The Hotel Industry’s Roadmap to Solving Diminishing Water Supply

The hotel industry has proven the economic viability of reducing water consumption and has provided a road map for other commercial and residential properties to reduce their water footprint.

The Urgency of Water Management & The Hotel Industry’s Roadmap

The World Economic Forum determined water supply is one of the top global risks over the next decade due to impacts of climate change.[1] United Nations predicts a 40% water supply shortfall globally by 2030.[2]

Hotels account for about 15% of total water use in the U.S. commercial sector[3] and, that water use, accounts for ~11% of their operating expenses.[4]

The hotel industry has proven the economic viability of reducing water consumption and has provided a road map for other commercial and residential properties to reduce their water footprint.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) as a Leader

In partnership with the Water Footprint Network, IHG recently completed the industry’s most comprehensive water risk-assessment. In 2013, IHG announced it would reduce water consumption per occupied room in water stressed areas by 12% compared to 2012 levels by 2017.[5] Its Green Engage System allows its hotels to track, measure and report on water use[6] and offers over 200 Green Solutions. As of 2015, this initiative has caused a 5% decrease.[7] Based on hotel level data, 1% of water savings can equate to approximately $5,000 of savings on the bottom-line providing a meaningful financial incentive.[8]

IHG Initiatives

The Green Engage System suggests many operational changes that IHG hotels have been able to successfully roll out:

  1. In 2014, after sever drought in California, IHG sent toolkits to equip hotels with aerators to minimize the water flow in faucets. Water use per occupied room decreased 10% and six underwent a complete bathroom renovation (~2.4 million gallons of annual water savved).[9] These kits are being rolled out to 50 additional properties.[10]
  2. InterContinental San Francisco saves about 2 million gallons of water a year with aerators, back-of-house water restriction features, and a sustainable HVAC cooling water treatment (~1 million gallons of water saved per year).[11]
  3. Crowne Plaza San Diego is almost 100% below IHG’s benchmark utilizing aerators and timers on water appliances.[12]

Next Steps on Water Management

My recommendations on next steps focus on the highest sources of water use in hotels:



Guest Rooms & Bedrooms (30%)

  • Hold all hotels accountable to enacting universally adaptable operational initiatives such as aerators on faucets (~7 million gallons annual water saved[14]) and waterless urinals (saving half a million gallons of water annually[15]).
  • Involve guests. For example, linen and towel reuse programs reduce loads of laundry by 17%.[16] Incentivize compliance with hotels’ loyalty programs or something simple such as a free movie on demand.

Laundry System (16%)

  • P&G’s Tide Professional Coldwater Laundry System low cost solution can reduce the water used in the washer by up to 40% and the energy needed to heat the water by 75%.[17]

Kitchen System (14%)

  • Granuldisk’s pot and pan washing machine enables 90% less water use than any other pot washing methods. The London Heathrow Marriot Hotel is saving 2 million liters of water annually from this.[18]

Cooling & Heating (12%)

  • Universal installation of the HVAC systems that were successful at InterContinental San Francisco.
  • Rollout improved hot water heating systems, comprising a third of energy costs for hotels,[19] utilizing A.O. Smith’s energy efficient water heaters that payback in a few years (through the energy cost savings) and limit water waste.[20]


The financial incentive for hotels to minimize their water use has led them to be innovators in this space. The commercial sector (i.e. offices, hospitals, restaurants) is the second largest consumer of publicly supplied water in the U.S. at 17%.[21] This sector can and should (at least for financial reasons!) follow a similar roadmap enabling them to reduce water usage by at least 15% and subsequently energy usage by 10%.[22] A bigger problem is today, most residents do not feel the burden of the cost of waters[23] like commercial entities do, but they account for 57% of water consumption.[24] With hotels providing a roadmap for how to make homes more water efficient, we now need the regulation or government funded incentive programs to make this a priority. The question now is: how do we do this?


Word Count: 785 Words (Excluding Headers)

[1] Harcastle, Lyons. “How to Future-Proof Corporate Water Supplies.” May 2016.

[2] Ibid

[3] EPA Gov. “Saving Water in Hotels.” March 2016.

[4] Ibid

[5]Lyons, Jessica. “InterContinental Hotels Target 12% Water Cut.” July 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Interncontinental Hotels Group. August 2016.

[8] Lyons, Jessica. “InterContinental Hotels Target 12% Water Cut.” July 2014.

[9] Interncontinental Hotels Group. August 2016.

[10] Ibid

[11] Lyons, Jessica. “InterContinental Hotels Target 12% Water Cut.” July 2014.

[12] Ibid

[13] EPA Gov. “Saving Water in Hotels.” March 2016.

[14]Lyons, Jessica. “InterContinental Hotels Target 12% Water Cut.” July 2014.

[15] Ibid

[16] Lyons, Jessica. “Hotel Water Use: Are You Flushing Money Down the Drain?” July 2016.

[17] Ibid

[18] FCSI. “Marriot Hotel Wins Green Hotelier Award.” May 2016.


[20] A.O. Smith Investor Presentation.

[21] EPA Gov. “Saving Water in Hotels.” March 2016.

[22] Ibid

[23] Lyons, Jessica. April 2016.

[24] EPA Gov. “How We Use Water in the United States.”


While We Wait on Human Psychology, Let’s Find Another Way


The “Hot War”: How Will the Department of Defense Fight a Warming Planet?

Student comments on The Hotel Industry’s Roadmap to Solving Diminishing Water Supply

  1. This is a very interesting piece covering a specific topic within a specific industry, yet providing a breadth of impacts and of possible actions (from efficient pot washing to saving 2M liters of water annually to IHG’s aerators reducing water per room by 10%). As you point out, the hospitality industry not only contributes significantly to resource utilization, but it also has many opportunities to improve climate change, and its own bottom line in the process.
    You hit the nail on the head when addressing involving guests. First, education could help move the needle. As a hotel frequenter for my previous job, I was well-versed in water conservation efforts by minimizing towel replacement and sheet replacement cycles. The little card in the bathroom about water use was informative and altered my behavior, though it was not as specific as the stats that you provide around water shortfall globally and hotels’ consumption of water (not that hotels would necessarily explicitly state the latter to its guests). Nonetheless, as you point out, involving guests can reduce laundry by 17% (and I bet that number will only increase as norms change). More can probably be done with long-stay and repeat customers, like those on business accounts. As noted, some incentive systems I experienced beyond guests’ goodwill included points in exchange for not having housekeeping (both to cut down on water utilization as well as labor costs). While I do not know specifically what can be done around length of showers or water utilization during showers, perhaps there are techniques to impact guest behavior in that realm as well, whether it be through an aerator-type approach, a lower water pressure the longer in the shower, or some other permissible but effective signal. Tactics like this may help share the effects between hotel and consumer, to amplify the hotels’ efforts to reduce resource utilization (while improving their bottom line).

  2. I really liked your specific list of actions that hotels could take. I think the hotel industry is an interesting one, as some of the efforts that they could take to completely minimize water usage would conflict with goals of maximizing customer satisfaction. Low-flow showers are a key example here: while they certainly could reduce water usage, complaints about water pressure are common ( As a result, I thought that your emphasis on incentivizing customer behavior on measures that pose less inconvenience (such as reusing towels) and saving water in back-of-house initiatives was smart.

  3. Very interesting. Would it be easy to convince hotels to use more efficient laundry and kitchen systems? There may be a resistance to change even if some new solutions in the market promise results. We are all used to claims that certain laundry systems work better only to find stains remaining on an item. Customer perception is important, just imagine getting a stained towel once.
    I agree with Andrea, lower water pressure may not go unnoticed either.
    Is water usage reduced if the hotel room has no bathtub, only a shower?

  4. Very interesting article. It’s interesting to know that hotels can financially benefit from reducing their water footprint. While we have seen many global initiatives from major hotel operators to reduce water usage per occupied room, I wonder what are some other potential initiatives these major hotel companies can implement to specifically reduce water usage for banquet functions, especially for convention hotels.

    In addition, it would interesting to see how end uses of water in hotels vary across segments (luxury vs upscale vs economy). That way IHG can tailor its initiatives accordingly for different hotel brands within its portfolio.

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