everyone else?
That's the problem of hotels trying to "green" your hotel stay. After guests have paid a pretty penny for a night at the inn, even the most environmental guests may want to treat themselves to fresh towels every day and those little bottles of sweet-smelling shampoo.
Despite the fact that most people describe themselves in surveys as environmentally conscious and as preferring green products, there's a big gap between consumer attitudes and consumer behaviors when it comes to going green, said Michael Giebelhausen, a marketing professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
"It can be nice to have fresh towels, and not doing so is a sacrifice," said Giebelhausen, whose current research focuses on the impact of hotel sustainability programs on guest satisfaction. "Participating requires some effort, and there's some cost to be incurred on the part of the consumer."
Guests who go green are happy
Nearly 90% of hotel guests are offered the chance to do something sustainable during their stays, and about two-thirds will participate, according to Giebelhausen's analysis of 2011 data from the J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study.
Those guests who participate in a hotel's green programs report that they are more satisfied with their stays than guests who do not participate. Participating in a hotel's sustainability program provides "a feeling that it was good to be green, it made them feel good about themselves, and that translated to the service provider," Giebelhausen said.
"These guests, who are ostensibly receiving a lower level of service, report being more satisfied overall with their stay."
There's just one catch: Guests who don't participate in voluntary sustainability programs reported the lowest levels of satisfaction with their hotel stays. "One explanation for these findings is that when people don't live up to their ideals, and vice versa, this affects how satisfied they are with the entity that presented them this 'moral dilemma,'" Giebelhausen said.
Sustainability is becoming the norm
It makes business sense for hotels to go green: Increasing sewage rates, stricter water use requirements and more recycling options are all convincing hotels to reduce their water and energy costs, said hotel industry veteran Pat Maher, an environmental consultant and "green guru" for the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
More than 75% of U.S. hotels have linen and towel reuse programs, 59% have guest or internal recycling programs, and 46% have a water-saving program, according to a 2012 American Hotel & Lodging Association survey of its members.
They also have "back of the house" programs that include low-flow shower heads, faucets and toilets; energy-efficient light bulbs, high-efficiency appliances and other efforts. Some are required by local governments; others just make business sense.
That translates into real dollars: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that hotels and other lodging facilities use more than 510 trillion BTU of energy annually at a cost of more than $7.4 billion. That energy use generates 54 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equal to the emissions from more than 11 million passenger vehicles, according to the agency.
The EPA reports that the lodging industry could save $745 million annually by reducing energy use by 10%. That translates to 60 cents more revenue per room night at limited-service hotels and $2 at full-service hotels.
Annoyed that the hotel's bottom line benefits from your sacrifice? Some hotels are trying to make water-saving behavior pay for their guests. Participating Sheraton Hotels & Resorts gives guests a $5 food and drink voucher or 500 Starwood points for every day they decline housekeeping's services (except departure day).
Part of the Kimpton culture
Some hotels are making green cool.
It seems to be an easier sell for hip, higher-end chains like Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group's properties, which cultivate an edgier base of customers. About 85% of hotel guests participate in the chain's towel and sheet reuse program, said Mike DeFrino, Kimpton's executive vice president of hotel operations.
Bill Kimpton started the boutique hotel chain by rehabbing older buildings and turning them into hotels. Although Kimpton died in 2001, the company that bears his name still has the reputation he cultivated. Most locations welcome guests to mingle at a lobby cocktail hour, lounge in their animal-print robes and bring their pets on their stay. And many locations will lend guests a goldfish as part of the Guppy Love program.