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Environmental Mission Statements: Four Seasons’ Golden Opportunity

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

*** This blog has moved. Please come and read new posts on our updated site, The Natural Strategy Blog. ***

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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Environmental Mission Statements: How To Develop Your Own

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

*** This blog has moved. Please come and read new posts on our updated siteThe Natural Strategy Blog. ***

In my last article, I outlined the environmental mission statements and polices of nine hotel companies. It was interesting to compare how these organizations chose to define their relationships with the Earth. All companies understood that operating their properties has significant effects on the natural world. Most discussed how they plan to protect the earth. Several listed goals they have developed in order to minimize their impact. A handful provided clear tools they will utilize to achieve these goals. While the interest in environmental sustainability these companies have shown through their policies is very important, I believe focused environmental missions are much more effective than general statements of how a company interacts with the our planet.

The number one hurtle many organizations face when looking to bring sustainability into their company is the same obstacle that slows down many new initiatives. Executives have a difficult time defining a road map. They do not know how to begin the process of making the products and services they provide more environmentally sustainable. This is where a strong environmental mission statement is crucial.

An environmental mission statement is the sum of three parts: Why + Goal + Success

  1. Why is this topic important to us? – We believe …
  2. What is our end goal? – We want to …
  3. How is success measured? – We envision a world ….

Taken separately, these three questions are powerful enough to spark conversation and suggest that change is in the air. When grouped together, they can light a “green” torch will illuminate the best path forward.

Why is this topic important to us? The reasons are almost infinite. There may be an operational problem which needs to be solved. Stakeholders may have become restless about the status quo and are demanding change. Incentives may have been put in place by the government. Maybe other major players in the industry are already starting to move toward sustainability and you do not want to be left behind.

Whatever the reason, you have to be honest with yourself about why you are ready to go “green.” Very often a variety of factors are at play. Each and every one of these should be documented and vetted. Together they will enable you to figure out what is important to your organization. Understanding the reasons behind the change allows you to move with confidence and passion.

Why sample – “We believe developing environmentally sustainable business practices is a vital step toward decreasing our company’s carbon footprint, increasingly its competitive advantage, and preparing for inevitable government regulations. ”

What is our end goal? I believe that given the choice, all business leaders would elect to run their operations as cleanly and efficiently as possible. How does that look in your business? Will your products be produced with 100% recycled material? Will travel be replaced by virtual meetings?  Can your people work remotely 85% of the time?

These seemingly basic questions create an outline for what needs to be done. Even within the same industry, hospitality for example, a hotel’s path to “green” differs from an airline’s which differs from a travel agency’s which is not the same as a cruise line’s course to environmental sustainability. Looking at the ways in which your business negatively impacts the earth and defining all the areas in which you need to change will help bring your road map into focus. Keep in mind, your environmental mission statement should evolve as your company and our world move ahead. Consider it progress when you have to edit your statement because you have accomplished your goals.

Goal sample – “We are working to assess the full extent to which our products and services touch the natural world. We will finish this process by August 1st, 2010 and use the findings to develop a strategic green vision to be launched in January 2011.”

Be bold when developing your goals. This is a time for action.

How is success measured? Close your eyes to block out distractions and image the possibilities. Research is now revealing that daydreaming to be another effective method for developing creative ideas. So, choose your means and image your successful end.

Envision your customers, your employees, your office, and your suppliers. What are they doing in five or ten years? How about in 15 or 20 years? Image beyond today’s technology. How are your goods and services packaged, distributed, sold, used, and recycled? Who purchases them and why? Do not worry if your vision seems a bit out of reach. A lofty goal will rally your employees to find creative ways to make it a reality.

How sample – “We are striving to revolutionize our industry and change our world. We envision products that honor the materials from which they are made and inspire those who use them. They can be recycled by simply leaving them out in the rain. They can last for a lifetime if stored in a cool, dry, and sacred place.”

Some will say that having goals is too specific for an environmental mission statement and should be reserved for an annual environmental report. I disagree. Placing all of one’s efforts into an annual report can lead to an environmental policy that is too generic, such as, “We will ensure that our products are safe for the earth and its people.” Annual reports are incredibly important and should discuss the story behind developing, pursuing, and achieving your goals.

Mission statements, on the other hand, are made to inspire action. Without clearly stating why you are seeking change, defining your goals, and how to measure their success, an environmental mission statement does not live up to its potential.

Kimpton Knows What It Takes to Be Sustainable

August 15, 2009 2 comments

*** This blog has moved. Please come and read new posts on our updated site, The Natural Strategy Blog. ***

The dawn of the green movement in the hospitality world goes back further than one might think. While many companies in the hotel industry have only recently embraced the environmental aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR), Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants has over 25 years of experience caring for both the earth and its people. They provide several examples of how to do well by doing good. I believe it is time for the entire world to follow Kimpton’s example and reinvent the way we do business by re-prioritizing what really matters. I am talking about incorporating profits, people, and the planet into ones organization and using Kimpton as an example of how to make this happen.

I do not think anyone would be surprised to learn that it was Kimpton’s first hotel, the Bedford in San Francisco, that in 1981 began looking after its waste in a sustainable manner. Or that the “Eco Floor” at Hotel Triton, another SF establishment, set the bar for environmentally sustainable lodging in 1994, literally helping California write their Green Lodging Program standards. The West Coast just seems to have a knack for combining their social and environmental causes with their business ethics. But after the initial excitement has faded, how does a company sustain its commitment to the environment for over a quarter of a century?

According to a speech at last year’s EcoCity 2008 conference, Steve Pinetti, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Kimpton, said being green requires two things: weekly meetings and a dedication to reach ones goals knowing the road will always be rocky. “Adults are like college students. Give them a month between meetings and they will wait until two day before and try to cram.” Mandating weekly meetings is absolutely an important step because it allows people to maintain their focus on the end goal. After talking about frequent meetings, Mr. Pinetti then gave an outstanding example of the dedication his company displayed while trying to grow its sustainability program.

When Kimpton decided to switch to earth-friendly cleaning products at all of their hotels, they ran into obstacles again and again. Unable to find a national supplier, they had to deal with six regional suppliers, which naturally increased the complexity of the entire project. Then when experienced cleaning personnel said, “I don’t see any foam. These products don’t work,” Kimpton embarked on a company wide campaign designed to educate their housekeeping staff on the differences between traditional and sustainable cleaning products and how to effectively use the new, green cleaning agents. After training, the hotels complained that these products still did not work, so Kimpton continued to find a solution that would make their goal of using earth-friendly products a reality. They hired a water engineer to test the water at each of their properties and guess what they found. There were nine distinct waters, all with their own pH, across their organization and each water required the cleaning solution to be fine-tuned so it would work effectively.

What began as a relatively simple project took one year but in the end Kimpton had a sustainable cleaning solution. It also had first hand experience about what it takes to truly commit an organization to walking a green path. Today, Kimpton’s dedication is as strong as ever. Here are several examples of what they do to protect the planet and its people.

EarthCare, Kimpton’s flagship environmental program, is as much a philosophy as it is a standard. Employees are empowered to make the choices they believe will make a difference. Every hotel has two EarthCare Champions, employees who lead the initiatives at their own properties and meet with champions from other hotels on a weekly basis to discuss their latest triumphs and work through their most recent setbacks. Since 2005, all hotels and restaurants in the Kimpton family have been required follow the EarthCare program. Now they each adhere to a 50 point list which includes using recycled paper, removing phone books from guestrooms (they remain available upon request), and conducting efficiency audits on their water reducing technologies.

Providing guests with a green meeting option is now common place in the industry. Events at Kimpton properties are always eco-friendly because they were the first company to roll out twelve sustainable practices to all of their meetings at all of their hotels nationally. With Kimpton, every meeting is a green meeting and another opportunity for the company to showcase its true commitment to sustainable hospitality.

During the summer months, Kimpton actively educates its guests and the public-at-large about The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-profit focused on preserving community land for people to enjoy. TLP’s Parks for People program is a key focus of Kimpton’s fund raising efforts and hotels will donate $10 per room night when guests request the “TPL Rate”.

Rounding out its social responsibility initiatives, Kimpton donates 100% of its profits from many of the products on its on-line shopping site, Kimpton Style. The Live accessories fund Kimpton’s Red Ribbon Campaign to fight HIV while all proceeds from the Eco line go to Parks for People and money from the Travel & Gifts page are donated to Dress for Success, a organization helping low-income women move into the workforce.

The successes, as well as the stumbling blocks, Kimpton has achieved showcase that they know what it takes to effectively implement a triple bottom line strategy into their business model. I find it very telling that Steve Pinetti’s email is available if people want to share their green travel tips with Kimpton. In many other companies, sustainability is handled by someone in operations, not the Vice President of Sales and Marketing. To be sure, Mr. Pinetti is not alone in developing Kimpton’s eco-strategy, but he appears to be intimately involved. To me it says that being sustainable is such an important aspect within Kimpton that the responsibility to manage the company’s green efforts is linked with the responsibility to manage the entire business. That is impressive as well as encouraging, and a piece of wisdom any organization can use when they begin to focus on people and our planet as well as profits.

Green Engage – IHG’s Answer to Global Warming

In early 2009, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) launched its own on-line sustainability program. Designed to aid hotel managers in reducing the waste, water, and energy consumption of their properties, Green Engage is revolutionary within the hospitality industry. Never before has a hotel company developed their own tool to measure, assess, and reduce the resources they use and the garbage they create.

Green Engage was conceived after IHG completed an extensive consumer research project in 2008. In addition to the standard guest wishes of ‘nice location’ and ‘good price’, they noticed that more people were interested in hotel sustainability practices than ever before. Combining this new data with their own interest in reducing the green house gases of their properties, the concept of a single, on-line application that would allow all IHG hotels to document, manage, and report their sustainability efforts was born and Green Engage was rolled out in January 2009.

Green Engage lives up to its name, providing data and suggestions for every department a of  hotel beginning with the site selection process for new properties.  During the construction, guidelines for sustainable materials are provided and information on IHG specific concerns, such as creating an effective and efficient building envelope to “maintain the desired indoor conditions and … permit the use of natural ventilation, passive heating, and day-lighting” are available.

Super efficient HVAC, lighting, and mechanical systems are suggested as a good way to reduce the hotel’s consumption and publicly showcase the efforts each IHG hotel is making toward becoming a more sustainable operation. The progress of all hotels is available to all lIHG properties so managers are able to research which green initiatives best suit their property and which programs will provide the best ROI.

IHG created the Green Engage platform to be used at all 4,100 of their properties and last year began training its Americas Region on what sustainability means to a hotel. Green Aware (About, Water, Air, Recycling and Energy) courses were provided to managers at approximately 500 hotels. And it does not stop there.

In September 2008, IHG moved its corporate headquarters into a new, green building in Denhem, England. This state of the art, sustainable building includes the Green Room, a mock up of their “room of the future,” that will allow them to test new sustainability products and systems before rolling them out to some of their 620,000 guestrooms world wide. For the rest of the building, not only were local, sustainable suppliers given preferential treatment, 400 tonnes was construction debris was spared from a life underground in landfills. Instead, 90% of the project’s waste was reused or recycled, reducing green house gases, bringing new life to previously used materials, and in the end, sustaining life for us all.

IHG provides another example of a company that “gets it”. Bringing sustainability into an organization does more than protect the earth. Being green provides cost savings from increased efficiency and conservation. These efforts can be rolled into new marketing opportunities focused on the rapidly growing eco-consumer. Sustainability programs can also make sure a business is ahead of the inevitable regulation that will stop those who lag begin in their tracks and reward those who stayed ahead of the curve. Like FairmontHotels and Resorts, IHG is leading the way in green hospitality, showing everyone that green business is good business.

A Green Road Map for Executives: Begin with an Environmental Mission

March 31, 2009 1 comment

The first Green Travel Summit concluded last week in Newport Beach, CA. Their findings were released in list format and outlined the Top Ten Challenges to Greening Corporate Travel. The number one hurtle they identified is the same obstacle that slows down new initiatives across all industries. Corporate travel executives are having a difficult time defining a road map that will enable them to begin the process of making the products and services they provide more environmentally sustainable.

It is said the first step is often the hardest and I applaud the numerous initiatives already taken by those attending the inaugural Green Travel Summit. Now the excitement generated by such major players as American Express, the SkyTeam airline partners, and InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), has to be put into practice. And not just by those in attendance or even just those in the travel industry. Businesses throughout the world, including those in the most dire of straits such as GM and Chrysler,  should start at the beginning and develop an environmental mission statement to help focus and guide their sustainability efforts.

An environmental mission statement is the sum of three pieces: Why + Goal + Success

  1. Why is this topic important to us? – We believe …
  2. What is our end goal? – We want to …
  3. How is success measured? – We envision a world ….

Taken separately, these three questions are important enough to spark conversation and suggest that change is in the air. When grouped  together, they can light a green torch will illuminate the best path forward. 

Why is this topic important to us? The reasons are almost infinite. There may be an operational problem that needs to be solved. Stakeholders may have become restless about the status quo and are requesting changes. Incentives may have been put in place by the government. Maybe other major players in the industry are already starting to move and you do not want to be left behind.

Whatever the reason, you have to be honest with yourself about why you are ready to begin going “green.” Very often it is a variety of factors. Each and every one of these should be documented and vetted because together they will enable you to figure out what is important to your organization. Understanding the reasons behind the change allows you to move with confidence and passion. 

Why sample – “We believe developing environmentally sustainable business operations is a vital component in decreasing our company’s carbon footprint and reducing its impact on the natural world. “

What is our end goal? I believe that given the choice, most business leaders would elect to have their companies be as clean and efficient as possible. So, the ultimate aim for almost everyone is to be completely “green.” But how does that look in your business? Will travel be replaced by virtual meetings? Will your products be produced with 100% recycled material? Can your people work remotely 85% of the time? 

These may seem like basic questions but they begin to lay out what needs to be done. Even within the same industry, travel for example, a hotel’s path to “green” differs from an airline’s which differs from a travel agency’s which is not the same as a cruise line’s. And the road GM follows will certainly vary from the one Chrysler chooses to drive down. Looking at what your business does to the world and defining all the areas in which you need to work will help bring your road map into focus. Keep in mind, your environmental mission statement is constantly evolving as your company and our world move ahead. Consider it progress when you have to edit it because you have accomplished your goals.

Goal sample – “We are working to assess the full extent to which our products and services touch the natural world. We will finish this process by August 1st, 2009. We will use the findings to develop a strategic green vision to be launched on January 4, 2010.”

Be bold. This is a time for action. 

How is success measured? – Close your eyes. Despite the IBM ads that say otherwise, closing ones eyes is a great way to block out distractions and image the possibilities. Daydreaming is proving to be another effective method for developing creative ideas. So, choose your means and image the end. 

Envision your customers, your employees, your office, and your suppliers. What are they doing in five or ten years? How about in 15 or 20 years? Image beyond today’s technology. How are your goods and services packaged, distributed, sold, used, and recycled? Who purchases them and why? 

How sample – “We are striving to revolutionize our industry and change our world. We envision that our products honor the materials from which they are made and inspire those who use them. They can be recycled by simply leaving them out in the rain. They can last for a lifetime if stored in a safe, cool, dry, and sacred place.” 

As I wrote above, the process of developing an environmental mission is a cyclical one. Your Why, What, and How should be revised annually and referenced often. 

And what if your company already has an environmental mission statement?

Use it.

Hotels Need Local Products

The Million Tons of Trash Challenge developed by the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) is a great example of the many sustainable initiatives being launched across the hospitality industry. The aim is to have participating  hotels track the waste they are able to recycle or compost instead of throwing away. With major players like Oracle and American Express Travel associated with the project, it is sure to help promote better waste management practices across the industry. 

Another way to greatly reduce the environmental impact of meetings and conferences is to source products locally. Hotels can save money, reduce their carbon footprint, and help support their local economy by purchasing as many items as possible from regional vendors. The first LEED Gold certified hotel in the mid-west, the CityFlats Hotel in Holland, MI , had many materials shipped to Holland and assembled locally. 

A favorite example of mine is Green Mill Village (GMV), a conference center scheduled to open in 2010 in Arcola, IL. They are looking to local Amish craftspeople to build all of the furniture throughout their hotel and center. In addition to the initial purchases made for the hotel, GMV will continue to support the regional economy by allowing guests to purchase any item they see in their room, a majority of which will be made in the area. These local products decrease the carbon emissions related to transportation of products from outside the state. There will also be several wind mills on site that, along with the solar panels, will provide the entire village with clean, renewable electricty.  

The final program that I would like to highlight is Farmers, Foragers, and Fishermen, an initiative that just got underway at the Loews Coranado Bay Resort in San Diego. The idea is to highlight one local producer each season and feature them at special dinners. Loews head chef and the purveyor of honor interact with guests during a four course meal, sharing the history and details of their company and explaining why working with local producers is an important step in creating vibrant local economies throughout the country.

So next time you find yourself dining at a hotel, make it a point to select the locally produced fare. It will be fresher than something shipped across the country, it will often be a speciality of the region in which you find yourself, and the increased demand you help create will provide the hotel with an incentive to seek out more local vendors. And as I’ve said, items produced near a hotel decrease the environmental impact of the facility by reducing the transportation needed to link a vendor with clients and it helps to keep local economies strong.