Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Holey Soap: When Hotels and Green Marketing Collide

Discovering the unexpected is one of the great joys of traveling. I travel for business and sometimes find it hard to leave my hotel to do exploring. You might think that this limits my opportunities to be surprised, but you'd be wrong.

Just recently, I visited the Atherton Hotel in State College, PA. During the course of my regular routine of checking out the hotel room (see: Hotel Room Rituals), I noticed that there was something different about the toiletries provided in the bathroom. Namely, the soap had a big hole in it.Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the whole toiletry line was called Green Natura, which focused on sustainable packaging and waste reduction. Never being one to resist the opportunity to try something new, I had to try out the line and take some pictures.

The bottles are made from a biodegradable Polystarch Material (corn based). While the bottles did a good job of holding the liquids in, they were quite rigid, making squeezing the product out of them very difficult. The shampoo and conditioner within the bottles were altogether unremarkable.

The soap packaging claims that it has been specially designed to reduce waste by removing the middle part that is present in traditionally shaped soap bars.

I don't know if this is a big problem in hotels, but someone thinks that it is. I always do my best to use just one bar of soap during my stay, but I often find that the cleaning crew throws out my half used soap, forcing me to use another bar of soap. I think that a hotel could reduce its waste more effectively by changing a simple protocol rather than purchasing some fancy soap.

It seems that this "bar" of soap is merely an invention of a marketing department trying to sell a new product. Of course, it's harder to make a profit by trying to convince people to change their behaviors (unless the change is to buy something). It's almost enough to make me want to start carrying around a proper bar of soap with me on my travels.

Performance-wise, I think this was a decent "bar" of soap, but the shape felt harsh. The center edges could have been a bit more rounded. I felt as if I was going to give myself bruises on my first use. This problem was resolved after my first shower with it.

There you have it: soap with a big hole in it. It feels like a marketing ploy to me, what do you think?

UPDATE: I wrote a follow up piece about this soap called A Revisit to Hotel Soap Waste.

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  1. I'd say marketing ploy. I stayed at a hotel in Austin, TX a while back that I'd say was truly concerned about the environment. They gave you an option to have clean towels every day or not. If you wanted new towels all you had to do was leave them on the floor. To reuse them, hang them up. I don't travel a lot but this was the first time I'd seen this.

    That's a good idea about the used soap. They took my used soap every day.

  2. Was the hole in the soup big enough to fit a few fingers through to hold on to and wash that way? Just wondering. Then when it broke in two it would be just like regular soap. I think they were just trying to be different.

    I have stayed at a Westin once and their grand entrances smell wonderful. It is the scent of Westin I found out. They sell it in one month supplies plus the diffuser for home use. It would cost me over $500 a year to have my home smell like that. It smells so good but not worth it! So ya they are all using these tactics and trying to sell to us. Or at least wow us.

  3. Wow, I think the "holy" soap is so cool! It always bothers me how much soap gets wasted when they give you a bar.

  4. James: I think that most hotels have a little sign someplace in the bathroom to let you know about their towel exchange policy. As far as I can tell, in most places:
    Hanging towel- I will reuse.
    Towel on floor- Please replace.

    Robin Sue: The hole is big enough for maybe 3 fingers. It's actually a fairly large sized "bar". I think that if it was broken up, it would be a little hard to handle. I did take the replacement bar home with me (I couldn't resist), I'll have to take some measurements.

    Elizabeth: I think soap bars at hotels have become far to big.

  5. Gimmick. And untrue.

    The missing center makes it have a greater surface area, which makes it dissolve FASTER under the same use conditions, and break into bits SOONER, which makes it even MORE wasteful than a regular bar. A spherical "bar" would be the least wasteful shape, though hard to fit on the soap dish, or to hold on to, for sure.

  6. Tom: Good points, it should break apart sooner since you don't have the internal bit to hold it together. Somehow I seem to have problems with soap marketing departments (shaving soap sheets).

    Personally I like a bar that is a little curved as it feels good in the hand and against the body.

  7. Aha, interesting. This weekend I was in Boston and stayed at the Bulfinch Hotel ( downtown. The exact same soap, Green Natura was in our bathroom. I was impressed with the 'holey' soap and thought in theory, the idea seemed right. However, I was more impressed with their shampoo products. They were nicer than most provided hotel toiletries and it was nice to see something stand out like this. Thanks for sharing, I didn't snap a picture of them so I'm glad someone did. Cheers!

  8. I have to vote on the side of the marketing ploy. Any eco points gained by leaving out the "unused center" of the soap are cancelled out by the overkill of its honking big cardboard box.

    Forgive the irreverence, but I wonder if anyone knows what they did with the "unused center" part that's missing from the bar.

    But seriously, even with the center portion subtracted, is the net weight of the soap bar significantly less than an ordinary hotel soap tablet? One that's wrapped in a bit of paper? Or even presented unwrapped?

  9. GraceBoyle: I have to admit, this article started as purely complementary, but I started to think about the excesses of the situation thus revealing something far more interesting.

    Writingtravel: Good point. This bar weighs in at 50g or 1.65 oz. Does anyone happen to have some hotel soap bars laying around? I used to collect them but it was a wasteful habit.

  10. I found this product at The Resort at the Mountain, east of Portland, near Mount Hood. A high class resort, and - while I normally carry my own toiletries - I tried them out. I was very impressed by the packaging, the soy inks, recycled paperboard, and the "hole" soap. I was even more impressed with the product inside - nice lather, light but natural smell. My only complaint is it would help if the bottles had flexible sides - tapping them on your hand to get it out gets a bit old.

  11. I can't believe that one single person would actually like this soap. My aunt and uncle had a bar of this soap at their house, and I guess the engineer in me took one glance at it and immediately recognized its stupidity. As someone else posted, the soap will erode in multiple directions which will result in MORE soap use, and will result in more unusable pieces rather than just one.

    Also, as someone else posted, the box the soap comes in has to be made larger per ounce of product than a normal bar of soap, wasting more resources. Yes, the box could be made of recycled materials, but those materials could have been put to better use. Also, more energy is wasted in the production of this product to make an odd-shaped box, since additional tooling is needed.

    It absolutely amazes me that some people that commented here actually LIKE this soap. I guess it's along the same lines of why McDonalds is still in business: people actually LIKE CRAP. There's no other way to explain it. This product is PURE CRAP.

  12. you write about travel and you don't carry your own soap?
    we've been doing this for decades. of course Green Natura soap is a marketing ploy and the fact that people can actually feel that they are helping the environment by consuming products like this is a sad indication, not that we need another one, of how clueless Americans are. of course the soap, if used enough, is going to disintegrate into little pieces, just like any other bar. this product is just one more example of greenwashing, like printing "reusable and recyclable" on the paper grocery bags people throw away as soon as they get home, if not sooner. printing trendy terms like soy ink and recycled packaging distract from the fact that not packaging a product at all is much more environmentally friendly. it's also significant that Green Natura products are placed in rooms and sold at gift shops of expensive hotels that are frequented by the most oblivious and bourgeois among us, a group more likely to be impressed by merchandising than to care about what happens to the planet.

  13. We actually used the soap at home and i love it for hand soap. it lasts a long time which i was surprised...i think there is something to do with the fact that due to the hole, it might dry quicker thus keeping it from dissolving into a pile of goo.

  14. Well, it's still sometimes a trend to appreciate for sometime hotel soaps. Assuredly, they are safe and fragrant for that matter. But it shouldn't be a habit to always rely unto such.