It’s true that the British foundation Clear Conscience estimates that 200 million travel-size toiletries end up in U.K. landfills every year, but there’s another motivation: With 5,600 hotels, the savings for IHG can mount to over US$11 million annually.
For example, most of the carbon footprint of companies like Apple, Microsoft and Cisco comes from the suppliers who actually make the iPhones, routers and Xboxes, not directly from the company itself.
Additionally, the net reduction in discarded plastic could be minimal at best if the larger containers are filled from single-use plastic pouches. Also, we do not yet know if the larger containers are recyclable, nor the cost and environmental impacts of making, transporting, installing and maintaining them.
Even if replacing miniature toiletries does reduce waste somewhat – as other hotel chains join the movement and California moves to ban them – a transition to bulk products will barely put a dent in the plastic waste that now clogs the planet’s rivers and oceans. It is another “feel good” initiative which help avoid the move to more serious actions that can actually make a difference.
These supermarkets presented sustainable choices in large green frames around the sustainable products – detergents, soaps, paper products and others – alongside “regular” products in the same aisle. Fewer than 10% of consumers chose sustainable products, though the study found somewhat higher percentages among highly educated and higher income consumers. The sustainable products were, by and large, between 5% and 7% more expensive.
Granted, a slogan that states "Our hotel will not keep rooms cooler than 75 degrees in the summer and no warmer than 65 degrees in the winter" may not increase a hotel’s market share. Even the replacement of the small shampoo bottles with bulk dispensers is leading to consumers’ apprehension.
InterContinental Hotels Group is considering flushing their mini-toiletries down the drain and replacing them with bulk items. KR_Netez/Shutterstock.com
Perhaps the most damaging fallout from symbolic corporate green "feel-good" initiatives is that they distract from actions that can make a difference.
More specifically, companies could focus their efforts on carbon-reducing technology. No existing technologies are available on a global scale, but a small example of such a successful international agreement is the Montreal Protocol to ban substances that deplete the ozone layer.
In a world where companies engage in tokenism to satisfy their customers’ false green preferences, the efforts by Marriott and InterContinental are perfectly acceptable. But that world is likely to be short-lived.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Aug. 23, 2019.
The Conversation Africa The Conversation Africa is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. Its aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues, and allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation. Go to: https://theconversation.com/africa
About the author
Yossi Sheffi is Professor of Engineering; Director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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