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Marriott takes another green laundry step with pre-washed towels

Wednesday October 7th, 2009 - 12:52AM

BETHESDA, MD—Greening the supply chain is one of the key points in Marriott International’s environmental strategy and the effort extends through its hotel operations up to—and including—the upgrades it is making in its laundries. And such upgrades have now extended to what are called “room-ready towels,” which are saving an estimated six million gallons of water annually.
“With these terry cloth towels, you can just take them brand new right out of the box they were delivered in and put them right in the guestroom. They don’t have to be washed that first time. That part has already been done. They’ve been washed as part of the manufacturing process,” explained Marriott International’s director of rooms development, Scott Mitchell.
The construction of room-ready towels is also slightly different from the construction of traditional terry cloth towels, Mitchell explained. The warp of the towel actually has some polyester woven into it in a way that gives the towel strength. It also helps decrease the time needed to dry the towel, he said.
Environmentally, therefore, room-ready towels not only save water but the energy required to power the washing machines. Through the addition of the polyester, the towels help conserve additional energy because of the decreased drying time. “Fifteen percent less dry time translates into 15% less energy cost,” Mitchell estimated.
Marriott in the process realizes cost savings. “So in addition to being good for the environment, the company saves money,” Mitchell said.
Additional savings, meanwhile, come on the labor side. Not having to wash the towels initially saves on labor costs. “Each time you launder the towels, you’re sending them down to the laundry, then bringing them back up to the guestroom floors. It’s the whole changing of hands between departments,” Mitchell noted.
In addition, savings come from the towels having a longer life and, consequently, not having to be replaced as often. They should also stay softer longer because they don’t have to be dried as long. “That was really the motivator when we started this whole project,” Mitchell recalled. “Could we find a towel that would stay softer longer? Then as we were looking to accomplish that goal by researching different manufacturing processes, the room-ready feature turned out to be an added benefit.”
In the first 10 months the program was in place, Marriott distributed a little more than two million room-ready bath towels. The program affects hand towels, wash clothes and bath mats as well since each of these items is made with terry cloth.
Mitchell reported that the introduction of the new towels was well received by hotel owners, management companies, and—most telling of all—guests. “The cloth loops that touch the guest are all still made of 100% cotton. They don’t feel any different from a regular towel to the touch. If you put a room-ready towel next to a regular towel side-by-side, you’d never know the difference,” he said.

The new standard
Given the size and scale of Marriott, introducing an improved product/process like environmentally friendly, room-ready towels is carefully planned and executed. Hotels were required to fully utilize their supplies of regular towels before ordering the room-ready version. Hotels then order replacements from the company’s central supply. At that point, room-ready towels started to become the new standard as the old versions phased out.
Room-ready towels are available to all Marriott-owned and managed properties. Non-Marriott-managed hotels and franchised properties are welcome to use their own towels and supplier. “However, we’d really like them to adopt the improved towels because of the water and labor savings,” Mitchell said. “Then there’s the issue of standardization. If you’re in a Marriot-branded hotel, all the towels should be the same. The cost savings make a compelling argument to most owners. Plus there’s the environmental benefit.”
Within the Marriott system, some hotels have their own on-site laundries, some hotels send their laundry to a third-party laundry facility, while others use a central facility. “Some hotels wash for themselves and that’s the only terry and bed linens they touch. In markets like New York, on the other hand, we have a central laundry located in Edison, NJ, that handles the laundry for all the hotels as far south as Philadelphia. The Edison facility processes hundreds of thousands of pounds of linen daily,” Mitchell said, noting that the company maintains a similar facility in Arlington, VA. Unlike the freestanding facility in Edison, however, the Arlington laundry is located in the basement of a hotel, the Crystal City Marriott. It handles the laundry for six to seven hotels in the area. 

—By Bruce Serlen