An open letter to my environmentally-friendly hotel

Dear [hotel franchise]

Hello. I recently stayed in your establishment for a business trip. While my stay was perfectly enjoyable, I have several questions about how [hotel franchise] is run, particularly regarding your environmentally-friendly policies and practices.

I know that you at [hotel franchise] care deeply about the environment and protecting our planet’s diminishing resources. I know this because you stated it, repeatedly, via notices in my hotel room. You volunteered the information, in writing, so that makes it official. No judge would argue otherwise, I’m sure.

The thing is though, your passionate concern for the environment was, bizarrely, only ever mentioned in the context of towel use. I was told, quite firmly, that if I wished to re-use a towel I should hang it back up, while if I wanted a clean replacement towel I should leave it on the bathroom floor. By re-using towels rather than unnecessarily washing them, apparently I was helping save the planet. I had no idea it was that easy if I’m honest. Makes me think that Captain Planet was something of a diva, given the extreme lengths he used to to go to.

You’re not the first to point this out, I freely admit that. Practically every other hotel makes the same point, and has done for a while. It’s just, your approach was more “overzealous” than most, given that planet-damaging consequences of excessive towel washing was mentioned on both sides of the bathroom door, next to the spare towels in the cupboard, next to the shower, and in the standard information directory on the night stand. For all I know, dedicated staff also snuck into my room at night and whispered it into my ear while I was asleep.

I sincerely hope that last thing isn’t the case, by the way. As well as the massive invasion of privacy, the evidence that sleep-learning (a.k.a. Hypnopedia) actually works is insufficient, at best. And getting a decent night’s sleep in a hotel room is difficult enough, thanks to how the brain works. And that’s without there being a huge gang of drunken twentysomethings standing on the balcony opposite my room playing the ‘Let’s yell something incoherently but loudly every 23 seconds for no fu**ing reason whatsoever’ game. I can’t see how that last thing is your fault though, so please ignore that for now

Basically, I’m not saying that avoiding washing towels isn’t good for the environment, because evidence shows that it is. It’s just that your eco-enthused brow-beating seemed a bit excessive. I felt like wanting a towel laundered after anything less than mopping up after a ritualistic human sacrifice was tantamount to covering it in asbestos and throwing it on a tyre fire or driving to the nearest aquarium and force-feeding it to a dolphin.

This aside, your concern for the environmental consequences of your industry is admirable. But presumably they apply to all aspects of your business, not just towels? Assuming you really are concerned with the environment across the board and aren’t just using it as a cynical and hypocritical way to reduce laundry bills, could you please answer the following queries.

  • How much water am I, the guest, supposed to use? You go to great lengths to emphasise how excessive use of water and cleaning products is environmentally damaging, but it’s not just towels that need cleaning. My room came with a variety of soaps and cleaning products for my own personal use and full access to bath and shower facilities, yet it was unclear how much of these things I could use before causing severe climate damage. I, a standard sized adult human male, am somewhat bigger than a towel, and despite a greater-than-average coverage of body hair, I am structured very differently, so I couldn’t figure it out from the available information.

To be on the safe side I ended up having a stand-up wash with a coffee cup of cold water and the flannel provided (which I of course reused, despite my reluctance). Unfortunately it’s been very hot lately and the others at the work meetings I attended did not appreciate my minimalist efforts at hygiene. If you could provide some guidance in future as to acceptable self-washing practices, that would be helpful

  • Where do you get your meat? Breakfast was included as part of my stay and it was the standard buffet setup. Trays of sausages and bacon were both clearly visible, and it was reasonably busy while I was there, so both were replenished at least once. Assuming the rate of consumption remains the same over the three-and-a-half-hour period that breakfast is served, by my estimates you’re getting through at least a decent sized pig every day there. And that’s not even factoring all the dairy products like the butter, yoghurt and milk available, and being visibly consumed in great quantities.

I ask this because meat and dairy farming has a hugely negative impact on the environment. People with your eco-friendly enthusiasm will know this already and will have taken steps to avoid using such products. However, given how authentic everything at the breakfast buffet looked, smelled and tasted, you’ve clearly made incredible breakthroughs in perfecting synthetic vegan substitutes for these common foodstuffs, something countless people are working on. Would you be willing to share your procedures or suppliers with the wider world? There’s a huge market for this, and the environmental benefits would be way beyond that gleaned from reduced towel washing.

  • Related; where do you get your solar panels? You insist that excess towel washing uses too much energy and thus harms the planet, but during my stay the use of lighting in your hotel seemed rather extravagant. The reception area was very bright, there were over a dozen separate bulbs in my single-occupant room, the bar area had all manner of flashing decorations blazing for the enjoyment of the seven customers, and there was the huge illuminated sign at the front of the building.

Given your attitudes to energy wastage, I’m assuming all these lights were run from solar panels? But given the amount of energy being used and the general OK-but-could-be-better energy efficiency of most modern solar panels, you must be using a vastly superior model to those accessible to most people. This is particularly true because it was night time when I arrived, suggesting your solar panels work in the dark, which is all kinds of impressive/worrying. So, if you could share the specs with the wider world, the environmental benefits could be astronomical.

Of course, I could be wrong about your use of solar panels. It could be that you have a miniature nuclear reactor in the basement/on the roof to power the building. I feel like this is the sort of thing you should tell guests about though. You’re conscientious enough to tell people there may be nuts in the items on the room service menu, so surely you wouldn’t forget to tell people they’re sleeping within metres of a contained atomic explosion? Just a thought.

I hope you will respond with all the information requested above. Your gung-ho eco-enthusiasm, combined with your revolutionary approaches to the service industry, could be instrumental in saving the planet, if you were just willing to be a little more open.
Unless you’re just using environmental concerns as a front to cut down on laundry bills. But I’d never accuse you of that sort of hypocrisy. That would be awful.

Dean Burnett has stayed in many hotels because he’s been touring to promote his new book, The Happy Brain. Help reduce his carbon footprint and by it now. Available in the UK, US and Canada.

Writing, but with sound and vision

To attempt to go more ‘multimedia’, which is a word that I’ve definitely heard and understood, I’ve endeavoured to make some promotional videos for The Happy Brain.

They contain the usual mix of neuroscience, humour and bumbling amateurism that seems to be my signature brand these days.

They can be found here, more will be added as they’re released


The difficult second book

[What follows is an atypically personal rant by Dean Burnett, on the experiences of writing a second book, in case it’s of any use to other aspiring authors or similar writers who may find themselves in similar situations]

I just finished my second book. I mean *really* finished it. Aside from fixing the typos and proofing and formatting, it’s all done and dusted. My part in the process is ‘over’, until it’s released in 7 months and I need to start plugging it, and presumably the whole cycle, of press, interviews, talks at literary festivals, starts up again. Although, in truth, it never actually stopped, just got less intense after the first few months after publication of the debut book.

I had been tentatively warned by others who’d gone through the process that writing your second book is not the same as writing your first. I didn’t doubt this, but also didn’t really appreciate the extent of that observation. I’m sure it’s different for everyone as we all have different circumstances to deal with, but for me, the second time around was so incredibly different to the first time writing a book, and this really took me by surprise.

Part of that is due to the fact that, as a book, it’s a different beast altogether from the first one; there’s a narrative, interviews, personal reflections and other pompous-sounding stuff. My publishers, as keen as they were for a follow up for book one, weren’t willing to let me rest n my laurels and knock out the same old stuff as before, and me, being cheerfully optimistic and still relatively oblivious about how this whole ‘author’ thing works, was quite happy to agree with what they suggested. Should have put more thought into that really, as in the end I was essentially figuring out how to write a book all over again, as I was writing one. This was a bit tricky.

My situation was also different. I also didn’t have my study room in the house any more. What I DID have, was a second child, who slept in there now. Well, I say ‘slept’, that was the theory at least. My very young daughter often sees sleep as more of an ‘optimistic suggestion’ than a biological necessity. So that was something else to factor in.

I also had a ‘previous’ book. I wasn’t ‘unknown author’ any more, I was now ‘author of…’, which was a bigger psychological hurdle than I realised. The success of my first book was actually a surprisingly big problem in many ways. Firstly, as alluded to before, it hasn’t actually gone away at any point, so as I’m trying to write the second one I’m still constantly travelling around to talk about the first one. This does disrupt your ‘flow’ somewhat.

But, at a more fundamental level, the problem was I actually splurged all my existing knowledge and said all the things I wanted to talk about when the first book, because I genuinely didn’t think there’d be any call for a second one. I’m still fairly new to publishing but I know that, like with all creative industries, the road to success is littered with the debris of those who crashed and burned, and I figured I’d a much higher chance of being one of those. Sure, I had a popular blog and a relatively unique approach in a rather crowded field, but I mostly saw those as things to fall back on. Overall, I assumed my first book it would do ‘middling’ business at best, maybe end up in a few relevant libraries, and that would be that. Thanks for trying, no harm no foul, see you around.

That… didn’t happen, as we know. The first book did well, to a daft extent. So I ended up writing a second book, that I’d never planned, to match a first book, that I had no idea would do as well as it did.

For the record, this absolutely isn’t a complaint; I’m aware of how massively fortunate I am to even be in this position, let alone make it work, and that many would kill to be in my shoes. I appreciate that, I really do, and will do my best to warrant the privileged position I find myself in. Those who have invested in me deserve no less, whether it by getting my writing out into the world or spending their own time and money in reading it.

But, it’s also important to point out, I think, that this isn’t an always-easy gig, however cushy it may seem from the outside. I’ve had countless people approach me since, asking if I can help get their book published like mine. I’m always happy to help out others as and when I can, but I’m not some omnipotent book-based God. Me putting a word in for you might help slightly, but it won’t mean you get published.

I stress this because I’ve had people seemingly think that an endorsement from me is all they need. People saying things like “I reckon I’d be good at writing a book, can I speak to your publishers” or “I’ve got a good idea for a book. I can’t really describe it but it’s great, can you pass it on to your publishers?” Where do they think this will end up? Me telling my publishers that a total stranger (to them, and sometimes to me) reckons they’d be good at doing books, so give them an advance? Seems a tad optimistic, I reckon.

Point is, yes it’s great being a published author, but getting the second book done nearly broke my mind several times, as my wife will no doubt attest to. I’ve actually just started reading my second book now, as it’s all one piece, and it’s like something written by someone else. It was just such a slog and a stress getting it done that I honestly don’t recognise parts of it. I can never hope to objective, but I’m actually impressed that it even hangs together in a logical way.

Basically, what I’m saying is, I can’t rule out the possibility that my second book is utter shite. But, there’s a reason for that if it is. So, apologies in advance to all those inconvenienced by the ever-increasing promotion I’m going to be doing over the coming months. Block/unfollow/ignore me as you wish, I’ll understand totally.

The Happy Brain – 03/05/2018

“Might be shit” (Dean Burnett, author)

The Happy Brain book cover