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The Value of a Corporate Sustainability Strategy

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Green is the new black. Climate change is now embraced by the likes of Wal-Mart. Even Chevron and GMC are feeling the heat. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the food they eat, their children’s toys, and the cleaning products they use at home. Undeniably, sustainability presents one of the hottest business opportunities today.

However, the challenges are real. Many hotels are still unsure about what it means to be green and where to begin. They’re uncertain that consumers are really willing to pay more for green rooms, meetings or amenities. Some hoteliers believe that green and a polished guest experience are at odds with one another. Ultimately, they’re not convinced that going green means a benefit to the bottom line. Nevertheless, individual guests and corporate clients are increasingly demanding green hospitality services from the marketplace.

In our experience, almost every hotel has at least a few green programs in place—from linen-reuse options for guests to efficient lighting to employee recycling. However, it is rare to encounter hotels with a corporate strategy guiding their green investments, accounting, and communications. This article highlights the key benefits and elements of a corporate sustainability strategy that will maximize your hotel’s return—for the bottom line and for the planet.

Benefits of a Strategy

At its core, a corporate sustainability strategy provides a framework to systematically plan for and evaluate sustainability initiatives within your organization. You can expect the following benefits from a strategy:

Bottom and top line results. A well-crafted sustainability strategy focuses on those initiatives with the greatest cost saving and revenue generating potential. As an example, enhanced daylighting reduces energy costs and can draw more guests and corporate event clients.

Build trust with stakeholders. We know employees and guests are increasingly concerned about the environment and want to be part of the solution. Involve them in your sustainability strategy, and you’ll get more ownership and good suggestions from those who know your operations best. E-surveys and blogs are examples of low cost, interactive tools to help.

Pace yourself. A well thought out strategy prioritizes initiatives deserving immediate attention, those to consider later, and areas that need further investigation or should be dismissed altogether given current company goals, marketplace conditions, and other important considerations. This ensures your hotel’s investment in time and dollars is well spent, and that you’re not taking on too much at once.

Better meet existing corporate goals. Sustainability touches many aspects of your business. Use this opportunity to further motivate your management team and employees to meet existing business objectives and do something good for the environment at the same time. For example, cutting utility use equals a lower carbon footprint and reduced operating costs.

Don’t get caught unarmed. Your hotel may already have programs that deliver environmental benefits such as employee recycling and linen reuse. Without a strategy, however, it’s possible that you are missing those opportunities most significant to your guests, such as in-room energy controls or organic food options. At a minimum, a sustainability strategy would provide you with a sound rationale for those programs your hotel has already adopted and reasons why other programs are not being considered, or planned for a future date.

Steps Toward Sustainability

Developing a Strategy. There are four key steps in developing successful sustainability strategies.

1. Assess impacts and solutions. This step consists of an operations audit, carbon footprint, a review of utility bills, industry benchmarking, and, most importantly, conversations with employees and management about everyday hotel practices. The result is a baseline of current practices, associated impacts, and possible solutions to reduce the hotel’s footprint.

2. Rank opportunities. This step is focused on prioritizing opportunities to reduce the hotel’s environmental footprint in the smartest way possible. To begin, hotel management choose those criteria most important to them, and use the criteria to rank possible opportunities. For example, in-room energy controls would rank well if they both saved the hotel 20 percent on its energy bill each month and are already being requested by guests.

3. Develop an action plan. This step turns prioritized actions into an actionable plan. These actions can be folded into a larger business plan with associated timelines, responsibilities, budget, milestones, and metrics to evaluate progress.

4. Evaluate success. The ultimate goal of this step is to track progress over time. I recommend tracking both quantitative and qualitative information. Quantitative measures could include a reduction in the hotel’s carbon footprint or utility usage over time. Qualitative ones could include an increase in employee or guest satisfaction. Your hotel can use these results in a variety of ways, including substantiating your sustainability-related communications materials, and rewarding and recognizing employee contributions.

With an economic recession on the horizon and consumer concern about the environment steadily increasing, sustainability truly presents one of the hottest business opportunities today. Adopt a strategy to focus your hotel’s time and resources on those actions that matter the most—to your bottom line and the environment.

Amity Lumper is a senior associate with the Cascadia Consulting Group. Founded in 1993 in Seattle, Cascadia Consulting Group works with government and corporate clients to develop and implement creative solutions to 21st century environmental challenges. Amity leads Cascadia’s Green Business Team and has worked with more than 50 major businesses in the Northwest to simultaneously eliminate wasted resources and improve their bottom lines. In her eight years at Cascadia, she has worked with almost every major downtown hotel in Seattle, including the Westin, Grand Hyatt, and Kimpton hotels. Amity holds a BA in Chemistry from Seattle Pacific University (2000) and a Masters in Sustainability and Leadership from the Blekinge Technical Institute in Karlskrona, Sweden (2005). Amy can be reached at amity@cascadiaconsulting.com.

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