In order to be more competitive, many organizations have amped up their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts over the past decade, yet it’s no secret that the hospitality industry is still trying to find its way when it comes to going green. Major corporations now include reports of their sustainability efforts in conjunction with financial reports. As corporations continue to focus on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, many find that consumers are choosing their products over the competition in order to support their CSR efforts. The same concept holds true for consumer’s choice in hotels as many consumers are increasingly basing their accommodation decisions according to the hotel’s environmental sustainability initiatives commonly called “eco-friendly.”

Surprisingly, after recent travel to five hotels in a drought-ridden area over a one-week span, I couldn’t help but notice that only three of the five hotels actually posted obvious signs to participate in their sustainability efforts to conserve water and precious resources. Further, those with posted signage required attention to detail such that if guests didn’t take the time to follow directions on how to participate, their good intentions to conserve resources would have unintentionally fallen short. 
As guests are on vacation, many of them
are most likely paying attention to their
activities and meals outside of the hotel,
not on the “rules” of the hotel’s
sustainability program.

For instance, some detailed instructions on how to decline room service stated, “Leave this card on the bed in the morning” and “Hang this card on the door before 2 a.m.” These processes could have been easily overlooked by busy travelers. This poses the question of why sustainability efforts must be so difficult for the guests? As guests are on vacation, many of them are most likely paying attention to their activities and meals outside of the hotel, not on the “rules” of the hotel’s sustainability program. While other consumers, who actually choose sustainable hotels and assume these processes happen, are in turn expected to learn a new set of “rules” and behaviors during their stay instead of automatically being opted into the hotels’ program. The bottom line is as hotels take the time and resources to implement eco-friendly initiatives, any lack of participation from guests could rapidly derail their profit, including the time and cost of offering green services in the first place.

Hence, why don’t hotels adopt processes where sustainability efforts are the norm? An internal study at one major hotel chain found that participation in sustainability efforts decreased when guests were asked to participate under a set of rules. Conversely, efforts increased when guests did not have to follow specific procedures in order to participate, rather, guests were all opted into the sustainability program as the hotel routinely serviced rooms according to the hotel’s established eco-friendly practices. Doesn’t this just make sense?

Likewise, sustainability experts recommend that organizations incorporate their efforts into their strategic plan. Therefore, leaders must consider developing all policies, productions and operations to support such efforts, this includes starting with LEED certified buildings, if possible. Establishing clear initiatives that turn waste into profit will allow organizations to remain innovative and competitive while attracting their desired client base. In turn, fostering an eco-friendly culture through these efforts will produce many benefits including customer satisfaction, employee retention, branding power and stakeholder profits to name a few.
Additionally, experts advise leaders to support their CSR initiatives by focusing on their human capital, in other words, the employees who implement all green processes. This can be accomplished through consideration of talent acquisition, employee retention, and proper training to sufficiently implement and maintain green processes. Similarly, recent studies found that employees are increasingly attracted to organizations that focus on CSR and employee retention increases when employees feel that they are contributing to the bigger picture, especially when participating in social and environmental initiatives. Therefore, if organizations emphasize CSR from the recruitment phase, they could encourage participation and incorporate eco-friendly behaviors in employee’s reviews. This will ensure continuation of employees’ participation and support of ongoing initiatives while saving costs for the hotel.

In terms of developing the contents of their environmental sustainability program, leaders must research their demographics and fully understand what customers expect from them. For instance, if customers expect to be staying in an environmentally friendly atmosphere, then they should be opted into all processes upon check in to close the loop and allow the system to fully function. Hotels must consider including information for their guests on how they positively impact their community and note that it should be widely publicized.

While researching demographics, leaders must also envision the larger picture with a focus on international travelers. Societal narratives differ globally in terms of what consumers view as valuable, acceptable, and even just necessary. This, in turn, dictates the success rate of environmental sustainability efforts and why initiatives vary so widely around the globe.
Overall, CSR is required to compete in today’s business environment for customers and talent. However, the environmental sustainability program must be smart, efficient, and EASY in which to participate. Once leaders fully understand how CSR efforts and an eco-friendly culture could positively affect their organizations, they should take immediate steps towards converting waste to profit. In addition to reaping numerous benefits of implementing sustainability initiatives, businesses are sure make their competition “green” with envy!