I came across a post on LinkedIn today about the first "sustainable key" in North America: it was somehow made from wood to eliminate the need for a plastic key card.
The card looks great, and it's very on-brand for a Fairmont hotel in Vancouver.
But my first reaction upon seeing the photo wasn't "What a great way to do something positive for the environment!"
It was "Wouldn't it have been even better to eliminate the key card entirely?"
After all, many hotels have already moved to a system where a guest's smartphone can unlock their room. And while the cost to convert hundreds of door locks from a key card system to one that can acknowledge an authorized guest's smartphone is certainly a consideration, the benefits of a keyless system are significant.
First, rooms that can be opened with smartphones are much more convenient for the guest, who is almost certainly going to have their smartphone on them and thus doesn't also need to worry about remembering a key card. As someone who's forgotten his hotel keycard on occasion (but never his cell phone), I can say that's a big customer experience improvement.
Second, rooms with "smart keys" have a big operational advantage: the hotel can assign you a digital room key long before you arrive at the hotel, so the need to check in with the front desk at the hotel when you physically get there becomes unnecessary. Fewer guests having to check in not only means less of a wait for guests when they arrive (resulting in a better check-in experience) but can also mean reduced labour expenses for the hotel: win-win!
And third, a smart-key system is much more sustainable than having to continually replace wooden key cards, which I imagine are much less durable than their plastic counterparts.
The wooden key is nice.
But not requiring a key at all would likely have been a much better solution.
If sustainability was the goal, in the best-case scenario, Fairmont wasn't thinking big enough.
In the worst-case scenario, when faced with a choice between "easy" and "better", management decided "easy" was the right way to go.
Easy is rarely the right choice if the alternative is Better.
But the wooden key card certainly looks nice, doesn't it?