I wear my love for Australia on my sleeve—literally. An image of the famed Sydney Opera House forms part of a tattoo sleeve on my right shoulder. So it’s no surprise that I’m thrilled by the cutting edge eco-luxe efforts of Melbourne’s Alto Hotel on Bourke. The property won Condé Nast Traveler’s World Savers Award in the Preservation Environmental and/or Cultural category, and General Manager Gary Stickland will be appearing on my panel at the Oct. 20 World Savers Congress in Singapore. We recently discussed a dirty little travel industry problem—mini-shampoo bottles.
Those little plastic amenity bottles of lotions and hair products are quite the source of conversation—and frustration—in the hotel industry. While most recognize them as a detriment to the environment, many properties are unwilling to eliminate them for fear of upsetting guests and a claim that there are not better options.
Alto placed a nice dispenser next to the vanity and in the shower, but even the boss Gary was suspect when he took over as General Manager.
“My first thought as a hotelier was that’s not going to work. But surprisingly, there’s been no feedback about it. The contents that we use are same grade and quality—so it’s not that we’re skimping on quality. I think a majority of guests have their own. And when you start to run the numbers, it saves a significant amount of waste. With about 25,000 rooms in Melbourne, on average about 10,000 bottles of shampoo are going into landfills every month—filled with chemical waste content. Multiply that across the globe and you get a sense of the problem—we can’t afford to ignore it.”
Still, the problem remains unsolved and complicated by issues of security—would some crazy person pour toxic chemicals inside the shampoo and the next thing you know you’re blonde? We’re definitely tackling this issue on the panel.
In addition to the shampoo solution, Alto Hotel on Bourke has a number of other cutting edge eco-initiatives including being Australia’s first carbon neutral hotel and providing guest key cards made from biodegradable cornstarch. No wonder Al Gore’s environmental team took note and used the hotel as base camp during an important conference.
Not to say they’ve solved every problem, including the off-color issue of toilet paper.
“Finding the right quality toilet paper that is sustainable and also appears nice and white and bright is a problem. A lot of the recycled post consumer waste or bamboo sugar cane products still appear grey. And guest perception is they want white and fluffy. But we’re not giving up.”
So has being so eco-forward been a competitive advantage for the property?
“Maybe right now with some of our corporate clients who know about what we’re doing and want to be supportive as part of their policies. But I don’t see it as a long term competitive advantage because I hope that other hotels will be doing same type of things or a lot more. Think of it this way. Would you stay anywhere where you can’t have Internet? No. Today, web access is standard practice. But it wasn’t always so. Sustainability will one day be the same.”
For the sake of the planet, let’s hope that’s true. But first we have to find a way to wash that shampoo right out of the room.