Best Practices That Create Small Wins in Sustainability

By Susan Tinnish Business Strategist, Independent Consultant | May 21, 2017

Hotel companies prompted by rising energy costs, government pressure, consumer expectations and the competitive landscape are increasingly incorporating sustainability into developmental and operational strategies and initiatives. Deloitte’s 2010, Hospitality 2015 Game Changers paper concludes that hotels must develop an environmentally responsible brand and embed a 360-degree view of sustainability within the business model (Deloitte LLP, 2010). As a result, hotel brands/management companies have actively engaged in large-scale efforts including rationalizing the use of raw materials, including water and energy; reducing the volume of wastes and improving waste management; adopting a more ecological purchasing policy and improving logistics; and improving the quality of the hotel’s internal environment. This has translated into current initiatives within the industry of:

  • Developing green hotel buildings (LEED certification)
  • Offering linen and towel reuse programs
  • Offering green meetings services and options
  • Recycling and composting
  • Reducing water consumption
  • Utilizing ozone laundry (a process that uses electricity and oxygen in a unique way to replace many of the chemicals normally used in a traditional washing process)
  • Furnishing rooms with VOC furniture and fixtures
  • Donating to local charities (Ng, Quan & Moon, n.d).

However across the industry, many lodging companies have not yet deeply integrated sustainability into their decision-making process and core business strategy. This leaves a large number of additional options to consider relating to sustainability from development to operational considerations:

  • Green brands (e.g., Element hotels) or affiliations (Green Hotels Association)
  • Sustainable, structural, architectural and interior design
  • Purchasing
  • Green materials in furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E)
  • Alternative energy/technology
  • Integrating hotel development with the natural environment
  • Sustainable certification
  • Sustainability recognitions and awards
  • Marketing initiatives
  • Educating guests and employees
  • Transportation alternatives
  • Social responsibility programs
  • Philanthropic initiatives

Many significant large-scale eco-initiatives s are most easily “built” into the infrastructure and design of the building and surrounding areas. The economic benefits of these efforts often drive decisions around ¬energy efficiency, water conservation, waste diversion, land use and environmental protection programs. Even options listed above like green supply chain management through purchasing policies or purchasing green furnishings represent major shifts in policy on the brand level. Given that the adaptation of these large-scale changes into the existing asset base is expensive and disruptive, hotels must find different ways to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly practices.

One way to do so is to shift the focus from large-scale change to “small wins.” Typically managers are often looking for the “big win” to demonstrate their management prowess. After all, it’s the big wins that demonstrate significant progress and action. Big wins represent big results. However, using small wins may present a better option for your hotel.

Karl Weick is most associated with the idea of small wins basing his concept on Tom Peters's (1977) original description of small wins (Weick, 1984, p. 41). Weick defines a small win as “a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance” (Weick, 1984, p. 43). The idea and value of small wins has gained increasing application and popularity by people like Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer who coined the phrase “the progress principle” or Charles Duhiggi in his book, The Power of Habits.

The concept of small wins is particularly appropriate to sustainability as Weick points out, "The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded...People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them." In order to solve social problems, he suggests recasting them into “smaller, less arousing problems” where people can “identify a series of controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results.” (Weick, 1984, p. 40). Ultimately these small wins should be part of a "series of concrete, complete outcomes of moderate importance [that] build a pattern that attracts allies and deters opponents." Weick’s analysis of social problems includes hunger, traffic congestion, and pollution.

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