Why Green is Gold in Hospitality

June 3, 2015


The green revolution is everywhere these days. You see its footprints in advertising, fashion, architecture, and every corner of industry. Graduate programs in sustainable management are becoming a standard offering at universities. There’s green web hosting, where customers can rent space on servers that are powered by 100% wind energy. There are even solar-powered bathing suits, into which you can plug your favorite gadgets.


It’s impossible to deny the importance of sustainable business practices today, and the positive impact it has—but the truth is that companies explore sustainable practices for different reasons. For some, cost-savings are secondary to improved brand perception. For others, conserving resources really does help the bottom line. There are also heroes for whom ethics really are the key motivation.


As suggested here in the Harvard Business Review, cost savings may be the most important reason why companies go sustainable. Usually though, a company is motivated by a combination of ethics, cost savings and brand perception.


Hospitality is one industry that stands to benefit equally across all three of these areas. It’s a business where ’going green’ makes sense on virtually every level—especially that of all-important cost savings. This means that for owners, managers and designers who work in the industry, there is every reason to explore sustainable systems and technologies.


In fact, some hotels were implementing such systems long before buzz words like “green” and “eco-friendly” were valuable from a branding perspective. The reason is simple: Hotels use up a lot of resources. They need to. You can have unique designs, friendly staff, and all the other elements that give a hotel its personality—but if you don’t have clean rooms, controlled temperatures, hot water and fresh towels, your clients aren’t likely to say nice things about you.


This means that sustainable practices are unlikely to increase profit margins if the quality of service is compromised in the process. Hotels need ways to conserve resources—especially water and electricity—without leading to negative customer experiences. (Having said that, you cannot just screw in a shampoo dispenser and think it saves money and the environment. I have no objections to dispensers per se, as long as they look good and the reason is explained to guests. Saving thousands of non-recyclable plastic bottles from landfill is pretty compelling!)


Make no mistake, this trail is being blazed. Just look at what the winners of the HICAP Sustainable Hotel Awards are doing. Water saving devices, ultra-efficient boilers, facades that transfer heat, rooftop solar panels and gardens, real time energy displays in the lobby—there is no shortage of inspiration here. And the best part is, these properties are making money. They’re performing better. They look good in the eyes of customers, and set a positive example in the communities where they operate. And last but certainly not least, they’re doing the right thing!


Staff is another area that can be significantly affected by sustainable practices. A very interesting research paper in the International Journal of Hospitality Management explores how the behaviour of hotel staff in Hong Kong are affected by sustainable practices. What happens when the people who work in the hotel feel like they are part of something ethical, responsible, innovative? Only good things, it would seem. When employees are engaged and motivated, as discussed in a previous post, the success metrics of a property are improved.


World Environment Day is a perfect moment for the hospitality industry to stop and reflect. The industry has, for too long, been associated with wastefulness and a careless attitude toward the earth. And yet, few industries have as much to gain from truly sustainable practices. Customers may not be willing to pay for sustainable investments up front (there is evidence that fewer people are now willing to pay a premium for ‘green’ services and products), but as long as the service is up-to-speed, the investment will indeed pay for itself—not only in lower operating costs, but in brand perception, community interest, and staff motivation.


And that has to be good for everyone.



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