From encouraging guests to forego housekeeping services to hotels that are completely self-sufficient, hotel companies are coming up with a variety of ways to conserve water.
GLOBAL REPORT—Sustainability-minded hotels around the world are finding new ways to conserve water on-property.
At Soneva Resorts and Residences’ Soneva Kiri property in Thailand, the resort is “100% self-sufficient,” said Arnfinn Oines, Soneva’s social and environmental conscience. The hotel has a water reservoir that collects rainwater, as well as a desalination plant and an oxidation pond.
“As an interesting feature, we have placed the Cinema Paradiso (our outdoor cinema) there (at the reservoir) so guests can enjoy their open-air movie with nice reflections from the water,” he said via email. “In addition to the water reservoir, we have deep wells that provide us with water in the dry season. We also have a wetland that acts as wastewater treatment with final water output used for garden irrigation. In the Maldives, we have desalination plants for both of our properties. These are equipped with energy recovery devices to maximize water output per energy unit consumed.”
Some Soneva properties also have their own processes of filtering, mineralizing and bottling drinking water.
“Our drinking water initially goes through sediment, carbon and resin filtration,” Oines said. “We then use RO (reverse osmosis) and UV light to fully sanitize it, before we re-mineralize the water. Before it goes to the tap, we alkalize the water. We then are left with a great-tasting and healthy mineral water, in both still and sparkling varieties.
“The RO process removes all bacteria, but also the minerals in the water—and a lot of bottled water is left like that, perfectly sanitized and safe to drink. However, as it is flat and lacks minerals, it is not great to drink, as the water will drain your body of minerals. We bottle it in glass bottles with ceramic lids, which then are washed and reused.”
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Water conservation has always been part of Soneva’s business model, Oines said. The company took steps to replace all drinking water with their own bottled water in 2008. Since then, Soneva has “saved about 1.5 million plastic bottles going to landfill.”
Conservation through big and small efforts
Hilton has reclamation systems in place at larger properties where gray water is reclaimed back into a machine, which captures about 85% of the gray water for reuse in laundry facilities, said Randy Gaines, SVP of operations and new project development at Hilton.
The company also works with an outside provider to wash clothes in machines that use pellets instead of water, which is used in “50% of our laundries, which means you can wash your laundry with colder water and you use less water,” he said.
Some Hilton properties in South America have rainwater recapture systems in place. Aside from the big water-saving initiatives, Gaines said water conservation really starts with the basics, such as asking guests to use towels more than once and to forego housekeeping services.
“I’ve always said this: If you do the basics, you’re kind of halfway there,” he said, adding that the basics include low-flow shower heads and toilets.
Gaines said the “hang the towel” program has been very effective in terms of water conservation “because a lot of people are buying in.”
Saving water during droughts
InterContinental Hotels Group properties have access to an online sustainability tool called the “Green Engage” system, which allows hotels to “track, measure and report on their water use, carbon footprint and utility consumption,” Lindsay Wilkinson, director of corporate responsibility, environmental sustainability and commercial integration at IHG, said via email.
“Through the Green Engage system, which was launched in 2009 and became a global brand standard for IHG in 2015, our hotels can access 200-plus recommended green solutions—action items that hotels can implement on-property to build and operate sustainable hotels,” she said. “About 30 of these solutions are solely dedicated to water—including everything from installation of water-efficient bathroom fixtures and rainwater harvesting, to ensuring drinking-water quality aligns with the World Health Organization’s standards.”
The system can also help hotels in areas where droughts happen, Wilkinson said.
“We recognize that water is a local issue, and that risks vary greatly by hotel,” she said. “Our Green (Engage) solutions provide hotels with the flexibility to implement things that are most relevant. For instance, following severe drought a couple of years ago, we sent water conservation toolkits to our hotels in California, which included aerators to minimize water flow in faucets and information on how hotels can easily conserve water.”
During a five-year period between 2012 and 2017, Wilkinson said IHG saw “significant reductions of 15% in water use across our managed hotels.”
A three-tier approach to saving water
At properties that are part of the Cayuga Collection, water-saving efforts are put in place from a guest perspective, an employee perspective and an operational standpoint, said Rolando Guzmán, Cayuga’s sustainability project coordinator.
On the guest-facing side, hotel guests are encouraged to reuse towels and to be mindful of water usage during showers. These efforts are in place to reduce the amount of laundry done at the properties, Guzmán said.
Each Cayuga property has a sustainability coordinator on-property, he said. That person’s job is to monitor sustainable efforts, which include water usage.
One of Cayuga’s key operational efforts around water conservation is black water treatment, according to Guzmán. The treatment system allows hotels to clean and reuse dirty water to irrigate gardens on-property.
To decrease the amount of water used when toilets are flushed, Guzmán said bottles filled with sand are placed in tanks to decrease water usage.
Cayuga is also working on systems to collect rainwater, and the goal is to have sustainable laundry by next year, Guzmán said.
Cost-savings around water conservation
Reducing water consumption can lead to cost savings for some hotels, sources said.
“The exact (return on investment) will vary by hotel, but we know that water can make up to 10% of a hotel’s P&L, so there’s certainly significant opportunities for cost savings,” Wilkinson said. “In 2017, IHG-branded hotels avoided $100 million in total costs by using the IHG Green Engage system—which accounts for energy, water and waste items, including water utilities.”
Oines said water-saving initiatives have resulted in “great financial incentives” for Soneva.
“For Soneva Kiri, we have basically had a zero water utility cost since day one,” he said. “For the drinking water the payback is very quick—less than a year. We have gone from having a 20% water cost to 2%. We have used proceeds from the savings to fund (through the Soneva Foundation) more than 500 clean water projects in more than 50 countries via charities such as Water Charity and Thirst Aid—enabling more than 750,000 people around the world to have access to clean and safe water.”