Research Project

Design Practicum Cape Town
Collaboration: Yale School of Management + Yale School of Architecture

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Promoting sustainable water practices in the hospitality sector

In early 2018 Cape Town was in the midst of a severe water crisis, with depleting water levels a number of restrictions on water consumption were to be implemented. Our goal was to examine, research and develop ways hotels could address the water shortage and participate in the ongoing water conservation efforts, while still preserving the hospitality experience for their guests.


We conducted field research in Cape Town, interviewing both local residents and tourists to get a spectrum of perspectives on the water shortage. We also interviewed hotel management at 5 luxury hotels in Cape Town to better understand how each had approached the crisis. Lastly we interviewed hotel guests to understand their attitude toward the water shortage and whether their water habits had been altered by it.

Through the process of conducting these 58 stakeholder interviews and 5 hotel site visits we honed in on the perspective of the guest. We realized that while hotels had put in a number of measures, the largest impact was from the guests water usage. So we reframed the problem as - “How might we inspire guests’ to save more water while maintaining the luxury experience”.

We now approached the problem from the guests’ perspective. We compiled the research we had from our hotel visits that showed different ways hotels were encouraging guests to save either through signage, nudges or incentives.


Signage around hotels in Cape Town encouraging tourists and guests to conserve water

As we were combing through our research I realized that while there were a number of suggestions given for how to conserve water, as well as subtle and not-so-subtle reminders to conserve, there was no way for guests to actually track their impact. In order to modify a guests water consumption habits it became clear they should understand their current usage and then we could encourage them to conserve.

With this new insight we began brainstorming ways guests could better keep track of their water usage over the course of their stay. Could a smart shower that displayed water consumption work? Could guests track usage through a smart band (like a fitbit) that tracked water usage? Could guests be given summary statistics on their water usage like a water bill?


Quick sketches for potential water tracking methods and displays


Our final proposal was a combination of tracking, reminders and incentives to minimize water consumption. We created a comprehensive program that included-

  • A “fitbit for water”, that turned on-off showers, taps, lights etc. and captured the water usage

  • A front desk installation that anonymously displays water usage levels for each registered guest of the hotel

  • A hotel “green-rewards” traveller program to incentivize water saving during one stay

Through this method of helping guests track their usage, allowing them to see how they compared to others, providing reminders to conserve, and hotel points for low water usage we hoped to educate the guest, help them to better understand their impact and ultimately to promote a more sustainable stay.


Sensors placed throughout the hotel would allow guests to activate various functions and utilities

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Front desk ‘water usage display’ would allow guests to monitor their comparative usage and earn special rewards