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HI USA sheds light on showering for a sustainable impact worldwide

Jun 21, 2018

Hostelling International USA (HI USA) is setting out to change the way people around the world take showers. The project is called the “Million Gallon Challenge” and it began with a plan to address a crisis in California.

“In 2014, we were looking for innovative water conservation measures in response to the severe drought that over half our hostels were facing in California,” said Zach Hetrick, HI USA Sustainability Lead. All HI USA hostels adhere to water saving standards such as low-flow fixtures and linen conservation efforts. Additionally, systems have been installed for ozone laundry cleaning, rainwater catchment, and greywater reuse where feasible. However, HI USA wanted to involve guests even more. Hetrick explained, “We were looking for solutions that would lower our environmental impact but also engage our guests.”

Bringing tech to hostel showers
The solution they uncovered was the SmartShower, created by Hydrao. SmartShowers use fully programmable LED lights that change colour based on shower duration. However, installing the technology at all 700 showers within the 35 HI USA-operated hostels was simply not within budget back in 2014. The Million Gallon Challenge remained in the development phase until just last month when HI USA was awarded EUR 200,000 ($238,000) from the Booking.com Cares grant fund.

According to Booking.com, the grants are aimed at “sustainable tourism changemakers in their search for new and unexpected solutions that reimagine the tourism and travel space.” This was the first year for the grants to be awarded and HI USA’s Million Gallon Challenge was one of only five projects worldwide to receive the money.

Top row (left to right): Ian Ackland (booking.com mentor for HI USA); Zach Hetrick (HI USA); Kim Whitaker (Khwela Tourism Stars); Magdalena Radziewska (booking.com mentor for Khwela Tourism Stars); Abdullah Abu Ramen (Jordan Trail); Joost Vermeulen (booking.com mentor for Jordan Trail mentor); Roderic Mast (Oceanic Society); Meredith Ragsdale (booking.com mentor for Oceanic Society). Bottom row (left to right): Xun Ji (ENAT) and Michelle Gao (booking.com mentor for ENAT). Photo from: Booking.com

Inspiring change beyond the hostel
HI USA hopes that guests will take their new water-saving habits home with them and make a positive impact in their own communities. “SmartShowers use experiential-based learning to promote behaviour change, a key concept of hostelling,” Hetrick said. “Once all 700 showerheads are installed, if each guest follows the color indicators, together we can save one million gallons of water per year. The unexpected experience will hopefully disrupt our guests’ typical routine in a fun, engaging way and promote short and long-term change.”

The Million Gallon Challenge also has major implications throughout the hospitality industry. HI USA is working with a university to release a case study following the pilot phase of the project. The study aims to first characterise the impact of showers on the water footprint of accommodation. Secondly, HI USA intends to demonstrate the power of experiential-based behaviour change.

“For the first time, an accommodation will be able to compare detailed shower data against total water consumption. This will allow us to make conclusions on where to prioritise shower conservation against other water saving initiatives,” Hetrick said.

According to Hetrick, the data collected from HI USA guests can help shed light on shower perceptions, environmental attitudes, and the impact of environmental initiatives.

“Effectively inspiring behaviour change is the key to progressing toward a sustainable future. We believe that experience-based learning is the most effective form of behaviour change. We need to move beyond making environmentally responsible behaviour seem like a sacrifice but embed it into a fun, enriching experience.” The pilot phase will begin between late summer and early autumn with the installation of 100-150 SmartShowers in San Francisco, Santa Monica, and New Orleans.

Read more about the Million Gallon Challenge from HI USA CEO, Russ Hedge. In addition, another WYSE Travel Confederation member also recently became a recipient of the Booking.com Cares grant. Congratulations to Kim Whitaker of Once Youth Hostels for receiving the grant to support a new initiative to equip South African women for careers in hospitality. An interview with Whitaker will be published soon.