Reducing water consumption

Written in collaboration with Innovation Lighthouse


In the years and decades to come, fresh water will become increasingly scarce. By 2030, the demand for fresh water is expected to be 40% more than the available supply. Such devastating projections call for action now.

Laundry can account for up to 30% of your property’s total environmental impact. This figure takes into account your water usage, electricity usage and the pollution from the detergents you use. That’s before factoring in the annual water consumption in guests’ rooms, which can vary from 18,000,000 litres in temperate climates to well over 121,000,000 litres in tropical environments.

When it comes to reducing that impact, asking guests to reuse towels or skip housekeeping is not something new for the hospitality industry. The sticker or card in the room, reminding guests of the environmental consequences, has been a long-time persuasion technique – but is it really saying the right things? And are there other techniques that work better? 

This section covers different ways you can approach reducing your water consumption and the benefits this can bring for both your business and the environment. 

Four benefits of reducing your water consumption

  1. It conserves water supply for the local community -

    Water is a precious resource, and in many destinations around the world, a scarce one. In fact, almost 20% of the world’s population live in a water scarce region – this means that water resource development in the area is ‘approaching or has exceeded sustainable limits’. As an industry, we have the responsibility to make sure local communities are not deprived of water, by using no more than we really need.

  2. You’ll shrink your carbon footprint -

    Water consumption isn’t just about the water itself. There can also be a wider environmental impact. Each 10kg wash consumes at least 50 litres of water and 1.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Research has also shown that some detergents can have a carbon footprint of almost a kilogram of CO2 for every household wash load – multiply that by your property’s laundry-load size, and the number is likely much, much higher. 

  3. Guests are on board -

    Guests already show a lot of willingness to change to their travel experience in order to reduce water consumption. According to research, while on vacation in the last 12 months, 40% of global travellers reused towels and 26% skipped daily room cleaning to minimise their water usage. During a three-month test period for our Sustainable Stays project, we found that 67% of guests hung their towel to be reused when given a simple message (“Feel free to rehang your towel here”) and an extra hook next to the wardrobe.

  4.  It’ll cut down your operational costs -

    Water consumption is the second highest utility expense, accounting for 24.7% of US hotels’ utility budget. So there’s plenty of financial incentive to reduce it, as well. Studies have shown that offering guests the option to skip washing towels and sheets every day has resulted in a 17% reduction in the number of laundry loads – also reducing the related energy, labour and detergent costs.

How to reduce your water consumption effectively


Understand your current consumption

To track your progress, it’s important to start by measuring your current water consumption. This will give you insight into how you use water and where you can start making reductions. Setting a baseline also lets you see how much progress you make over time.

To calculate the water used per guest per night, divide the total monthly water used in your guest rooms by the number of guests for that month. If your utility bill is in cubic metres, you can compare your findings against your bill by multiplying the number of litres per guest by 0.0001.

For more information on how to start measuring your water usage, and to learn about the methodology used by the International Tourism Partnership, visit the ‘Setting the baseline’ section of this guide.

Create a straightforward system

Keep your systems simple. Make it clear to your guests that a towel hung up on the rail or hook means they’ll use it again, while a towel on the floor means they’d like it to be washed.

Think about easy ways for guests to signal to your housekeeping team that they’re happy to skip cleaning today. This can be as basic as a door hanger. Easy for guests to pop on the handle, and easy for employees to spot at a glance. 

Prompt guests to consume consciously 

Towel reuse and refusing housekeeping are one thing, but research shows guests themselves use more than 2.5 times the amount of water when they stay at a hotel. Put conscious consumption in their hands by asking them to be aware of the water they’re using. 

One way to do this is to ask guests to take shorter showers – or better yet, let technology do that for you. For example, startup Hydrao has created a showerhead that uses lights to show guests their water usage in real-time. This gives them a nudge to get out before they start over-consuming. 


Keep information simple and specific

When communicating to your guests, use language that is easy to understand. Avoid difficult words and keep explanations as simple as possible. At the same time, be specific – vague messages can be frustrating. Go beyond ‘be green’ or ‘save water’ and give guests clear instructions for what to do. 

Try different ways to get your guests on board

What’s persuasive for one guest might not be for another. When writing information about your sustainability initiatives, try using different persuasion techniques that complement each other. Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Reinforce habits from home Research suggests that linking an action to what guests normally do at home can work better than environmental messaging. A couple of examples might be: ‘Use your towel again, just like you do at home.’ or ‘Make yourself at home and please reuse your towel.’
  • Use social norms - Studies have shown that information about how many other guests reuse towels incentivises others to do it too. Think things like: ‘x% of weekend guests choose to skip housekeeping during their stay.’ or ‘x% of people at {property} use their towels again.’
  • Make people feel good - Show your guests that, by making sustainable choices, they can have real positive impact. This means including information about positive outcomes and writing in a non-threatening way. Make them feel good – not guilty – about their travel decisions.

Consider an incentive scheme

Another way to encourage your guests to reuse their towels – or forgo having their sheets changed so often – is to reward them. Some properties are now offering points that guests can exchange for a free drink or a discount, while others make a charitable donation for each reused towel. 

If this doesn’t sound like something you could offer at your property, try getting your team together to come up with solutions that would work for you. 

Educate your housekeeping staff

Your housekeeping team will be vital to the success of your towel reuse and cleaning-reduction initiatives – and there are also many other ways they can contribute to your conservation goals. Make sure you put training in place covering your new processes and all the other ways they can help save water. These include not removing towels if the guest has indicated reuse, keeping toilet flushes to a minimum during cleaning, not leaving the taps running and using a mop to wash floors (instead of a hose).


Show travellers what you’re doing

Once you start to implement measures to reduce your water consumption – or if you’ve already got some in place – you can communicate this to travellers through our platform.

Have you implemented any of these practices to reduce water use?

Guests have the option of reusing towels
Guests can opt out of daily cleaning service
You only use water-efficient toilets, such as low-flow or dual flush toilets
You only use water-efficient showers, such as smart showers or low-flow showerheads

Discover our other sustainability guides:



Becoming certified

Certification shows the world your commitment to sustainability. But while the badges lend credit to your efforts and help attract more eco-conscious guests, the process itself is even more valuable – helping you set priorities and fill gaps in your sustainability plans.

Find out more


Reducing plastic consumption

It’s now easier now than ever to run your property without plastic – and it’s never more important. Plastic takes years to break down, harms wildlife and damages the environment. This guide will show you how to protect both by reducing your plastic consumption.

How can I start?


Setting the environmental baseline

In the journey towards sustainability, your baseline is like your compass. It’s only once you’ve measured your performance – for example in carbon emissions or water consumption – that you can start to set goals and plan how to reach them.

Show me how