Sustainability and the Hospitality Sector: The Case for Pillows

By Jennifer Moon

As hotels continue to expand their sustainability practices, numerous sustainability products have entered the market.  Many have been embraced by the hospitality industry over the years, such as ozone laundry machines, eco-key cards for guestrooms and bath/tissue products made from bagasse (a byproduct of sugarcane).  More are on the way. Successful products will deliver both cost savings and increased sustainability for hotels in the long run.

The Pillow-Vac® machine from Harris Pillow Supply is such a product. It allows hotels to renovate rather than replace pillows, at significant savings in cost and environmental impact.  Already hotels  like the Hilton Concord hotel in San Francisco and the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs have taken to this product.   I wanted to see how the Pillow-Vac® would fair based on factors in New York City union hotels.

Based on my own research into how often pillows get changed out for NY hotels, I was able to calculate a realistic ROI & payback period between small to large scale hotels.  The price of the pillow was set at $23.00, based on competitive vendor rates at wholesale value.  The number of pillows that need to be replaced per year was estimated based on the sample I took from my own workplace at the InterContinental New York Barclay.  Given those assumptions, mid to larger scale hotels would benefit most from investing in a pillow renovation product.  Your payback period could potentially range from 1.5-3 years with an ROI ranging between 33%-66%.

There are always other factors beyond the cost benefit calculation that should be taken into consideration, especially for hospitality operations.

Operational Factors

It is not easy to pinpoint how soon pillow renovations occur in a hotel.  The typical system in place to change out pillows is simply on an as-needed basis.   For instance at my current workplace, the InterContinental New York Barclay, we replaced roughly 108 pillows in 2011.  But, only 72 pillows were feather-based, the rest were foam.  Our estimated costs for purchasing new feather pillows came out to $1220.  With PillowVac® we would have realized a savings of roughly $503 in 2011.  If we were to assume that we change out less than 100 pillows annually, then our payback period would extend as long as 5 years.  Operationally, this would not be ideal for our use.  However, there are other circumstances where the PillowVac® would be most useful and should be considered for purchase by a property of our size and use—room renovations.  Renovations occur every 7 or so years. If hotels are able to budget for this type of investment during the year the renovation is planned, than the savings can be realized much sooner and would reflect closer to the numbers calculated in the original cost-benefit analysis.


This is where New York City hotels differ from many other hotel markets.  If pillow renovations now get incorporated as a standard operating procedure (SOP) then a new system gets established within the duties of the housekeeping department.   Management has to consider the possibility that this could change union labor clauses to an employee’s job description; potentially slowing down the process of being able to renovate pillows.  Some questions to consider—Who will operate this machine?  Will the duties fall onto a union or non-union staff member?  How many people will learn how to operate this machine?    These are the factors to consider that will determine if your investment will be successfully implemented and integrated into your operation.  Considering the externalities will also help you determine if this is the right investment to make.  Every hotel is unique and has very different operating climates.  If you have a team that’s very sensitive to change, then introducing a new technology can be perceived negatively so should be approached with much more caution.  Knowing the heart of your operation can alleviate these potential roadblocks.   Holding conversations with staff and management beforehand is a great method to  prepare, engage and encourage departments for change.  This type of additional planning can ensure a more successful launch of an investment.


The environmental benefits of reducing our waste sent to landfills make for a great case to invest in products like the PillowVac®.  At the same time, we have to make sure that when we invest in new products it will make sense for our operation. Considering carefully how you will implement a new approach like this from start to finish.  For hotels, walking through the logistics of implementation can ensure you achieve the return on investment you expect.

Jennifer Moon is currently pursuing a M.S. of Sustainability Management at Columbia University and holds a B.S. in Hotel Administration from Cornell University.  She is currently the Sustainability Management intern at the InterContinental New York Barclay hotel.


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Filed under hospitality, sustainability

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