Water Management and Conservation

Why the need to conserve water?

Most water (97%) is in the oceans, which cover 71% of the Earth's surface. Three per cent is freshwater, two-thirds of which is tied up as ice in glaciers and at the poles. This leaves approximately 1% as freshwater in rivers, lakes, the atmosphere and in groundwater.

However, with demand rising rapidly due to a growing global population with expectations of higher living standards and resource-intensive farming, that 1% is under threat. Climate change is adding to the problem because our weather patterns have become less predictable and more pronounced. While a number of areas are experiencing periods of prolonged drought, the rain that falls in some other areas is heavier. This leads to flooding without sufficiently replenishing groundwater stocks.

Water is essential to the hotel and tourism industry — for food preparation, cleaning and hygiene, guest comfort an\d recreation. Hotels also depend upon their supply industries, such as agriculture and the food and drink industries, none of which would function without sufficient water.

Hotels have a duty not to use more water than is absolutely necessary. It makes commercial sense too, with water accounting for 10% of utility bills in many hotels. In fact, most hotels pay for the water they consume twice — for its initial purchase and then to dispose of it as wastewater. Depending on how water efficient they are in the first place, hotels can reduce the amount of water consumed per guest per night by up to 50% compared with establishments with poor performance in water consumption.

Marriott International
Marriott International is introducing a green hotel prototype that will be pre-certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), an internationally recognised green building certification system designed by the US Green Building Council.

The prototype, which has initially been created for Marriott's Courtyard brand, will save on energy and water consumption by 20%-30%. "We have achieved these levels of water savings by using water-conserving fixtures," says Jefferson Thomas, senior design manager at Marriott International. "New water-saving technologies in toilet and showerhead design are improving every day and typically exceed current code requirements, yet still provide guests with a good shower experience and meet all of Marriott's high technical performance criteria."

By implementing these water efficiency measures, plus wash-on-request linen and towel policies and water-efficient kitchen and laundry facilities, Marriott estimates that water consumption of a typical 100,000 square foot select-service hotel (175 keys) will be reduced by over 3.8m litres (1m US gallons) per year, saving tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Marriott, which expects to expand its green hotels tenfold over the next five years, plans to roll out these water-saving standards to other Marriott brands and will have them as a standard LEED option under its Courtyard by Marriott brand by the end of 2010.


Water constantly recirculates between the atmosphere and the Earth. Through the action of sun and wind, it evaporates from the surfaces of the oceans and continents. Condensation occurs as water vapour rises, forming clouds or fog, with the water returning to Earth as rain, snow or hail. Precipitation makes its way into rivers, lakes, the sea and on the ground, where it partially remains or continues its journey sub-surface into the groundwater. Groundwater may enter rivers or oceans, reappear as springs, be pumped, or stay in the ground for centuries.

Starwood Hotels
Water constantly recirculates between the atmosphere and the Earth. Through the action of sun and wind, it evaporates from the surfaces of the oceans and continents. Condensation occurs as water vapour rises, forming clouds or fog, with the water returning to Earth as rain, snow or hail. Precipitation makes its way into rivers, lakes, the sea and on the ground, where it partially remains or continues its journey sub-surface into the groundwater. Groundwater may enter rivers or oceans, reappear as springs, be pumped, or stay in the ground for centuries.

Costa Navarino is a new coastal development of hotels, golf courses, spas and conference facilities in the Messinia region of Greece, with a first phase due to open this summer. Starwood Hotels and Resorts will be managing two of the five-star hotels.
Developer TEMES is committed to meeting strict environmental standards to minimise the impact of the development on this beautiful and pristine area. It has, for example, built two reservoirs, carefully integrated into the landscape, which will meet all of Costa Navarino's irrigation needs, for its golf courses, grounds and gardens. The scheme will not damage the local water table as the reservoirs will take 2% of excess winter run-off from local rivers. Water recycled from a wastewater treatment facility will also be used for extra irrigation.


Satisfy guests' needs while avoiding waste
Guests expect their shower to have a sufficient supply and pressure of water. Ensure adequate supplies by saving water in other areas, fitting appropriate water-saving equipment and educating your guests about how they can help to conserve water.

Improve efficiency
Regular efficiency measurements should become a standard procedure for major water-consuming equipment and areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, swimming pools and spas. You should have effective procedures for identifying and swiftly fixing leaks.

Operate profit (cost) centres
Water users must be held accountable, so install sub-meters and allocate charges to each department for their waste consumption. Independent operators on the hotel's premises should be re-charged for their water use.

Use performance criteria
Develop and use performance criteria for each department, set targets and continuously monitor results.

Invest in new technology
Constantly review available technology and assess whether it can help create efficiencies.

Set high standards for new projects
When planning refurbishment, extensions or new buildings, it is important that from the outset, you incorporate water-efficiency measures.

Provide adequate training
Ensure staff are properly trained in all aspects of water conservation and that they put that training into practice.

Since joining forces with UK water-management specialist Waterscan in 2002, Whitbread PLC has been tackling a variety of water consumption issues across its hotel and restaurant brands focusing on five key areas: water management, invoice validation, trade effluent, leak detection and repair, and greywater recycling.

At the heart of its water-saving scheme is an automatic meter reading system (AMR), which monitors water usage in all its properties across the UK. Any unusual consumption levels automatically trigger profile alerts and investigations, leading to early detection of leaks, quick repairs of faulty equipment and management of water wastage. It also checks water consumption against water company billing and ensures that the group is being charged appropriately and performing in line with company budgets.

In 2008, Whitbread installed a revolutionary advanced greywater recycling system at its Premier Inn flagship property in Tamworth, where it trials the viability of green technologies. The system recycles water used in baths, basins and showers to flush toilets, meeting all of its toilet water needs and reducing water consumption by 20%. Its Burgess Hill Premier Hotel in West Sussex, opening in Autumn 2010, will be the first hotel in the nationwide rollout of the scheme.

As well as AMR data logging and greywater recycling, Whitbread is installing water-efficient bathroom and kitchen fittings and toilet water management systems into all new builds. It will be retro-fitting this equipment into existing sites too. It hopes to reduce its water consumption by 20% over the next 10 years.



Setting a water conservation action plan

1. Carry out a water audit to show where the major water costs are and where savings can be made.
2. Compare total and departmental consumption figures with hotel industry benchmarks to determine the potential for savings.
3. Calculate water used per guest by dividing the total water consumed in guest rooms by the number of guests for that month.
4. Establish realistic goals for each department.
5. Communicate management's objectives and goals to employees.
6. Ensure participation from the entire workforce and invite staff to put forward their ideas.
7. Check regularly for leaks from cisterns, taps and pipes and make sure that plugs in basins fit properly.
8. Implement a programme that allows guests to opt not to have towels and linens changed every day.
9. Install sensors, low-flow and other water-saving fittings in kitchens, guest bathrooms and public washrooms. Take advantage of any financial incentives being offered by local/national governments to install water-efficient technologies.
10. Divert and capture rainwater (rainwater harvesting) for reuse in the hotel grounds.
11. Establish a monitoring and targeting system and constantly monitor results.
12. Train staff so they understand how to make prudent use of water and how to maintain equipment for optimum energy-efficiency.
13. Develop standard operating procedures and continue to stimulate motivation by giving feedback.
14. Join forces with other hotels and provide mentoring to help them reduce their water consumption.

Staff training

  • Ensure staff are trained to look for leaks, that they report them quickly and problems are responded to swiftly.
  • Use a plug and a bucket when cleaning baths and basins rather than letting the taps (faucets) run.
  • Clean the toilet after cleaning the bath and basin so that the water can be used for a final swill down.
  • Involve staff and ask them to suggest water conservation ideas.


  • Install sub-meters to measure specific users of water, such as guest bathrooms.
  • Measure consumption on a monthly basis.
  • Set realistic targets.


  • Conduct regular inspections of taps, showers, toilet mechanisms, overflows from water storage and pipe joints for leaks. Check around the grouting on taps and shower fittings for signs of leaks.
  • Check for a leaking toilet. Add food colouring to the cistern to detect leaks (coloured water will appear in the bowl if the toilet is leaking).
  • Check that plugs are fitted to basins and that they produce an effective seal.

Guest education

  • Communicate to guests the importance of local freshwater resources and provide opportunities to allow guests to use water wisely.
  • Encourage guests to shower rather than bath.
  • Suggest guests do not leave the tap running when brushing their teeth and they half-fill the sink.
  • Invite them to reuse their towels and linens by opting not to have them changed every day.


  • Install the latest, most water-efficient fittings. See "Water-saving technologies".
  • Ensure machines are fully loaded before use.
  • Wash small quantities in a 5kg machine.
  • Ensure that all water inlet valves are closing properly.
  • Check for leaking dump valves.
  • Minimise the rinse without reducing quality.
  • Consider using "intermediate extraction" between rinse operations.
  • Consider the reuse of water from previous rinse cycles for the first wash of the next cycle by installing temporary holding tanks.
  • Check that level controls on water reuse tanks are working properly.
  • 500-room-plus hotels could consider installing a continuous batch washer (CBW), which uses all the rinse water for pre-washing and main suds operation.
  • Ensure that the water flow rates on tunnel washers and CBWs are adjusted to the manufacturer's recommended setting.
  • When buying washing machines, ensure it has a good water consumption rating.
  • Consider using ozone laundry systems. These inject ozone into the water, which works in conjunction with the laundry chemicals to provide a more efficient wash, reducing energy and water use through shorter cycles.
  • Monitor water use and establish benchmarks.

A towel and linen programme
A towel and linen programme can help you make significant water savings and reduce energy consumption, detergent and the need for waste water treatment. Thousands of hotels already offer guests the option to reuse towels and/or bed linen. Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) estimates that its towel re-use scheme has saved 199m litres (52.5m US gallons) of water a year in its 22 US properties alone.

It can also reduce your costs. As well as saving water, it means less wear on fabrics, prolonging their life, and saves housekeeping staff time.

  • Ensure there is a towel rail in the bathroom for guests to hang their towels for reuse.
  • Ensure all staff are aware of the programme and the reasons for it. If a card is included in the guest bathroom suggesting that the guest uses them again, housekeeping staff must follow the correct procedure.
  • The wording on the in-room card should include clear instructions and inspire guests to conserve resources rather than giving the impression the hotel is simply reducing costs. If you leave a questionnaire in the room, include a section on your towel and linen policy.

Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University and one of the most quoted social psychologists, carried out research to test which types of signs would most encourage hotel visitors to reuse their towels. Three cards used a version of the typical environmental appeal. A fourth card added true information that the majority of guests reused their towels at least once during their stay. The final message was the most successful, increasing towel reuse by over 28%. Cialdini concluded that when people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look to those around them to guide their decisions and actions, a principle he calls “social proof”.

“In most cases, for an organisation to boost effectiveness by 28%, some expensive steps have to be taken; typically, organisational structure, focus, or personnel must be charged,” explains Cialdini. “In this instance, however, none of that was necessary. All that was required was to convey the facts about the preferred behaviour of the majority… What’s most interesting to me is that the most effective strategy was entirely costless to the hotel. But I’ve never seen it used by any hotel room in any city.”

Swimming pools
In a large hotel, a swimming pool can increase freshwater consumption by as much as 10% so, before installing one, consider carefully whether a pool is a necessity for guests, particularly if water is scarce locally.

  • Design the system so that you can capture and reuse backwash water to irrigate the grounds.
  • When cleaning the area around the pool, use a brush and pan to collect debris rather than hosing.
  • Cover the pool when not in use to avoid water evaporation.
  • Fit water-saving showerheads, dual flush or water-efficient toilet cisterns and push-button taps in all changing facilities.
  • Check the water meter last thing at night and first thing in the morning to detect leaks.
  • In coastal areas, a reverse osmosis (RO) plant is an option for converting seawater for use in pools. However, acids and caustic substances are required to keep these systems clean, creating a waste stream that must be neutralised before discharged. Care should also be taken with siting. Most good RO systems incorporate waste neutralisation, making the process simple and efficient.


  • To detect leaks, check the water meter last thing at night and first thing in the morning and carry out visual checks.
  • Fit water-saving showerheads, dual-flush toilet cisterns and push-button taps in all facilities.
  • Opportunities for capturing and rescuing spa pool water are limited due to the concentration of chlorine or bromine. Expert advice should be sought if you plan to redirect backwash water to irrigate the grounds or install a greywater recycling system for toilets.

It makes sense to use water resources sensibly in your grounds, even where water is plentiful.

  • Use rainwater harvesting techniques to divert rainwater from roofs and gutters into storage tanks.
  • If possible, use greywater from baths and sinks for irrigation. Consider installing a treatment system that will enable you to use treated black water from toilets in the gardens.
  • A well-designed and controlled irrigation system will deliver water when and where it is needed on a regular basis and will help plants to thrive.
  • Do not use hoses for watering plants and avoid sprinklers on lawns.
  • Avoid using high-pressure jets to clean paving.
  • Condition clay soils with powdered or liquid gypsum to improve water penetration.
  • Using your own organic compost will add nutrients and help retain moisture in the soil. You can also add polymers that help retain moisture.
  • Match the choice of plant material to the climate, avoid laying lawns where water is scarce and select the type of grass carefully.
  • Remove weeds regularly from garden beds as they compete with other plants.
  • If a water feature is essential, give thought to the size, design and how quickly the water will evaporate.

Installing waterless urinals can save up to nearly 230,000 litres (60,000 US gallons) annually per urinal. Other techniques include using include passive infra-red devices, which initiate a flush when they detect activity or flush at shorter intervals at busy times. Timers that flush more frequently at peak times are another option, as is a sleeve-based urinal system, with a disposable sleeve to remove odours and flushes four to six times a day.

Switching to low-flow or low-flush toilets produces big water savings - newer designs typically consume around six litres (1.6 US gallons), compared to 26 litres (7 US gallons) per flush in older models. Toilets with a dual-flush can save water by enabling guests to select a full or half-flush. Other water-saving toilet technologies include a cistern volume-adjusting device such as bricks, plastic containers, bags filled with water ("hippos") or pebbles in the cistern. Finally, composting toilets, which do not require water, are suitable in remote areas and ecologically sensitive places where there is no/poor infrastructure.

Taps (Faucets)
Changing standard taps on sinks to automatic, restricted or aerated models will also make significant water savings. Electronic controls can be retrofitted or installed and save up to 70% of water as well as proportional savings in heating, water treatment and sewage.

Manual valve taps can be upgraded with either flow restrictors or aerators. Flow restrictors are washer-like discs that are installed in the tap head and reduce the flow of water by up to 9.5 litres (2.5 US gallons) per minute. Aerators replace the tap head screen, lowering flow by adding air to the water stream and saving 12 litres (3.2 US gallons) per tap per day. Self-closing percussion or push taps, which close automatically after up to 30 seconds are particularly suitable for cloakroom facilities in public areas. These can also be activated by passive infra-red sensors.

Showers and baths
Low-flow showerheads, such as those that combine air so the pressure feels strong, can result in a cut of 95 litres (25 US gallons) of water in a 10-minute shower. In the US, low-flow showerheads cost between $15-$30, are easy to install, and return their investment in a few months. A study by the UK's Environment Agency found that poor shower facilities made customers more likely to take baths.

In bathrooms, select the size of baths and basins carefully as it will have a dramatic effect on water consumption. Even using one litre less per bath per guest per year will yield huge savings. Also consider installing programmable controls to dictate the temperature and maximum fill level.

Low-cost water conservation devices and expected water savings

Type of water-saving device Expected water savings (%) Cost (Euros)
Temporised taps 30-40 22-124 (average: 84)
Water-saving devices for traditional taps 40 6
Water-saver in toilets 50 3-24

Source: World Wide Fund For Nature

Hi-tech filtrations systems
These allow hotels to reuse virtually all of the water that is normally lost to the sewage system. Dutch Water Group, a company that specialises in water solutions for the hotel industry, has pioneered a chemicals-free bioreactor system that combines a biological process and membrane filtration. It allows hoteliers to reuse 99.9% of drainswater for irrigation, air-conditioning and laundry purposes. The filtration system does produce a “sludge” but this is compressed and only needs removing on average twice a year. reverse osmosis system works by pumping seawater under extremely high pressure through a very fine membrane to remove salt, bacteria, proteins and pathogens. It is then ready to drink safely.

Horizontal sprinklers
The latest models prevent water being wasted through evaporation, overspray and water run-off by watering turf on the surface in a bottom-up model rather than the typical sprinkler/top-down model. For example, the Jardinier Corporation’s Surface Flow system uses a series of pipettes snapped into a larger, horizontal pipe beneath the soil’s surface.

Pool drainage
Eliminate the need to drain a swimming pool and waste water with an Aquazerve unit that attaches to a pool pump to refresh the pool water every day, eradicating the need to drain the pool. See www.aquazerve.com

Recycled rain barrels
You can now buy water butts, such as those from Rainwater Solutions, made from 100% recycled materials with no pumps or mechanical devices and built-in overflow ports and screen traps to keep our mosquitoes.

Smart irrigation controllers
These automatically schedule watering based on landscape needs and local weather conditions. The Phoenician in Scottsdale, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, spends nearly $372,000 per year on irrigating its grounds. Now it has replaced its 21 irrigation controllers with HydroPoint Data Systems’ WeatherTRAK technology, which uses local weather data and site-specific details to eliminate overwatering. It expects water consumption to be dramatically cut by 30%, saving as much as $111,000 in the first year alone.

A study carried out by the UK's Environment Agency found that installing full water-saving equipment and employing water management practices could cut 50% off annual water bills. It found, for example, that one UK hotel saved more than £100 in water charges and about £100 in fuel charges per year by repairing a single dripping hot tap. In Japan, the Central Research Institute of Electric Power calculated that installing water-saving devices into large buildings would save 31% in bills, with a payback in just under two years.

Government grants to install new appliances aren't as generous as in other energy-saving sectors, due to lower installation costs. Financial help is often available through tax rebates. In the UK, tax credits are available in the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme and businesses are able to claim 100% first-year capital allowances of water-saving equipment. In the US, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power gives various fixed tax rebates on each water-saving item fitted in new buildings or as replacements. In Australia, grants of up to $10,000 are available from the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts to install water-saving and efficiency devices. Similar grants are available in other countries, especially in US.

Much of the information in this Know How guide is taken from Environmental Management for Hotels: The Industry Guide to Sustainable Operation, Third Edition. Visit www.tourismpartnership.org/itp-shop/environmental-management-for-hotels for details of how to buy the handbook.

Resources and Further Reading

Dutch Water Group

Environmental Management for Hotels: The Industry Guide to Sustainable Operation, Third Edition

Environment Agency

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Maryland Department of the Environment

North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Water — Use It Wisely

WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature)

10% Challenge


American Water Works Association

Easy Energy

Energy Star


HydroPoint Data Systems Inc.

Jardinier Corporation

Lodging Logic: An industry guide to natural resource conservation

Rainwater and greywater in buildings: project report and case studies

Sydney Water


US Environmental Protection Agency

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