Sustainable Products: The Skinny on Laundry Detergent

By Arthur Weissman President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc. | September 02, 2010

As bedroom services, hotel properties first and foremost are in the trade of changing linens and doing laundry. While many properties outsource their linen supply and laundering, they command a significant enough supply to exert an influence on their laundry service. They can, in short, seek to ensure that their most plentiful commodity is cleaned in the most environmentally responsible way possible.

This largely concerns the selection of laundry detergent, the subject of this article. Certainly, hotel policies regarding changing linens for multiple-night guests can significantly affect the environment by reducing the load and therefore the energy, water, and waste produced. A previous article in this series explored the towel/linen reuse concept and how it can best be implemented. Also, more efficient laundry equipment can affect the amount of water and energy used. But the quickest way to gain environmental benefit in this area is to use an environmentally responsible laundry detergent.

These are the main attributes of an environmentally responsible laundry detergent, as we will discuss below:

Non-Toxic to Humans and Biota

A responsible laundry detergent should not present a short-term or long-term threat to human health. Detergents should not contain known or possible carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxins. The presence of such ingredients is not only unnecessary but also may create exposures that could be harmful to health. Also, ingredients that could cause sub-acute toxicity - such as for respiratory or other functions - should be avoided, as the materials on which detergents are used come into intimate and prolonged contact with humans.

From a broader environmental perspective, laundry detergents are chemical mixtures that always get disposed into the environment. Thus, they should not contain ingredients that are harmful to aquatic life, the medium to which they are relegated. Discharged wastewater from laundry operations that contains toxic ingredients can harm fish and other aquatic organisms, pose aesthetic problems, as well as possibly contaminate drinking water sources. While wastewater treatment systems often remove some of the pollutants, they may eventually wind up somewhere else in the environment or may pass through untreated.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.