Environmental management in the hospitality sector isn't rocket science but doesn't 'just happen' either! It requires hotel managers to actually put it on their agendas and do more than pay lip service to it.
Sounds simple? In many ways it is - and yet, despite a growing body of evidence showing that tourists and travellers want to see an environmental commitment from their accommodation providers it is all too often overlooked.
Here at Ecompter, we suggest hotel managers should consider a 10 point plan to move them from environmental policy new-bees to green go-getters:
1. Make a commitment to tackle resource consumption in your hotel. It's never too late, and never too small. So don't panic if your hotel doesn't have the lowest possible carbon footprint right now or if a hotel down the road from you has a lower one. The great thing about sustainability is that it's an evolving process.
2. Make it an on-going commitment, not an ad hoc project or seasonal marketing whim. It's the only way to build tangible results. The true sign of sustainability is the ability to provide an ongoing and honest dialogue with your guests and wider community - showcasing your continued commitment to cut your carbon footprint. Guests are getting savvier all the time and they'll sniff out a half-hearted effort that's more about social marketing and less about social responsibility – and they won't be impressed unless it's the genuine article.
3. Calculate your current carbon footprint and establish a baseline from which you can improve. Think of it like going on a diet; If you don't get weighed and know all your vital statistics before you start then won't be able see your improvements and you'll soon get demotivated. When you're doing this, remember that a hotel's carbon footprint is not just about energy. It also covers heating, cooling, water, waste, laundry and transportation. So make sure you have a holistic view of all your carbon footprint sources.
4. As the months progress, calculate the impact of your environmental changes and see how they impact on the bottom line – there should be financial as well as environmental gains. Sustainability can also attract new customers and improve occupancy rates. For example, major hotel chain with which we have worked in Europe explained to us that being able to demonstrate their eco-credentials online has led to an increase in corporate bookings.
5. Get your staff involved. They can have a massive impact on sustainability. For example, if cleaners are preparing a room that is going to be empty for a couple of days, and they are aware of your sustainability programme, they will be more likely to think about turning the heating right down. Also, giving concrete numeric goals to staff will provide better motivation than just generally advising them to “pay attention to consumption.”
6. Communicate your changes to guests and get them involved too. Subtle, nicely phrased in-room reminders about whether towels really need to be changed each day, and if a shower could be taken instead of a bath, will remind guests that their hotel does care about the environment and prompt them to make an informed choice about their own resource use during their stay. Present your environmental performance and commitment to sustainability on your website in an easily digestible format. This engages your customers at the time of booking. People are generally more willing to contribute towards environmental responsibility when they know that others – hotel management, hotel staff and other guests – are doing so too.
7. Conduct regular surveys among your guests (may be once a quarter at check-out or as an email survey after their stay).
As the hotelier you know your environmental initiatives and results better than anyone. But it is important to know if you are communicating them clearly to your guests. Try asking them what their impression is of your hotel’s sustainability credentials. You receive important feedback about anything that's unclear or even incorrect. This is important to know as there is a lot of cynicism about businesses that try to pass off short-term marketing stunts (“green-washing”) as genuine long-term sustainability initiatives. You want your eco-drive to enhance your guest relations, not detract from them.
8. Show your stakeholders what you've achieved– senior managers, owners, etc. And get their buy-in to expand your sustainability initiatives. Successful sustainability programmes enable hotels to cut energy, heating and water consumption – some of their main overheads and their biggest carbon footprint contributors. You should start to see results straight away and be able to present very impressive results over a 12 month period. We have seen some hotels cut their carbon footprints by almost 30% in one year. It's also worth noting that corporate customers are more interested than ever in the carbon footprint of their business travel accommodation (as a part of their company's overall responsibility reporting). So it's a big help to them if you can provide your corporate customers with unbiased proactive reporting, without them having to ask for it.
9. Regularly review your sustainability policies and revise as necessary. Every hotel is different so there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Some hotels will have large function spaces and sports facilities which will require specific sustainable electricity usage policies. Others may have rooms that are booked mainly for one night, where laundry costs are much higher. The important thing is to be flexible and dynamic – and to remember that the best sustainability policies are ongoing ones.
10. As your reputation grows register with eco-travel sites, where appropriate, consider entering industry awards such as the businessGreen Leaders Awards and Considerate Hoteliers Awards. You should also consider sharing your experiences by speaking at industry conferences, exhibitions and seminars. Spread the green gospel!!
Remember that the best sustainability policies are ongoing ones, and the best way to showcase your sustainability efforts is to demonstrate openness, ongoing commitment in environmental work and, most importantly, concrete results. Showing an ongoing carbon footprint reduction is the best possible environmental certification you can have!