I’m not sure what your showering habits are at home (and I prefer not to know), but I usually hang my towel on a hook to use it again. So, when the major hotel chains started to leave printed cards in their guest rooms a few years ago about reusing towels, I didn’t think it was any big deal.

The cards say that by reusing my towel, I will help to save water and protect the environment. Great idea, although I suspected the towel reuse had more to do with saving the hotel chain’s laundry money than it did with conserving our natural resources.

Still, I followed the instructions and hung my damp towel on the bathroom bar rather than draping it over the tub. The problem was that when I returned to my room after a day of meetings or appointments, fresh towels invariably would greet me in the bathroom.

I started to notice this disconnect well before the current green building craze, and it persists to this day. As recently as late last fall, in drought-ravaged Atlanta, my towels were replaced in my hotel bathroom, which carried an additional card asking me to limit my shower to five minutes.

Clearly, the employees in a position to make the most impact were not executing the good intentions of the corporate office to protect the environment and save water (and money). I’m not certain if this is a training issue, a communications issue or both. It needs to be addressed, however.

And not just with the housekeeping staff. During my stay at the recent AHR Expo in New York, I had a room on the 23rd floor of a hotel in Midtown Manhattan. When I called the front desk to report I had no hot water in my shower, the clerk told me he really couldn’t do anything for me because it wasn’t a hotel-wide problem.

He told me I could do something, though. If I ran the water in the shower for eight minutes, I would get hot water. I actually started to laugh because I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.

“Do you know how much water I’d be wasting?” I asked.

“Sir, I promise you this will work,” he replied.

I turned on the tub faucet full blast, glanced at my watch and in a little over four minutes, I had hot water. Really hot water, but that’s another story. The ritual to get hot water went on for another day before the problem was corrected.

In January, I also attended the first Green Manufacturing Summit sponsored by Bradley Corp. just north of Milwaukee. The turnout of manufacturers, government officials, engineers, contractors and others was double what Bradley had anticipated for this very worthwhile event.

Seminar topics ranged from a very basic Green Building 101 to an in-depth presentation on “green” water usage in manufacturing facilities. The classrooms were packed with members of the building community eager to learn how to use our natural resources more efficiently.

As engineers, you have a tremendous opportunity to design systems and specify products that will help building owners achieve their green goals. In addition, you need to educate them to the fact that they will reach their full objectives only if they account for the human component.