Solid Waste & Recycling


The Green Hotel

The Refinishing Touch is a company that refurnishes and refinishes furniture so that hotels and other establishments can reduce waste, become more environmentally friendly, decrease their carbon footp...

The Refinishing Touch is a company that refurnishes and refinishes furniture so that hotels and other establishments can reduce waste, become more environmentally friendly, decrease their carbon footprint, and save money.

Barely on the radar a decade ago, “green hotels” have become a popular topic of discussion within lodging circles. And it’s easy to see why. Millions of trees are cut down every year to make new furniture for hotels hungry to refurbish, while perfectly good furnishings are dumped into landfills. Industry experts estimate that one mature tree is cut down to make three hotel rooms of furniture — that’s a thousand mature trees for every major league Las Vegas hotel.

Like all other industries, the hospitality industry is coming under pressure to take its corporate and social responsibilities seriously. However, addressing these responsibilities is a challenge in the “rip and replace” world of the hotel industry. Leading hotel chains, like all brands, need to be seen as keeping up with the times. Tastes change, dcor evolves, and fashion moves on, making major refurbishment an ever-present concern for hotel owners and management.

Rip and replace technology

But rip and replace comes at a cost — a cost that has environmental implications as well as financial ones.

Nowhere is this more acutely felt than hoteliers’ approach to in-room consumer technology. As the hotel industry moves rapidly toward adopting new technologies, one basic piece of furniture is quickly heading toward obsolescence: the TV armoire. With new flat panel TVs becoming standard in-room amenities, the big bulky armoire cabinets meant to hide ugly, bulbous tube-based televisions are quickly becoming the bte noire of the hotel room. Every hotel owner is now in the position where they have to upgrade their rooms to meet the new television standards, making it curtains for the humble armoire.

Yet parts of the armoire are still a critical piece of hotel room furniture, as it typically houses important elements, including the mini-bar, glassware, and drawers for the guest’s personal items.

A standard response, as with so many things in the hospitality industry, is to throw everything out and start over. This is not only environmentally questionable, and hits hotel’s bottom line; it’s very short-sighted and uncreative.

An armoire can be re-engineered into a new cabinet, providing a piece of furniture that matches the room dcor, reducing needless waste, saving money, and enhancing the functionality of the room.

The Refinishing Touch is changing things. In just a few months of 2008, the company refurbished more than 3,000 armoires for the hospitality industry, preventing their disposal in landfill sites and saving the industry from outputting an additional 37,500 tons of carbon dioxide into the environment. Since its foundation in 1977, the company has transformed over 1.5 million rooms of furniture worldwide, preventing the equivalent of approximately two million hardwood trees being lost to landfill.

The bottom line

But it would be nave think that those who build, own and operate hotels, automatically place environmental concerns at the top of their priority list. For them, an essential question is: what is the payback for going green?

First let’s look at a bit of research. Online travel services firm Orbitz conducted a survey in spring 2006 to ascertain just how important environmental considerations played in the travel plans of US citizens. Encouragingly, more than two-thirds (67 percent) indicated that the eco-friendliness of a destination was important to them, while 63 percent said they would actually be willing to pay “a little more” to stay in a green hotel. In short, the ability of a hotel to demonstrate its green credentials could in itself land extra business.

Secondly, eco-friendly fixtures and equipment are becoming increasingly available, including products that carry green certification, along with fabrics and carpets containing a portion of recycled content. At the most basic level, hoteliers can avoid applying vinyl wall coverings on room walls, using paint with low compound-emitting substances.

All suppliers share a collective responsibility to encourage hospitality chains, as well as government institutions, and universities nationally, to treat furnishings, fixtures, and equipment as long term assets rather than a series of disposable goods destined for landfill sites. Many hotels today may be a shade paler than green, but many chains and independents are already considering more sustainable ways of running their business: the green hotel may be just around the corner.

Mario Insenga is president and founder of The Refinishing Touch in Alpharetta, Georgia. Contact

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