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Environmental Mission Statements: Four Seasons’ Golden Opportunity

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

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As the hotel industry continues to move toward Corporate Social Responsibility, recent Deloitte hospitality research states that “Sustainability will become a defining issue for the industry in 2015 and beyond.” With this in mind, I have been analyzing the environmental mission statements and policies of various hotel companies. In this article, I review Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ “Supporting Sustainability” policy and suggest several ways in which they could turn their commitment to protecting the environment into a defining core value.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts have built an internationally recognized brand by offering guests exceptional luxury in beautiful locations around the world. They understand that while each property provides patrons with a unique experience, a consistent level of service across all hotels is crucial to the success of the company. From what I have found on-line, all Four Seasons properties do not apply the same level of attention to their environmental programs. Four Seasons says their “guiding principle is the Golden Rule – to treat others as you wish to be treated” and I believe this allows them to excel at what they do. They now have a “Golden Opportunity” to bring sustainability, and the increased revenue and marketing opportunities it offers, to all areas of their enterprise.

Four Seasons has posted their environmental stance on-line under the heading “Supporting Sustainability.” One of three corporate values found on their corporate website, it states that:

Four Seasons involves employees and guests in the common goal of preserving and protecting the planet. We engage in sustainable practices that conserve natural resources and reduce environmental impact. As importantly, sustainable tourism will enhance and protect the destinations where Four Seasons operates for generations to come.

Four Seasons closes their statement by making it clear why protecting natural resources is important to them. As I outlined in a previous post, an effective environmental mission statement answers the following three questions: Why is the topic important? What is the end goal? How will success be measured? Without understanding why environmentalism is a significant issue for their business, Four Seasons would not be able to develop an effective strategy for minimizing their impact on the Earth.

By stating their aims, Four Seasons touches on another piece that effective environmental policies must contain: what is the end goal? Four Seasons understands that in order to reach their objectives they must work with both their guests and employees. These are two vital groups that can have a large impact on sustainability efforts and Four Seasons is wise to include them. I believe it is also important that Four Seasons join with their business partners and the communities in which they operate. Both of these stakeholders have a keen interest in the strength and character of Four Seasons’ business practices.

What their Supporting Sustainability statement lacks is how Four Seasons will measure their success in relation to their goals. For example, they could develop specific and measurable energy reduction targets to be met by 2015 at all of their properties. The absence of an enterprise-wide environmental program with goals for all properties is setting Four Seasons up for inconsistent programs across their brand. I believe this may lead to an appearance that sustainability is not a true core value for the company.

Searching the internet provides several examples of “green” programs that take place at Four Seasons hotels. There are gardens, a few sustainable meeting packages, and even some green lodging awards. These initiatives are very encouraging and show that many Four Seasons properties are taking steps toward protecting the natural world; however, the lack of a corporate-wide program means inconsistent and potentially uninspired local offerings are inevitable.

For example, I found one Four Seasons Hotel’s website in which “Green Initiatives” is the seventh item listed under the Conference Planning page. The sustainability offering falls below technical assistance, music and entertainment, receiving and maintenance, welcome amenities and VIP gifts, spouse programs, and family programs. I understand that what sets Four Seasons apart in the hospitality industry is their close attention to all aspects of a meeting and this thorough list of offerings is proof that they can accommodate all conference needs. At the same time, I am discouraged to find “green” initiatives last in the list of services offered to Four Seasons’ guests. Its position within the list matters. I was forced to scroll down two pages to find the first mention of “green.” Having studied and worked with sustainability programs for many years, I believe this makes the “Green Initiatives” offering at this Four Seasons Hotel appear to be an afterthought. Added to the bottom of the list, the sustainability option may seem to be offered because it is in vogue rather than being a corporate value of the company. Four Seasons truly has a “Golden Opportunity” to bring sustainability into every part of its operations and avoid the potential mixed-message that situations like this create.

Four Seasons is a leader in the hospitality industry because they know how to run a world-class organization. The time is ripe for them to bring the exceptional execution they apply to other parts of their business into focus on a company-wide sustainability campaign. Not only will this decrease their operational costs and get them in-line with the rest of the industry, going “green” can provide a year’s worth of content for social media marketing and will no doubt drive new business, something even this prestigious company can use in today’s economic climate.

An effective plan would be to hire a Chief Sustainability Officer who can create a robust environmental mission statement and develop an environmental action plan for the entire organization. As is quickly becoming the norm, Four Seasons should be transparent about their entire sustainability project and publish an annual report documenting all of their environmental work.

Making sure employees embody The Golden Rule every day allows Four Seasons to offer consistent and outstanding service at all of their properties. To ensure the success of a new sustainability program, Four Seasons will need to train their staff to incorporate “green” ideals into everything they do. Knowing how well they execute day-to-day operations as well as special projects, I am sure that Four Seasons will develop and implement an innovative and exciting environmental sustainability program when they turn their attention to this “Golden Opportunity.”

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