Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yes, dammit, change my towels! 

I admit to liking fresh sheets and towels daily when I travel. When I travel with Mrs. S this is a problem, for she does not like the invasion of Housekeeping. (Part of this is because I usually am gone by the time they arrive; she has turned Getting Ready to Go Out into a three-act production with hors d'oeurves served between acts.) But I love the feel of a fresh towel.

I have always found the signs of "save the earth, reuse your towels" absolutely annoying, yet have also wondered if they work. Apparently not.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they open a new mini-bottle of shampoo each time they shower at a hotel, and 63 percent said they were more likely to leave the lights on at a hotel than at home.

Three out of four hotel guests believe it is important to have their sheets and towels changed each day � an environmentally unfriendly habit few practice at home.

I do re-use the shampoo at least. But I also take home the fresh one they leave the second day.

Frank Stephenson figures that when we don't pay for the water or the washing, we conserve.

(Which causes me to pause on a story my pastor friend told me the other day. He has a six-year-old son who likes to wear different pajamas to bed each night. This is nice except that at the end of the week the hamper has seven pairs of pajamas, causing extra washing. So he tries to talk his son into using fewer pajamas. Having spent much time with an economist -- right, I get to take credit for this, because it's my story -- he tells his son he will charge a quarter for washing. Come week-end, and the son brings his dad his hamper with the seven pairs. "I told you I would only do that if you gave me a quarter." His son carries the hamper out and back to his room, only to return a minute later with the hamper. "You still have all the pajamas there." The son smiles, places a quarter on top of the hamper and leaves.

When he told me this he wondered if he should raise the price. He feared his son would raid his piggy bank, which is one of those in which you teach kids to tithe, save, and invest. We agreed that increasing the amount of money he got for allowance would only cause inflation and not change behavior. What to do? I replied, "Well, you could simply destroy six pairs of pajamas. You'd solve your problem and your son would keep his money." A long silence followed. I'm not sure if he was awestruck for my brilliance or praying for God to forgive my depravity in suggesting the ruin of his son's pajamas.)

Anyway, back to towels. Some guy did a study suggesting that if you tell people what is expected of them in re-using towels, you'll get almost fifty percent of them to re-use a towel at least once. But a commenter on Freakonomics post on the same thing suggests that paying people to re-use sheets and towels (at about $5/day) was a much better mechanism.
In every other hotel I�ve stayed in that has encouraged me to forego linen changes, the hotel has done nothing to compensate me for the savings they get from my decision. Having experienced this in Tokyo done right, I almost never opt for this service. I do feel guilty, but it bothers me that the hotel is disingenuous in their appeals to my environmentalism (they�re doing this to save money/make profits, not to save the planet). If they cared about saving the planet, they would pass the cost savings from those choices back to the guests who made those choices.
Excuse me, I need to call my pastor friend...