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Wet towels in hotel rooms is a corporate goal

The Aria hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nev., has been designed to use less energy.

If you’ve traveled, you’ve probably noticed those little signs in your hotel room -- about the hotel being "green." Usually those signs say the hotel won’t replace your towels every day unless you leave them on the floor. You might guess that this would save a hotel money, and it does.

But, it turns out, it might also help them win business. Big business.

Take the Aria hotel and casino is Las Vegas. When you walk in, you’ll feel the cool rush of air conditioning. You’ll see the flash, hear the jangle, of slot machines.

You’re not going to notice all the ways the space has been designed to use less energy. Except one. If you stay the night, you’ll have to ask for clean towels. Throwing them on the floor doesn’t count.

“We say, if you want us to wash your towels every day, we will do it, just let us know,” says Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer for MGM Resorts, which owns Aria, “but other than that, we’re just going to hang the towels up every night.”

But don’t most people, secretly or not-so-secretly, want clean towels? At the end of the day, are hotels really gaining that much by not changing towels?

The answer is yes. Companies save money with sustainability measures, but going green can also get them business.

At Aria about a third of the hotel’s room revenue comes from conferences and meetings. And before businesses book the space, they’ve got a lot of questions. “Companies like IBM and other big companies, they give us a whole survey that might be two, three, four pages long saying not just do you recycle, what do you recycle,” says Ortega. “It’s a very sophisticated questionnaire.”

IBM asks every supplier it works with, from MGM to the company that makes circuit boards, for an environmental plan. Which is a lot of suppliers.

“We have also said to them that we would like it to cascade down to their own first-tier suppliers, so that way it gets cascaded down the supply chain,” says Wayne Balta, IBM's vice president of environmental affairs.

 So, IBM encourages MGM. MGM encourages its vendors. And more and more businesses feel pressure to go green.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, about 70 percent of large companies require their supply chain partners to sign up for certain sustainability practices.

That’s a lot of businesses driving other businesses, with more impact than any individual shoppers have.

Say, for example, that you need paper towels. “You go up to the shelf and look at what product you want and you grab it and you go,” says Howard Connell, director of the Center for Business Strategies for Sustainability at Georgia Tech. “Most people don’t have time to worry about ‘what are the sustainability implications of the choices that I’m making.’”

But a business might be buying a million dollars worth of paper towels.  And, says Connell, “the discussion that occurs around that purchase is much more involved.”

There are those detailed questionnaires. Businesses buy more. And they often buy more thoughtfully.

Connell says companies don’t get contracts just because they have a sustainability plan.  But it can help.

Which brings us back to those hotel towels, and all those other sustainability initiatives. Maybe you like them. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t notice.

 But big business is paying attention. And often, it gets what it wants.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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