When You Green It - Mean It: 5 Essentials for an Authentic Environmental Program
By Jeff Slye Senior Consultant, Five Winds International | August 10, 2010
All across the country, hotels and their parent brands are talking about implementing or enhancing their environmental programs with more enthusiasm and passion than ever before. Not only has there been a tremendous influx of high-quality eco-products into the marketplace, but guests are becoming more sophisticated in their demands for a planet-friendly hotel. Eco, once considered to be an esoteric fringe lifestyle, has become part of the cultural mainstream and recent media reflects that trend. Compelling and extensive recent coverage in outlets such as Time, Vanity Fair, Elle, and Cameron Diaz's MTV show Trippin', have not only educated consumers on the urgency of doing our part, but has made it cool and sexy to care for the Earth.
So, what does it mean for hotels when consumers become more eco-savvy and have started to integrate planet-friendly practices into their own lives and homes? It means you had better "go green" or turn "green with envy" over your competitor's gain of market share you lost by not implementing an eco-program or enhancing your current one. Its 2006 and you can't try to pass off your 'towel and linen reuse' program from the 80's as your environmental initiative anymore - unless you want to be scoffed at.
Of course, the big question is "Can you actually execute a sincere environmental program without compromising your guest experience?" The answer is a resounding 'Yes!' With increased consumer awareness comes increased consumer demand. Step aside sand-paper toilet paper and grainy natural soap, a new legion of products have entered the marketplace that are high-quality, high-performing, and even quite hip.
Many hoteliers, from boutiques to international chains, have become pioneers of the hospitality industry by creating successful environmental programs that fully align with their brand. Their programs also produce trackable and compelling results, not only on their lessened environmental impact, but increased market share due to consumer demand for environmentally friendly products and services. A few shining examples include Fairmont Hotel's "Green Partnership Program," Marriott's "Environmentally Conscious Hospitality Operations (ECHO) program," Kimpton Hotels' "EarthCare Program," and Shangri-La's "Preserving Nature Program," which is one of the only ISO 14001 environmental certifications by the International Environmental Management System. There are also hundreds of examples of independent hotels, small chains, or meeting facilities that have successfully infused eco-practices such as Stanford Terrace Inn (CA), Lake Powell Resort (AZ), Strawberry Patch B&B (PA), and the Emory Conference Center Hotel (GA).
The theme of all of these programs is that each hotel or hotel group has created a program that benefits the environment and yet doesn't compromise their brand.
For your program to succeed, your eco-practices must fall within the context of your guest experience. My wife and I stayed in a 100% sustainable eco-lodge in Ecuador, the Black Sheep Inn, rated one of the top eco-lodges in the world by Outside magazine. While it was fascinating that one of the funky and colorful walls was made entirely of glass bottles and earth, we recognized that a feature like that would be a bit odd at the San Francisco Marriot. As a hotel executive, you need to determine what is feasible, cost-effective, and will work within the context of your brand.