Mr. Slye

Eco-Friendly Practices

Five 'Recession-friendly' Ingredients to Maximize Effectiveness of Your Green Program

By Jeff Slye, Senior Consultant, Five Winds International

It seems that every hotel these days is claiming they have an environmental commitment and official eco-program. It makes sense considering some of the core benefits of going green include; attracting customers that share green values, achieving bottom line cost savings that come from conservation and more efficient products, plus attracting, retaining, and inspiring employees. The most compelling benefit is that the top line benefits become more real and significant each year for hotels. TripAdvisor's April 16th survey illustrates this point stating, "27% (of hotel guests) are willing to spend $50 or more to be environmentally-friendly when traveling."

While all this green hotel activity is good news, I've also seen many hotel operations not aligning with their eco-intentions causing disappointment among guests. From the same survey, TripAdvisor states, "17% of travelers reported staying at a hotel that didn't live up to its eco-friendly promises." I've helped hundreds of hotels and restaurants authenticate their eco-program and on a recent audit trip, I witnessed several hotels with self-proclaimed green programs still taking towels and washing them when not requested (yes, I mark the tags) and leaving all the lights and TVs on prior to check-in, and I checked in at 10 pm. It's my belief that these inconsistencies are not necessarily from a lack of desire to do the right thing, rather they likely come from a lack of a concerted effort and understanding on how to ensure their programs and commitments are effectively implemented and managed.

By now, the term, green-washing, may have entered your consciousness. It's important for me to clarify my definition of green-washing as compared to the failed efforts despite green proclamations. True green-washing occurs when a company is consciously fraudulent or intentionally deceives guests regarding the communication and execution of their green efforts and/or environmental commitment. I don't see green-washing when a hotel or company has made a commitment toward reducing their environmental efforts and are behind or struggling on those efforts. In my experience consulting with hotel companies, the latter comes from lack of expertise, guidance, and support, which I hope to help address with the following five steps for maximizing a hotel's green program.

1. Review and Reaffirm Executive Support

Although grass roots green teams are critical to any program's success, without support from the top, the initiative and effort can only go so far. If senior management is talking about the hotel's green efforts, it is only natural that employees will want to stay educated, involved, and engaged in the program. If the program is an executive priority, they'll want to ensure the program is a success. Great examples of green hospitality leadership are blogs on Marriott's environmental efforts written by Bill Marriott, Marriott's CEO. Click here for his Earth Hour blog (link). Although Marriott is not perfect and there are some of Marriott hotels that are still behind, this type of executive commitment has made their eco-efforts more visible and propelled the company into a leadership position, particularly among the larger chains. Marriott employees are clear they have a job to do in making the program as effective as possible.

2. Green Team Engagement

Establishing green teams is critically important for environmental programs. However, in my experience working with hotels, I often find that these crucial teams are often forgotten or overlooked as an outside committee when in fact; these teams need to be integrated fully into the hotel's operations.

For example, the green team often reviews and brainstorms about ways to reduce energy consumption, increase recycling efforts, reuse supplies such as paper, and conserve water. Aren't these all core operational functions of a hotel? If done right, these actions will lead to more efficient operations and lower costs. Therefore, green teams should be given regularly scheduled time on management team agendas and encouraged to present findings as well as discuss new ideas and opportunities. If viewed outside of the core components of the hotel's operation, the program will never really achieve its potential. Make them an integral part of your operations team.

Additionally, keeping green teams inspired and engaged is just as important as any other hotel team. Beyond rewarding their accomplishments, provide them with resources and opportunities to extend their knowledge base and expertise by attending green conferences, going on field trips (organic gardens, recycling centers, green buildings, etc.), participating in web-casts, engaging guest speakers, and so on.

3. Audit Your Program at Least Two Times a Year

Although audit can be a dreaded word for some, a thorough evaluation at least twice a year is what needs to be done to ensure the integrity of a hotel's green program. Some hotels like to use terms like walk-through, site-visit, or other euphemism, but in reality, it is an audit. These appraisals are important in maximizing the effectiveness of a program because people and products change. What was perfectly implemented last year could be broken, outdated, or cost-prohibitive the next.

As an example, last year I visited a client that had a robust green program. They possessed a committed green team, a thorough list of products/practices, and in general were proud of what they'd put together. The first stop on our visit was their cardboard recycling dumpster. The dumpster was huge and something they were very pleased with. We decided to climb up and poke our head in to take a look at all the cardboard inside. However, much to everyone's surprise the only thing cardboard to be seen was a hot sleeve from a Starbucks cup. Instead we found tennis court nets, Christmas tree lights, and other non-cardboard items. This is a great illustration of a green program gone off-track, not from lack of desire or commitment, but a communication oversight after a change in staff. A thorough audit would have uncovered this mistake immediately. After getting this right, the hotel saved over $8,000 in waste hauling costs.

4. Share What You are Doing Publicly - Just Be Careful With Your Message

Going public is another powerful action to increase the effectiveness of your program. By putting out a press release, posting your program on your web page, or discussing it at conferences you are elevating the visibility and seriousness of your commitment. This also increases your accountability for the program, which is a key piece to motivating your hotel and hotel team to ensure the program is successful. An external message invites all stakeholders to learn about what you are doing, participate in supporting these efforts, and scrutinizing its results. Ultimately, it also tells employees that the program is important to the company. Therefore, additional attention should be paid to do what you say you are doing.

The primary caveat before going public with the program is to spend extra time and care in the messaging of the program to ensure it's not only authentic, but reflects the hotel's position in the market. Flat statements like, "We are a green hotel," or boasting outdated eco-efforts are sure ways to get negative stakeholder feedback. Christopher Elliott's comments from his msnbc.com piece on January 5 are good examples of the feedback you don't want: "Among the improvements (at the DoubleTree Palm Beach Gardens): in the past year, all guestroom and corridor lighting was replaced with compact fluorescent lights for energy efficiency. The hotel has also implemented an extensive recycling program according to Doubletree. That begs the question: What did they do before then? Do you mean to tell me that you were consuming energy like there was no tomorrow as late as 2007?"

5. Undertake Third Party Certification

Lastly, a third party certification can be one of the most powerful ways to increase the effectiveness of your green program. Some cities and states have free or very lost cost green business and green lodging programs easily found via the internet or by simply making a few phone calls. There are also more sophisticated and comprehensive options through organizations like Green Seal and the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Regardless of the certification, going through the process of third party recognition engages everyone at the hotel and heightens the visibility and importance of the program. Also, guests respond very well to third party verification. According to Trip Advisor's Green Travel Survey. - 33% of travelers would pay more for a hotel with an environmental certification (link)

Whether your hotel has a long history of green efforts or just starting off, ensuring the program is effective is just as important as having one at all. It is imperative for all stakeholders that your programs ultimately translate into revenue opportunities, cost savings, and greater employee satisfaction. There are few hotel initiatives with such broad and significant impact and deliver real business value. It's the right thing to do, so do it right.

Jeff Slye is a Senior Consultant with Five Winds International and has fifteen years of consulting and software solutions expertise and has led and created sustainability initiatives for organizations across the United States and Canada. Mr. Slye is a specialist within the hospitality industry and has worked with over 100 hotels and restaurants, including Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants and Destination Hotels and Resorts and is currently a member of the American Hotel and Lodging Association's Sustainability Task Force. Mr. Slye was formerly CEO of Business Evolution Consulting, a sustainability consulting firm. Mr. Slye can be contacted at 415-871-1932 or j.slye@fivewinds.com Extended Bio...

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