Fresh water scarcity is a global crisis affecting up to 2 billion people. It won't be solved by reusing your towels. Meet two of Europe's most innovative hotels, where the NASA-inspired showers use up to 90% less water and 80% less energy.
Axel Guldsmeden is a boutique hotel in the heart of Copenhagen. It's a favourite of eco-conscious travellers who expect the high standards of comfort and quality to be provided sustainably–from the organic cotton in the sheets to its use of 100% green energy.
Berlin's Bensimon wants to bring the apartment hotel into the 21st century. Everything from booking and check-in to in-room comfort settings is digitalised, adding a modern touch to the boutique hotel experience–while aiming to make sustainability smart and fun.
Both are leading a modern wave to make sustainability more than a marketing afterthought. And both have chosen OAS showers from Orbital Systems to protect natural resources and save money, while offering guests the best shower they've likely ever had.
"Sustainability wasn't a conscious strategy on our part," says Kirsten Aggersborg, PR and Communications Manager for Guldsmeden Hotels. "We've been doing it since the beginning, without really talking about it."
The beginning was 1999, when owners Sandra and Marc Weinert opened their first 15 room hotel in Aarhus, Denmark. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit coupled with an appreciation for long-lived natural materials and healthy living, the couple began opening more hotels based on those values. The 202 room Axel Guldsmeden opened in 2007, and the Guldsmeden Group is up to seven hotels around the world–and growing.
"Our food and beverages services were almost completely organic by the mid-2000's," says Kirsten. "At that time, we didn't make a big thing out of it because we felt most people wouldn't care. Then came the Cop 15 conference in 2009, and all of a sudden ecological and sustainability became THE marketing parameters. We were already light years ahead of most groups at the time, using green energy, recycling, organic cotton for the linens.... We realised we should start telling that story."
"We were already light years ahead of most groups at the time, using green energy, recycling, organic cotton for the linens.... We realised we should start telling that story."
To make sure they were doing sustainability right, Guldsmeden turned to Green Globe, the leading global certification body for the tourism industry.
"We figured there were things we hadn't thought of, or could be doing better," says Kirsten. "We wanted the toughest critics to push us, so we wouldn't be caught out on anything."
Green Globe audits the hotels in the Group every two years. They check every department, every invoice, every inch of the hotel. The most recent inspection at Axel took two full days. "It's hard, but it's worth it," says Kirsten. "It makes us feel safe."
Axel is also where the Group tests out new ideas for making their sustainability programme even more objection-proof–if it works here, they roll it out to the other hotels. In March 2018, OAS showers were installed in eight rooms as part of a pilot test. On average, every OAS shower session has saved 42-65 liters and used 55-57% less energy compared to their conventional showers. And Guldsmeden has decided to install OAS showers in the 200+ rooms of its new Islands Brygge hotel, Copenhagen, opening in 2019.
"On average, every OAS shower session has saved 42-65 litres and used 55-57% less energy compared to their conventional showers."
Simon Pfau, co-owner of Bensimon boutique apartment hotels, doesn't mince words: "The sustainability many hotels claim is ridiculous. Using LED spotlights and putting up signs to reuse your towel, that's not sustainability to me."
Bensimon properties want to modernise the apartment hotel experience, and make booking a room and self-management of the stay as intuitive as booking and taking a flight.
Everything that can be digitalised will be at the new 15 apartment Bensimon property, opening in early 2019. 24 hours before check-in, you receive a door code and add services such as stocking up the fridge, or reserving bicycles. When you arrive, you use the door code to access the apartment yourself--if you need help, you can use the supplied tablet to FaceTime with the managers. Those who prefer the personal touch can contact an onsite concierge.
One of the key opportunities that digitalisation has made possible is on the sustainability front. A display in the apartment shows your "sustainability balance" during your stay. A scale of "smileys" displays how environmentally conscious--or not--you've been: three means your sustainability performance is great, one less so. You can also see your performance compared to other apartments in the complex. And every 24 hours, your good performance might be rewarded with, for example, credit towards a local restaurant or the in-house snack machine.
"We want to help our guests do their part," says Simon. "If we can make saving energy fun, it makes people feel good about sustainability. It doesn't have to be boring."
The apartments are designed around the smart home idea, with as many energy saving functions as possible automated. When you leave, a flick of a switch turns off all of the lights and heat. If it's summer, blinds automatically cover the windows to keep the interior cool.
The focus on energy saving is also based on what Simon sees as an inevitability of the next 10 years–steadily rising energy prices that will make the cost of staying at an apartment hotel prohibitive.
"Digitalisation and modern technologies will make energy saving much easier, so we can make sure our apartments are still high quality experiences at a reasonable price. Digitalisation also means we can maintain a smaller management team, which lowers costs as well."
As for OAS showers, Simon sees them as a natural fit. "The heating of shower water is very expensive. And showering with 5 litres (instead of 50-100) just feels like the modern thing to do." All 18 apartments in the new Bensimon property will be fitted with OAS showers.
Sustainability is a complex, interconnected issue that takes into account everything from ecological performance to community responsibility. That's what makes it a challenge for hotels to live up to in a meaningful way.
And while there has been a lot of progress on the sustainability front, we could all be doing a lot better with fresh water.
The data shows that in many parts of the world, we are using fresh water faster than it can be renewed in nature. And not just in the most predictable places. Many parts of Europe are at risk of water stress and scarcity, including Scandinavia, where this past summer saw farmers having to cull livestock they couldn't feed, and authorities were forced to put restrictions on general water use.
Yet in the face of these challenges, we still use 50 to 100 litres of heated water every time we shower.
No one wants to waste water. It's just the way our legacy plumbing systems are designed: turn on the tap, and seemingly limitless water gushes out momentarily, only to disappear down the drain just as quickly.
That's why hotels like Axel Guldsmeden and Bensimon are turning to OAS showers. With OAS, guests can take one of the best showers they're likely to ever experience--while using up to 90% less water and 80% less energy.
It feels like a shower that is using water and energy like they're limitless.
Only it isn't.
OAS shower technology was developed by Orbital Systems founder Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, based on his work with the NASA Mars missions.
OAS showers recirculate a small amount of water introduced into the system, continually filtering and temperature correcting it for as long as the guest is in the shower. To ensure the longevity of the filters, the system flushes out the water that is too highly contaminated, for instance with soap, and replaces it automatically with small amounts of new fresh water.
With OAS, a 10 minute shower that might typically use 100 litres could use as little as 10. It's a difference that is hard to argue against.
At the same time, the technology ensures the consistent pressure and temperature expected of a premium shower experience.
For hotels like Axel Guldsmeden and Bensimon, OAS showers help strengthen the brand commitment to the highest levels of sustainability. While using significantly less water and energy--saving them money that can be reinvested in other sustainability initiatives. And giving guests a shower experience they can feel good about in more ways than one.
More than anything, OAS showers address one of the most challenging sustainability questions of our time--the mind-boggling way we continue to treat fresh water as if it could never run out.
"If we keep going the way we are, we will not have a world I want my kids to grow up in," says Simon. "We only want to offer apartments where we would stay ourselves. For us, that means a commitment to sustainability that can lift the industry to a whole other level."
At Axel Guldsmeden, an uncompromising focus on sustainability has turned it into a passion for everyone who works there. "It's a gift for us," says Kirsten. "When we discover something like OAS showers, we all get pretty hyper about it."
These are the hotels that are using the latest technologies to address sustainability meaningfully. If we're going to protect our most precious natural resources and way of life, let's hope there will soon be more like them.