By definition, sustainability encompasses three pillars: environmental, social, and economic. However, many efforts by businesses to create and communicate a sustainability policy tend to focus solely on “green” aspects and their financial benefits. This strategy, in effect, perpetuates the perception of sustainability being a thing of environmentalists and tree-huggers, yet the impact and benefits of a well- rounded sustainable development can encourage many sectors to affect positive change across each of the three pillars of sustainability.
The hospitality industry in particular faces challenges when trying to create and implement a sustainability strategy. At the Window 2 the Future Summit, organized by Lausanne Hospitality Consulting and hosted at the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, leading industry players including Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts and Wanda Hotels
& Resorts were joined by a UNWTO representative for a panel discussion to debate the role and perception of sustainability in the hospitality industry.
The hospitality industry is not typically seen as a pioneer in issues surrounding the topic, partly due to the way sustainability is communicated by hotels to their guests and employees. A quick Google search of “hotel sustainability” kicks back numerous hotel chains’ “Environmental Sustainability” policies, “Go Green” initiatives, and other certifications for reducing energy, waste, etc.
When guests check into their rooms, they are greeted with cards asking them to reuse their towels or “consider the environment” when brushing their teeth, but they are rarely educated further on sustainability efforts or how their participation is beneficial beyond the hotel’s bottom line. Even those hotels that have well-rounded initiatives in place struggle to effectively communicate their positions or their accomplishments.
When asked why Six Senses does not publish its annual sustainability reports, Mr. Bernhard Bohnenberger, President, articulated that Six Senses does not publically emphasize these reports in order to maintain their authenticity of their sustainability program, in order to counter the stigma that sustainability programs are just marketing ploys for hotels. Despite the stigmas of sustainability efforts being simply marketing or financial tactics, participants at the panel agreed that publishing goals and communicating accomplishments to the greater public will help the industry to alter the perception by illustrating significant steps forward and positive impacts. The hospitality industry as a whole has an opportunity to advance the issue and become a strong voice in the field, but understanding how to communicate poses a barrier.
One thing that hotels should consider is that sustainability policies can include a much wider array of subjects than simply energy or water savings, and they can have many more benefits than solely financial. Mr. Jean-Gabriel Pérès, President and CEO of Mövenpick, stated that for their company “sustainability is never seen as a value-driver,” but rather that they have a responsibility to always act
culturally and socially in a way that makes their hotels an example for the industry. Mr. Pérès is also an enthusiastic supporter of social sustainability, encouraging participation in community programs and furthering the knowledge, skills, and lifestyles of underprivileged societies.
In a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) titled “Advancing Sustainability: HR’s Role” researchers identified the top five positive outcomes of sustainability initiatives. They included improved employee morale, more efficient business processes, stronger public image, increased employee loyalty, and increased brand recognition. These outcomes show that despite the possibility of financial benefits to companies, initiatives achieve additional benefits concerning employee satisfaction and retention, as well as brand recognition and perception.
Mr. Bohnenberger reiterated these outcomes, stating, “Sustainability is at the core of [Six Senses]” and the company’s attention to environmental as well as social sustainability results in greater customer loyalty, employee attraction and retention: “People want to work for [Six Senses].”
The SHRM report supports this, showing “Forty-nine percent of businesses engaging in sustainable workplace or business practices reported their involvement in sustainability was very important in creating a positive employer brand that attracts top talent.” Additionally, “40% reported the involvement in sustainability was very important in improving employee retention and 33% indicated the involvement in sustainability was very important in developing the organization’s leaders.”
Clearly, sustainability initiatives have more benefits than just those realized on the balance sheet, and hotels should consider leveraging sustainability to attract, develop, and retain employees. Educating both the guest and the employees on policies to gain support and participation will help to perpetuate programs, which will translate into savings on the bottom line. Though sustainability should not be adhered to solely for financial purposes, the financial gains are an added benefit to the sustainability equation. However, understanding how to communicate these efforts to employees and guests is essential to achieving the additional benefits, such as brand recognition, that can result from substantive and well-developed programs.