The Opposite of Sacrifice
Rebecca Ruggles in Hospitality, Hotels, San Francisco, Sustainability
Gensler Hotels

Photo courtesy of Clean the World.

As recently as five years ago while working in Florida, it often felt like a struggle just to recycle white paper. So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover at the third annual Green Lodging & Hospitality Conference in Orlando a few weeks ago, that hotels from all over the region are now pushing to be as green as possible.

In fact, I was blown away by the number of green initiatives that have now become standard practice. Properties have moved beyond linen programs and CFLs and started to implement HVAC assessments, timers and motion sensors to increase energy savings, green cleaning programs, and much more. Much of this is thanks to government requirements that State employees stay in Green Lodging certified hotels when traveling for business. Faced with a significant loss in revenue, hotels all over the region have scrambled to comply. Federal mandates have started to force a similar response across the country and it seems inevitable that most large companies will soon follow suit with their own corporate social responsibility requirements that will drive business-friendly hotels to reach an even higher level of sustainability.

It doesn’t stop there. Many hotel properties are already going above and beyond the mandates with initiatives of their own. However, the struggle seems to be in communicating their efforts to the guest and helping them feel like contributors in the process to improve our environment. For example, many hotels donate their used soaps to Clean the World, a company that recycles the soap products and distributes them to impoverished countries worldwide. Yet, almost all guests are unaware of these efforts. A hotel could etch a simple message on the mirror to draw the guest’s attention to the program. A collection bin could be placed in the lobby for them to drop their soap in when they check out, making them feel as if they personally partnered with the hotel to make a difference. Housekeeping can continue to collect them from the rooms as well, but the team effort gets the story out, setting the property apart from competitors and educating the guest at the same time.

My colleague Melissa Mizell and I were able to further expand on that teamwork idea in our own Green Lodging presentation titled, “The Opposite of Sacrifice: Where Sustainability Meets Hedonism.” Both guests and developers often assume that being green requires a great deal of sacrifice and money, but Melissa and I focused on ways to move beyond that perception and bring luxury and performance together in perfect balance. The goal is to improve guest experience, increase profitability and be good stewards of the environment. Many of the ideas we discussed are design related and we’ll share those in an upcoming blog post here, but the real key to changing guest behavior and distinguishing your property lies in engaging with the visitors in a meaningful way. The soap example is one way to promote teamwork, but there are many ways to make green efforts more fun. You could create a game with a bit of competition where there’s a win/win outcome. Our co-presenter, The Shores Resort in Daytona, shared the perfect example of this: They’ve organized a “clean up the beach” walk that staff and guests can do together every few weeks. The hotel buries vouchers for a free night’s stay and other prizes in the sand along the way to get people excited about the process. Not only do they guarantee a return visit, but they build rapport with the guests, and are doing their part to improve their surroundings.

It’s those kinds of unique experiences that will lead us to that elusive triple bottom line.

Rebecca Ruggles is an interior designer at Gensler and curator of the Fashion Unraveled art exhibit. She has worked with Gensler for 4 years. In addition to serving on the Gensler San Francisco art committee, she plays a key role in the Northwest Sustainability Task Force and the Hospitality practice, translating her love for travel and the environment into green designs for the hospitality industry. Rebecca has worked closely with major hotel brands including Fairmont, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and more. Contact her at
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