At the most fundamental level, environmentalism and the Green movement that represents it are hostile to business. The ethics of environmentalism and the Greens is one of human deprivation and individual self-sacrifice. Business in contrast rests on a foundation of the pursuit of happiness and the profit motive. The one represents a joyless existence devoted to selfless service to the “environment,” which is allegedly valuable in and of itself, i.e., is “intrinsically” valuable. The other represents progressive improvement in human life and well-being, i.e., the achievement of ever greater comfort, ease, and enjoyment of life, based on the recognition that human life and well-being alone are the proper sources of values for human beings.
Nevertheless, in utter disregard of their opposite natures and of the blatant contradictions involved, a philosophical monstrosity has been hatched that goes by the name “Green Businesses,” i.e., businesses infused with the spirit of environmentalism.
Not surprisingly, a so-called Green Business functions very differently than does a normal business. While a normal business seeks to add amenities to its offerings, a so-called Green Business seeks to subtract them, by means of pursuing a deliberate policy of corner cutting. Thus, for example, for some time, “Green Hotels” have been busy attempting to persuade their customers to forego the customary daily provision of fresh sheets and towels in guest rooms. And more recently, they have begun to replace the provision of fresh bars of soap each day with the installation of fixed liquid-soap dispensers, similar to those in public lavatories, even in showers and bathtubs, where they can actually be dangerous.
Of course, there are times when a normal business too cuts back on the amenities it offers, as when the cost of continuing to provide them comes to exceed what its customers are willing to pay for them. A Green Business, however, cuts back in conditions in which its customers clearly are willing to pay substantially more for the amenities being eliminated than the cost of providing them. In the case of sheets and towels in a hotel room costing two-hundred or more dollars per day, it would probably take a fairly significant deduction from the daily rate to get many people to choose to forego a daily change on economic grounds. The hotel would thus lose far more in revenue than it would save in costs. Precisely this is the reason that good hotels traditionally changed sheets and towels daily.
Green Hotels avoid this loss of revenue when they get people to accept less frequent changes. They do not offer the choice of a rate deduction great enough to induce customers to accept a less frequent change on the basis of their own self-interest. No. Instead, they prey on the ignorance, guilt, and general lack of self-confidence of many of their guests.
They tell the guests that the amenities are being reduced for “the sake of the environment” and to help “save the planet.” The guests are thus urged to think of their loss of amenities as a contribution to a noble and urgent cause, a contribution which also serves to make them personally, morally better people for having made it. Very few people in such circumstances will think of asking for a lower rate. To do so would appear to them to be asking to be compensated for behaving morally, which would be an utterly contradictory and profoundly immoral request when the morality that one accepts is precisely the morality of self-sacrifice.
Thus the Green Hotels are able to practice a racket that would be the envy of many a scam artist. They preach a morality of self-sacrifice to their guests and proceed to profit from their guests’ acceptance of that morality. For them the sacrifices of their guests are a simple cost saving, which allows them equivalently to increase their profits, since the reduction in amenities provided is not accompanied by any reduction in revenue. In other words, the Green Hotels are playing their guests for suckers and getting away with it. That is the essence of their Green Business.
In the long run, of course, the extra profit of the Green Hotels will be eroded. They will probably lose guests and may end up having to trim their rates after all, in order to stem that loss. They may also incur some additional costs, for example, in the form of having to contribute to environmentalist organizations in order to keep up recognition for their activities.
Irrespective of the effect on their profits in the long run, what the Green Hotels are doing is disgusting. It is part of a cultural assault on luxury and pleasure. One that works to make every day of everyone’s life one of unrelieved drudgery and sacrifice, to the point of there being no escape. Even vacations and holidays are now to be stamped with the mark of sacrifice. Sacrifice not even for other people, but for the “planet.”
The Green Hotels are becoming increasingly brazen in their racket. Until recently, it was enough to leave a card on a pillow if one wanted the sheets changed. Now it’s becoming necessary to call the hotel’s front desk. In addition, notification that sheets and towels will not automatically be changed is becoming much less prominent. Just last week, I personally experienced these things at what I would have expected to be a really first-class hotel, namely, the Hyatt Regency in Newport, Rhode Island. (This hotel also had a liquid-soap dispenser installed at the bathroom sink, though it continued to provide fresh bar soap each day. It was at the [Dis]Comfort Inn near Boston’s Logan Airport, that bar soap was entirely replaced with liquid soap dispensers.)
Hotel guests should protest vehemently against any loss in their comforts or conveniences for the alleged sake of the “environment” or the “planet.” They should demand lower rates as compensation for any sacrifices they are asked to make and tell the hotels that they resent being abused for the sake of a dishonest profit being made at their expense. Either in making reservations or at check-in, they should ask about the hotel’s policy with respect to sacrifices for the environment and have it noted that they want no part of it.
People need to tell the hotels that they’re vacationing for enjoyment, not self-sacrifice. And business travelers too should insist on their comfort. We human beings do not exist for the sake of the “planet.” We are not “stewards” of the planet. We are the lords of the planet. We have the ability to make it exist for our benefit — for our pleasure. And that is what we can and should do.
George Reisman, Ph.D. is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. His web site is www.capitalism.net and his blog is www.georgereisman.com/blog/.
This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved.