Whether you stay in luxury accommodation or a capsule hotel in Japan, there are 3 particular signs to look for to see just how sustainably-focused your hotel is.
As there is a lack of sustainability standards for businesses in Japan, once guests start to add information from these 3 key areas (or lack thereof) to social media reviews, hotel operators will take notice. Management meetings will more seriously discuss sustainable business tactics and more readily invest in operations which support people and planet in addition to profits.
Hard to Know Before you Go
Unfortunately, no major booking sites or search engines offer reliable searchability in terms of finding the ways hotels meet higher ethical standards. This may be due to lack of standard policies across hotels worldwide. It seems similar to problems with organic or fair-trade certification which does not allow all ethical businesses to qualify and get the credit they deserve. It would be great to see a national hotel-sustainable-practices-certification system be put in place by the Olympics in 2020. A basic standard measure such as we see for car emissions via star stickers on the back windows of cars in Japan.
Power to the People
For now, we depend on the reviews of hotel guests who let us know their opinion of a hotel’s service and hospitality. Of course there are some unfair reviews and opinions differ on what constitutes good service. In general, however, this allows users to get a more balanced view than just relying on slick hotel websites and big-budget chains effective branding strategies.
I’d like to propose that we as sustainability-seeking hotel guests (and savvy social media reviewers) use the following three key features of assessment to judge whether a hotel is operating at better (or worse) than business-as-usual standards:
I) Transparency of theme and mission. If the answer is YES to these questions, you should rank the hotel highly:
- Does the hotel room book, signs and information around the hotel clearly communicate that it is trying to operate in a way that is good for PEOPLE and PLANET as well as PROFITS?
- Do they seem to DO what they SAY as well as SAY what they DO?
- Do they have an online presence?
- Are they confident enough to ask for your feedback or comments?
II) Single-Use vs Reuse
Most standard level hotels in Japan are now using reusable shampoo, body soap and conditioner dispensers in the rooms which are a step above the small, single-use plastic containers and soap bars of a less woke past.
Despite filling your room kettle from the tap, many hotels still stock rooms with plastic bottles of water instead of reusable bottles of tap or filtered water. If your hotel has the latter, it is ahead of the curve.
In terms of reducing single-use plastics, I was impressed by a hotel recently that had only a plastic toothbrush as an amenity in the room and advertised the other free amenities available at the front desk if guests ask. This is a great strategy to reduce clutter in the bathroom as well as to reduce overuse of plastic items you probably don’t need.
Hotel shops and services that use biodegradable goods over plastics should also be commended. Japan is swimming in plastic shopping bags, plastic straws, and other single-use plastic items that end up in the rivers, oceans and food chain. Even for plastics such as PET bottles and containers that make it into recycling, only 25% are recycled and the rest burned- not a long-term strategy for success for people, planet or profits.
I love to see reusable cups in the bathroom, but why often covered in plastic wrapping? Same for reusable room slippers, why not put them in a reusable bag instead of a plastic one? We use laundered robes, sleep in washed sheets, and sit on cleaned toilet seats- since so many things in a hotel are reused, why not wash and reuse everything?
III) Engage with the Staff
There is no reason hotel services need to create paper waste. Many hotels offer the ability to check-in and out digitally often due to the labor shortage in Japan. If your room also turns lights, electricity and the AC automatically every time you enter and turns off when you leave that is the efficient smart-room system. If hall or room lights dim and brighten as you walk near, it is also using less energy. Room and hotel lamps should also have high-efficiency bulbs in them which use less energy and last longer.
When you do come into contact with a human staff at the hotel, however, make a mental note as to how friendly and welcoming they are. If they seem relaxed and enjoying their job, it is likely they are being treated well by the management- another reason to rave about the hotel. Staff who are well-trained and well-taken care of also have lots of great tips about the hotel and surrounding areas.
In general, when asking about sustainability features (renewable energy, targets for reductions, eco-initiatives) will respond in a friendly, helpful and fact-finding way. If staff respond in a defensive or annoyed manner it reflects on the hotel badly and probably means they need to improve their training.
Best of luck with your observations and fact-finding mission! Our reviews can help make a real difference in the level of sustainability in Japan- which will in turn help strengthen our communities, protect the environment as well improve our economy.