Business Case for Sustainability
By Arthur Weissman, President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc.
Last year we wrote an article explaining the need for developing a business case for sustainability in the lodging industry and what it should entail. (see http://www.hotelexecutive.com/bus_rev/pub/002/126.asp ) This article will update the earlier one by providing a framework for considering sustainability in the lodging industry, giving recent information relevant to a business case from the Doubletree in Portland, Oregon, and highlighting other examples of efforts being made to address sustainability in the industry.
Need for Industry Consideration of Sustainability
Today, with increasing public interest and awareness of the detrimental impacts human activity can have on the environment and society, consumers are more skeptical and critical of "green" claims being made about goods and services. The question facing them when they make purchasing decisions today is more graduated, and examines to what extent the production and use of a good or service is detrimental to the environment and society. Specifically within the hospitality industry, this question can now be phased as, How does the hospitality service promote sustainable development of its local community and other communities that it interacts with? Propson (1) agrees that," A sustainable hotel should have as small a footprint as possible; it should sit lightly on the land." but that "Eco-lodges do this in part simply because they are physically quite small. It's a different story at larger hotels and resorts." The next question is whether both large and small properties can agree on a common standard to measure sustainability in the hospitality industry. In the following section, we first look at the sustainability program of Doubletree of Portland, Oregon and those of a few other service providers that show successful integration of broad sustainability efforts in their businesses.
Sustainable Hospitality Service Program Models
In the U.S, a specific example of the benefits gained by integrating a comprehensive social and environmental accountability plan within hospitality is the Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center.(http://www.doubletreeportlandgreen.com)
This full service hotel and meeting facility in Portland has developed a sustainability program which is both remedial and pro-active in addressing the environmental, social and economic impacts of its business activities. By voluntarily undertaking Green Seal certification (under GS-33), and implementing a fully-customized Carbon Calculator with The Climate Trust via their website, the facility has made a conscious effort to reduce the hotel's impact on natural systems. These actions reflect how the company's comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) philosophy is incorporated into its organizational ethos, identity, and behavior. In so doing, the Doubletree Portland has earned approximately $2 million in additional revenue from new businesses seeking green hotels for rooms and meetings.
In day-to-day activity, the Doubletree Portland's sustainability program focuses on conserving natural resources and reducing waste in the following ways:
- A recycling program for the common areas and administrative areas of the hotel for use by both guests and staff where plastic bottles, glass, returnable bottles, paper and cans are collected.
- In 2006 office paper consumption was reduced by 20% compared to 2004, with all printing paper and envelopes having a high post-consumer recycled fiber content.
- Programs for local food donation and composting for food and yard waste, with 65% of food waste now being diverted from landfill and about 250 tons of waste kept out of the landfill in 2006 alone.
- Rooms that use refillable amenity dispensers rather than individual containers for shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, etc. No disposable cups are used in rooms or in cleaning supply areas. Paper products such as tissue, napkins and paper towels are also made from recycled fibers, with post-consumer content.
- The use of non-phosphate, nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products and non- chlorinated, concentrated cleaning products dispensed through portion-control equipment, and reusable pump sprays instead of aerosol cans.
- Energy-efficient lighting and HVAC equipment. They have invested $256,000 since 1996 in initiatives that have reduced energy, netted $360,000 in savings and reduced consumption at the hotel by 32%. In addition to boosting local business (the Doubletree invests approximately $3.5 million a year in local farms and food providers); the facility has also had a huge industry effect through its dealings with its vendors.
Examples of how Doubletree is implementing more environmentally sustainable business relationship practices are as follows:
- dairy products are delivered in reusable plastic crates; SYSCO picks up its unusable cardboard totes for recycling;
- partnership with Dry Cleaning Station, a company invested in the natural Green Earth method of garment cleaning;
- locally sourced coffee from Portland Roasting; using pest control vendor Steritech, a leader in integrated pest management practices; and a monthly average contribution of 14 tons of pre- and post- consumer organic matter, which is made into compost and sold locally by Cedar Grove Composting.
Other hotel efforts being made to adopt a sustainability philosophy include: ECHO, Marriott's Environmentally Conscious Hospitality Program, which collects comprehensive data regarding individual facility efforts to reduce waste, water, energy and includes a component of their company blog; Marriott on the move: Environment;(http://www.blogs.marriott.com/environment ) Kimpton's Earthcare program; (http://www.kimptonhotels.com/cares_earthcare.aspx ) and the Green Imperative of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts. (http://www.banyantree.com/greenimperative/index.htm )
A broader attempt at quantifying the success and types of sustainable business practices being adopted by primarily rural lodging, event, and convention and visitor bureaus can be seen in results of the University of Minnesota Study of 437 businesses in the State of Sustainable Tourism in Minnesota 2007 report(2) : http://www.tourism.umn.edu/research/sustainabletourism/index.html
- When asked what "service impacts" affected consumer purchasing preference, the following all received a score of 70% or higher: No damage to the Environment 94.2%, Supports local business ( 90.0%), Destination preserves resources ( 87.4%), Authenticity (85.4%), learn about destination ( 82.2%), and employs locals (77.7%).
- When asked about the benefits in adopting sustainable tourism practices, businesses responded accordingly: attracted new clients (84.7%), improved customer perceptions (84.7%), improved organizational image (84.5%), improved customer prospects (79.7%), increased environmental protection (70.0%), and economic savings (63.4%).
- Challenges faced by proprietors in adoption of sustainable tourism practices: initial financial costs (79.9%), time and energy (78.2%), lack of information and support (66.7%), external operational restrictions (61.5%), lack of consumer interest (44.8%), lack of organizational interest (39.8%), customer opposition (21.1%), staff opposition (21.1%).
- In this study, the top three sustainability practices adopted by service providers were broken down into the following subgroups:
- Energy efficiency: use daylight (~72%), compact fluorescent bulbs (~42%), use Energy Star appliances (~35%)
- Waste minimization: safe chemical storage (~85%), recycling program (~74%), donation of older materials (~74%),
- Environmentally conscious purchasing: employ local suppliers (~88%), practice social responsibility (~88%), pay fair wages ~(85%)
- Air quality: well ventilated areas (~74%), do not leave vehicles idle (74%), encourage public transportation (~65%)
- Water conservation: dispose of chemicals properly (~92%), waterless cleaning of large areas (~75%), use a water plan (~42%)
- Landscaping and wildlife practices: minimize water evaporation (~88%), design reflects surrounding (~82%), watch wildlife from a distance (~81%)
Beyond Private Sector Claims
While the examples listed above are impressive, many firms are realizing that proprietary and self-proclaimed statements of environmental and social sustainability activities are no longer enough when faced with the increasingly educated and skeptical consumer market and community planning environment. This is where third-party certification based on consensus standard development becomes a helpful marketing tool for hospitality service providers. The International Organization for Standardization, American National Standards Institute, and World Trade Organization agree that service or product standards developed via transparent decision-making processes, voluntarily undertaken by the private sector, are the most viable, robust, and comprehensive evaluation tool for any product or service. Facility and business operations audits by third parties can provide property owners and managers a measure of protection against claims of conflicts-of-interest when critiqued by conscientious consumers and industry competitors.
Du (3) also points out that, "The comparison between Mobil/AAA rating system and the other [lodging] certification systems shows that when rating a hotel, the service standards are typically separated from the environmental standards, which may cause the hotels either to place emphasis on service or on environmental conservation, but not on both together.... they do not necessarily need to provide good service and at the same time ensure they contribute to environmental protection. Thus, to combine both standards into one rating will motivate hotels, which already have good service quality to pay attention to their environmental responsibility. The rationale behind this conclusion is that a single luxury hotel will not wish to comply with environmental preservation by itself when facing the competition of other hotels."
Interest in sustainability on the part of the major industry association:
- Tthe American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), has been fairly consistent over the years, with its Engineering and Environment Committee actively exploring the area and recently launching a new section of their website dedicated to Environmental Best Practices. http://www.ahla.com/Environmentally_Friendly_Practices.asp
- Another example of third party certification that is influencing the hospitality market can be seen in the development of MeetGreen https://www.meetgreen.com/ managed by Meeting Strategies Worldwide to ensure that meeting travel, catering, and facilities are planned and delivered in an environmentally conscious manner. "In a recent SITE (Society of Incentive & Travel Executives) survey, 37.9 % of respondents indicated that requests for green meetings were increasing". (4)
As the concept of sustainability grows in acceptance in the lodging industry, the business benefits of embracing sustainable practices throughout the property will become more and more apparent. This article has shown through a focus on one "poster" property the extent to which a commitment to sustainability can benefit a property's bottom line. As executives and managers realize the comprehensive benefits of becoming more sustainable, we will see more innovative steps by lodging management professionals to integrate ecological and social responsibility in their properties and to articulate their commitment to the public.
Preliminary research for this article was done by Rani A. Bhattacharyya, Executive Assistant to the CEO, Green Seal, Inc. She holds an M.S. in Recreation Parks and Tourism Management from Western Illinois University and has assisted rural communities in the United States and internationally with tourism development projects.
(1) Propson, D. (2006). The Ultimate Green Hotel .Travel + Leisure Magazine. Iss. Aug 2006. Website: http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/the-ultimate-green-hotel-august-2006
(2) Tourism Center of the University of Minnesota (2007). PowerPoint Presentation: State of Sustainable Tourism in Minnesota: 2007. Webpage: http://www.tourism.umn.edu/research/sustainabletourism/index.html
(3) Du, J. (2004). Case Study: Luxury Hotels and Green Policies. 15th Global Classroom Virtual Conference: Geographic Indicators, North America, and Tourism Trade Environment Database, Webpage: http://www.american.edu/TED/class/virtual15.htm
(4) Seil, G. (2007). How to "Green" Your Meetings-Eco-Friendly Practices Pay Dividends. Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine. Iss. Mar 2007. Website: http://www.lakepowell.com/media/docs/ncc/CorporateIncentiveTravel_030107.pdf
Arthur B. Weissman, Ph.D., is an environmental professional with over thirty-five years of experience. As President and CEO of Green Seal, he has led the organization both as a force to promote the green economy and as the premier nonprofit certifier of green products and services in the United States. Dr. Weissman joined Green Seal in 1993, Becoming President and CEO in late 1996. Prior to joining Green Seal, he was responsible for developing national policy and guidance for the Superfund program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He also served as a Congressional Science Fellow and worked for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. Mr. Weissman can be contacted at 202-872-6400 or firstname.lastname@example.org Extended Bio...
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