In the Internet age, a hotel’s practices are often transparent to guests. Customers are now more socially aware than ever, and they’re looking for businesses that respect the environment and practise sustainability. That’s why even something as seemingly minor as laundry operations can make a big impact — not only on a hotel’s bottom line — but in the eyes of its guests, who are savvy enough to seek out “green” hotels with a reduced carbon footprint.
Paul Gardian, environmental officer at Delta Hotels and executive director of Brand Operations, is proud to represent a company that was focusing on green operations before it was trendy to be environmentally friendly. “I can remember as far back as 1993,” reminisces Gardian. “We developed this program that gave guests the option of changing their sheets every other day. We were ahead of other hotels in that respect.”
In 2011, the hotel company launched its ambitious Delta Greens program, which touched on every aspect of the business, including laundry operations. One need only read the customer comments on Delta’s websites or on TripAdvisor to see the enthusiasm towards this dramatic shift. In its commitment to reduce energy and water consumption as well as carbon emissions by 30 per cent within five years, Delta employed Ecolab to source the major chemicals used for laundry, including a specialized range of non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning detergents. “We’ve used this company for years, because they offer the least amount of packaging and non-toxic, yet highly effective cleansers,” says Gardian, who remembers a time when using eco-friendly products used to mean sacrificing colour quality during a wash. “In a business like this, you just can’t compromise quality,” explains Gardian. “The sheets must be white, no exceptions.”
But what about that age-old question: should laundry be outsourced? For hotel experts across the board, the answer is a consistent “it all depends.” “Location is huge in this decision,” explains Paul Gregory, assistant director of Rooms at the Four Seasons Toronto. “For example, when I worked in Mexico I was in a resort on an island, and there was nowhere to outsouce.” At the Four Seasons, however, sheets and duvet covers are outsourced, while spa and room terry is done in-house. Ecolab is also the approved vendor for detergents.
“For an initial investment of a small to mid-size hotel, you’re looking at two or three 50- to 60-pound washers at approximately $30,000 each,” says Delta’s Gardian. “So, you really need to weigh your expenses in advance.” Another huge consideration is square footage. If you’ve got a large hotel with 200-plus rooms, a whole floor may need to be devoted to laundry operations if those services are solely to be built on-premises.
But what are the advantages to each? “I prefer doing laundry in-house, because you can maintain control over the process, and you can take better care of your stuff,” says Gregory, while acknowledging that outsourcing can be more cost-effective when there’s a lot of laundry.
Brendan Gibney, director of Franchise Operations at Choice Hotels agrees. “It’s a capital decision that each hotel has to make on their own, and this often depends on whether or not workers are unionized.” Sometimes having a unionized staff complete laundry on-site may be more expensive, simply because unionized workers are paid more. So, doing laundry onsite in a Quebec Choice Hotel (some Quebec Choice Hotels are unionized) would be more expensive than doing laundry onsite at an Alberta Choice Hotel (where no workers are unionized).
At Choice Hotels, there is no comprehensive laundry system that each franchise must follow. “Size matters in this instance,” explains Gibney. “You need to do a breakdown of the per-pound price of laundry, taking into account labour, energy expenses, water costs and upfront capital.” He notes that this can be a tricky calculation, so it’s best if each franchise makes its own decision. “You may want to put those capital dollars into a public setting for guests instead — such as a stylish lobby — rather than setting up an expansive laundry facility,” says Gibney.
In either case, training workers to become experts in laundry operations is a critical piece of running a cost-effective operation. “If all laundry is being done in-house, then you will need an in-house manager,” explains Gardian. “And, then you are looking at those additional costs.” He notes that although many of the machines
are highly sophisticated, it’s imperative that staff be trained properly.
Efficiency means more than chemicals and water usage, however, it can also refer to workers’ health and safety. “We want to take care of our workers by reducing incidents of back injury or repetitive muscle strain,” notes Gardian. “So, this means choosing on-site machines that require the least amount of movement.” This also involves training staff so they know how to avoid over-exerting themselves.
“In terms of laundry operations, labour is truly the biggest challenge,” adds the Four Seasons’ Gregory. He notes that, with only five full-time staff on-site, there can sometimes be a pile-up of laundry, especially during a busy season. To solve this problem, the Four Seasons trains a number of employees in laundry operations, so if a night shift needs to be installed to catch up on linens, the hotel can switch off full-time staff with other employees.
“Getting behind in laundry can affect the entire hotel,” notes Gregory. “Just imagine: you can have rooms that have been cleaned, but if the sheets aren’t ready, you can’t release the room, and that’s a problem.” For this reason, it’s essential that a hotel stock up on extra linens and maintain a purchasing schedule of once or twice a year. “I would say a set of linens can only withstand 75 to 100 washes before it needs to be replaced,” adds Gregory.
And, to keep equipment in top-notch condition, it’s essential the machines are run efficiently. “It’s critical to make sure that staff never run a half-empty machine,” explains Gibney. For this reason, Choice Hotels trains workers about energy-efficiency and water conservation.
Interestingly, Econolodge will be the first Choice brand to roll out an environmentally focused program that will become a brand standard by the end of 2013. Called “Room to Be Green,” the program was designed to reduce energy costs and waste output through the installation of energy-efficient lightbulbs, instituting a laundry reuse program and by recycling.
Though late to the game, Econolodge’s turn to an environmentally conscious business model signals what has become de rigueur in the hotel business. But, the advantage to ‘going green’ is that it’s a win-win situation: not only does an environmentally aware hotel make customers happy, it serves the bottom line, too.