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Westin's Green Initiative: Saving the Earth or Cutting Jobs?

I’m staying at a lovely Westin Hotel in Pittsburgh to speak at the Pennsylvania Women’s Conference. On my bed, there’s a card that reads, “You have the option to decline housekeeping service for the day. For helping us conserve natural resources, we are happy to offer you a $5 gift card for use at participating food and beverage outlets.”

Make no mistake: This isn’t the standard encouragement to reuse your towels, which hotels have rightfully promoted for years. This went much further. I didn’t interpret this as a chance to save the environment; to me, this is a way to cut back on the housekeeping staff. (What’s next? Maybe we could save $8 if we vacuum the carpet ourselves before checkout?)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to save $5 to forgo housekeeping services. And, in fact, I always leave a generous tip for the housekeeping staff because I appreciate the back-breaking work they do.

Am I overreacting to this latest “green” initiative? Do you think it’s truly designed to protect the earth or to test the opportunity to reduce staffers?


  1. Nancy Smith

    Having been a road warrior for fifteen years I agree with you! Like you, I always tip the housekeeping staff. I agree that they are trying to cut back on hours and staff.

  2. MLC

    I think this “green” initiative is definitely designed to save Westin some money, not to save the environment. That being said, when I stay in a hotel for only two days, I do not really need housekeeping services. But if they want me to give them up they will have to lower their prices – and by more than $5.

  3. Barbara Pender

    You’re dead on and I agree! At some point we have to pay attention to our contribution to the jobless rate and make some changes.

  4. ccp

    I agree with you Tory, it is nothing more than a ploy to cut jobs. And then you use the $5 they give you on an overpriced snack or coffee.
    In my local supermarket, they’ve eliminated the cashiers in favor of self checkout machines. I’ve noticed though, that those same people were the ones that put the carts back and made sure the cashiering area was clear of clutter. Now there is garbage and baskets and food packages instead of people on line at the checkout lines.
    Another example is in the New York City subways where there are no people to answer distress calls.

  5. Carol

    I think it is a little bit of both, some hotels are trying to conserve, be green as the saying goes, but to I think they are cutting back on their help and that is too bad. I also leave a generous tip when I leave. I know that by the end of the work day my back would be hurting to the point of not being able to stand up straight if I did their jobs all day long. In this economy today its too bad that people have to have their hours cut to save the management money and hurt the workers pocketbook.

  6. Isn’t this what we used to call looking a gift horse in the mouth? Sure Americans are used to being pampered, but a lot of hotels ARE short-staffed now to cut costs. Add to that the very real fact that we DO need to save on resources.
    After the Stock Market crash of 1929, America was in a worse position than we are in now but not by much. If you ask me, looking at the unemployment across our country, I’d be tempted to say we’re back in 1930 right now, but the government doesn’t want to throw us into a panic.
    Therefore, from a 1930 standpoint, if Americans had continued to spend to excess, our country would have eventually collapsed from the shored-up weight of our spending against it.
    The importance of conserving every resource is no less important now than it was back in 1930.

  7. Judi

    I think they should find a way of cleaning the towels that would be more eco-friendly and give the people who do that back breaking work a raise, not a pink slip.

  8. cl

    Tory, you are so right. And, less clean hotels equals more opportunity for those bedbugs which we’re hearing about to proliferate with impunity. It sounds pennywise and pound foolish to me with ramifications which go well beyond putting housekeeping staff out of work. If people are reluctant to stay in hotels, it will mean other staffers that will be out of work too.

  9. dc

    Definetely sounds to me like they are trying to cut back on employees! Maybe the CEO should go on the tv show, can’t think of the name of the show but the one where the head honcho goes undercover and sees how things really are. Sounds like the higher beings need to get in touch with reality. I know that when I pay for a room I want it to be clean and be cleaned after, I do not want to have to do anything. Tori, you put the scare in me, what if hotels start cutting back on services like that, just like the airlines have done and now charge for things that were always a given.

  10. Concha Orozco

    Hi Tory,

    I agree with you on Westin’s attempts to be “green”. This is no different than the airline’s nickel and diming you on bags and food etc. I like Westin and I have stayed at Westin’s for many years. They were know for their service but I guess this is no longer the case. It seems unsanitary to me not to provide housekeeping services on a daily basis.

  11. Karen

    This is another way to cut jobs and cut out the people doing the work. I recently experienced something like this in Washington D.C. It was not a Five Star hotel, but it was mid priced and we were told they do not give out an “extra” set of towels! Also, we were out for the day came back and the room had not been cleaned. We called the front desk and was told we had to “notify” the front desk for room service. I have never experienced anything so ridiculous in my life! Needless to say, I will never stay at this hotel chain again….

  12. jmb

    It’s everywhere…and you are spot on regarding green vs greed…sorry, it is what is ….Very similar to the “clerkless” checkout at a supermarket….I too leave a tip to the housekeeper, in fact, if I see her, I ask her name and if she is going to be there for my entire stay, and if not, I give her the tip then!

  13. NAncy Connelly

    Yes I agree to an extent to all of the above. Having done manual labor, I am in those same trenches. To offer a solution
    why not ask if you can donate that $5 back to support a staffer who really needs it. Many business travelers are not missing the cost of staying if it is a business perk. It’s so easy to feel distanced from those who are the “hired help”.
    Let’s make it a solution to their obvious attempt to save on their bottom line at the expense of the backbone of their business,.
    the laborer

  14. I think you are correct with all the bed bug infestations in the hotels, I am surprised they are even considering not letting staff clean the room…thats just not good sense. Wonder what they do if you don’t respond…just consider that you don’t want it cleaned and don’t clean it!

  15. Karen Swim

    Unfortunately, I think you are right about the intention. I care deeply about being a good steward of our resources but that includes human resources. It saddens me when companies use green initiatives as a PR spin without any real commitment to eco responsibility. Shame on Westin!

  16. Josie Marino

    I agree with you. Going green is another way of cutting the workforce. It is a poor excuse. That is so gross, especially today with the infestation of bed bugs, diseases, etc. Shame on that hotel and many others who follow suit.

  17. Lia

    Being an environmentalist from way back, and a traveler as well, i never looked at it this way, but i suppose you are right – it is probably a bit of both wanting to conserve and save money on staffing. But the bottom line is we have to take extreme measures to preserve our climate NOW or we won’t be able to survive, and then it won’t matter how many jobs there are! They must use tons of bleach on those towels, water cleaning surfaces that are not that dirty from 1 nites use, electricity vacuming a run that doesn’t need it, etc.

  18. uriel

    Yes, I agree. Next there will be only less staff or no staff member keeping these large hotels which means something will go undone. I agree I have witnessed that very thing in some of the school systems in my area.

  19. salome

    I never thought about it that way until now, I think you are so right.

  20. Rex

    In the winter of 2002, for my protection and privacy there was no housekeeping unless requested in a hotel outside of Philadelphia. Clean or extra towels could be picked up and signed for at the front desk.
    So, it’s cutting jobs with the concern of the moment.

  21. 2gether We Build

    Tory, I believe it is away of reducing hired help.
    From one Virgo’s ears to the next,I believe in tipping just as well myself.
    Blue collar workers are more likely than not too work harder when they are appreciated through monetary means.
    Not only that, it’s “Paying Yourself Forward”.
    Money just like Love makes the world go round.
    Giving is in my blood.

  22. I think they are using the “green” initiative to reduce their costs as you stated. The housekeeping people are some of the lowest paid and under appreciated people on their staff. In my travels when I have asked for anything from a housekeeping person, they have always been helpful and kind. While we have the luxury of traveling for business or pleasure, they are cleaning up after us for pay that is likely minimum wage. Let’s help to keep them employed, rather than save $5.00, leave them $5.00 for their services.

  23. Since the hotels already save money through workforce reduction, they should be able to offer the remaining employees a raise and then they can stop all this nonsense about conserving the earth. Some hotels might indeed be concerned about the environment, but I believe that most are more interested in their own buttom line. Some people simply can’t afford to leave tips for housekeeping staff. Furthermore, I’ve recently stayed in several hotels in different cities and from the stains on bed linens and shabby carpets and walls; I am of the opinion that many hotels need to do a better job of either hiring housekeeping staff or invest in better renovations.

  24. Michelle

    Yes, they’ve absolutely reduced housekeeping staff. And the way to attempt to not overwhelm the remaining few, is to decrease the number of rooms that they would normally be responsible for, when there’s a shortage in staff.
    What’s next? B.Y.O.L (bring your own linen)?

  25. Patti

    Yes, I agree with you wholeheartedly. There’s a major difference between being green and being cheap. It’s not worth it to take crucial hours away from of some of the most underpaid laborers in America …those who keep our hotel rooms clean. I stayed at a hotel recently and there was a room mix-up so I had to wait a few minutes for my room to be cleaned before I could bring my things in. I watched this woman, by herself, whip through a dirty room, change the sheets, clean the bathroom, wash down and dust ALL the furniture, vacuum, clean the mirrors, etc in UNDER 20 minutes. She was not a young woman, she was breaking a sweat and she looked at me so apologetically when she came out of the room that I wanted to drag her back into the room, put her feet up and give her a margarita! The hotels can scrimp and save somewhere ELSE, not but cutting hours of much needed pay from people that work so hard for their money, not to mention disguising it as being “green”. Poppycock!

  26. SD

    I do not agree with the assumption that the hotel is trying to save on housekeeping staff’s wages. I strongly feel that we all need to do a better job of realizing the crisis we are in of shortage of natural resources. Do you wash your towels at home daily, and do you vacuum at home daily? No. So why is it OK to expect those things to be done for a one or two night stay in a hotel room? There are obvious reasons why the room should be cleaned while you’re staying in it (for example, sand, if staying at the beach), but let’s all be more conscious of our environment and not use electricity and water unnecessarily. On the flip side, if the hotel has solar panels for their power, and are using high-efficiency washers to clean the towels and sheets, then I’d say the sign to offer not to have the room cleaned during your stay is definitely a ploy to cut staff!

  27. MC

    The hotel is definitely looking to let go staff. Why would anyone want to stay at a hotel and not have their room cleaned? Five dollar gift card will not save me anything, especially how expensive everything is.

  28. Colette Verdun

    If I have to pay the hotel for the room, then I want it cleaned every day – fresh towels, clean washrooms, new linens. It’s bad enough that the coverlet is washed probably only once a year. If we are supposed to sanitize our hands periodically to prevent the spread of germs, then I want my hotel room cleaned every day. Pretty soon they will give us the choice of sleeping in the halls for the price of a room and will double the price if we actually want a real hotel room to go with our double-priced hotel bill.

  29. Meredith

    You of all people know how desperate our country is for jobs.

    Today, we are all suffering because of bad laws that our congress has put into place. We do not manufacture half of what we did twenty years ago. Have you ever thought about why? Do you realize we are not growing crops like we use to. Do you know why? Have you noticed that we have few entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Microsoft; Arthur Blank, Home Depot: Walton Family that started Wal-Mart. It is impossible to do what they did because of laws and taxes we now have in our country that we have not had in the past. We are losing our freedoms.

    We need competition to push us to be better, to be smarter, and to be stronger. Don’t believe anyone that tells you a hand out is better than a job! Because anyone who has earned a paycheck feels self value and is happier with themselves than someone who has not and that someone would like a job.

    Don’t believe everything you hear about Green. But do learn how to recycle and use natural resources wisely.

    This hotel you speak about is suffering. Otherwise they would not have to resort to cutting back employees. They are going thru the same pain as most companies in the US. We are being suffocated with laws and taxes. Do not think this isn’t by design, it is. There are people in the world that want to be in total control of everything we do. Some do it because they are egotistical and some do it because they think they know more than anyone one else.

    Open your eyes America. Ask your elders how it was before government had control of their lives. Resist drugs for recreation, use your brain to learn facts from history not the media, and you will learn the truth about what made America great and maybe it can be again.

  30. Josephine

    I think you are correct-this is a cost cutting move to trim down the housekeeping hours and it sucks especially when they are trying to make it seem it is a “green” thing.

  31. Arnester

    Hi Tory,

    I agree with you as well. Being a member of the payroll reduction myself this year; it is very evident that this particular hotel management has already made a staff cut and more than likely getting ready to do another one. They usually don’t care how much work they give those remaining, because the remaining employees are expected to have the “I Still Have A Job” mentality and some employers go as far as stating this when the overworked employees seem to be overwhelmed.

  32. DP

    Sorry Tory,
    Hotels have been doing this for YEARS. Having worked in the industry, I can say you’re right that it is a cost saving measure, but this started WAY before our current economic crisis. One of the chains that led the way was Holiday Inn. It isn’t only a cost savings in labor (housekeepers) but in water, electricity, soap, cleaners, towels and sheets, washers and dryers, etc. If some of these hotel chains (and the business population in general) had done this years ago, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the pickle we are in now. The more costs embedded in a product, the higher the price to make the same product. The higher the price of the product, the faster Americans whip out the credit card to pay for them, go into debt, live above their means, etc. So the circle goes. Average hotel rates for “joe public” 20 years ago were probably $60-$70 per night. Now we think nothing of paying $129, $139 and up it goes. Think about how you live in your home and use your bedroom and bath. Do you change your sheets daily? No – because it would be a waste of resources (money on electricity, soap, extra time on your part, you’d need to keep more sheets in the closet, wear out your washer and dryer, etc). But because we’re at a hotel we think it’s fine to waste – because it’s someone else’s problem – not ours. And it’s that “spoiled” mentality (not trying to be mean – but that’s the only word that fit) that drives the costs up. Smart business practices, being frugal and understanding the value of what we have, and not being wasteful is going to get us back to where we need to be as a conscientous people. As I said, I have worked in the industry for 20+ years. I have cleaned rooms, and been responsible for a housekeeping staff who works WAY to hard, for WAY too little. But hotels are a business too and you do need to balance your costs and be smart business people in order to stay in business for those same people who count on a paycheck. It’s really easy to jump to the conclusion that “they just want to lay people off or take work away.” Unfortunately the business is not that simple. If it was a company encouraging employees to print on both sides of a piece of paper instead of one to save ink and paper (and were claiming to be more green in the process), would you disparage them and say they were trying to cut jobs at the ink and paper companies? I know one is soap and sheets, and one is paper and ink – but both are products provided by a business and sold for a price. Now…I am not saying that a company can’t abuse this practice and take it too far, and I do not have personal knowledge of this chain’s practices – just an understanding of why hotels have been doing this for at least the last 15 years. Just another perspective from the business side. People are travelling less to be smarter business people and keep their costs down for their businesses. That affects the hotel industry as well, but they still have employees that they need to provide a paycheck too, just like every other business out there. I usually agree with you on your posts, but my personal knowledge of this industry made me want to reach out and show you the other side of the story. Thanks for all you do to bring things to our attention!

  33. Jamie Carlington

    Hi Tory,

    I agree with you 100%. That was a tacky way to cut back on behalf of the hotel and they’ve tried to place a nice spin on it by attaching it to a very important issue with a cheap price tag.

  34. Julie

    HI Tory,

    As 1 or 2 of the postings here have mentioned, I tend to think its both. Going green and cutting back on the work force. I agree with “DP’s” comments in that hotels have been doing this for years. Knowing that its been happening prior to the ‘going green’ trend, tells me that they are gaining on both sides. They have become more eco-friendly and found that in doing so, they don’t need the same amount of staff.

    That would be the downside to going green. What would be wonderful, is finding ways to use the same amount of staff in their efforts of going green.

    Personally, if I’m only going to be in a hotel for 1 night, 2 nights max….I don’t use the housekeeping services. Mostly due to having enough towels, etc. to get me thru 2 nights and 2 mornings.

  35. Barbara

    I agree that is sounds like they are trying to cut back on staff. Hotel rooms are used by too many people not to be cleaned daily, even if it is the same person staying multiple nights in the room.

  36. PJ

    I have to agree with the idea that it is a cost-cutting measure Perhaps I am too cynical, but I do not believe that they are that concerned with being green. Let’s face it, it’s all about the bottom line.

  37. AW

    Very interesting topic. . .I don’t make a habit of staying in hotels, but I’ve worked in the hospitality industry in years gone by.
    I have to say DP added some valuable insight in the matter. In any case, it is good that Tory brought this issue to the light so that we can begin to consider the impetus behind the decisions being made that affect us and how we should react to them.
    They want to go green alright!! Helloooo green . . dolla dolla bill y’all!! Gotta make and keep that green!! mean green. . .

    Having said all that,–and for the record I am very much for energy and natural resource conservation–I think when it comes to hotels offering a service they SHOULD include ALL the amenities every night you stay b/c you pay the same rate for every day you stay. You should get what you pay for and hotels are the ones who have propagated this idea of service, amenities and luxuries etc. in the first place. This is the nature of hotel stay. Otherwise I’m staying w/ Aunt Jane and yes I will keep the same towels for my stay w/ her and make the bed and feed her chickens if she wants.

    Hotel stay is not for sacrificing housekeeping. If they wanna save money from electricity and vacuuming etc, then perhaps they should do what I’ve done in choosing a hard-surface floor, which is easily and economically cleaned daily with a straw-broom. It’s way more sanitary too. There are so many other ways they can be innovative in saving resources. We’re talking about a hotel here, not a hostel, not a timeshare, not even a motel. . .a HOTEL.

    Am I right? Can I get a witness? lol

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