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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.”

Audi and Facebook Go for the Green

On June 22, 2009, Audi announced it will donate $1 to The Nature Conservency’s Facebook Cause for each Facebook member who joins the Conservancy’s on-line program. The German auto maker is known for crafting luxury vehicles, not for combining sustainability and social media. Is this green-washing or just a new method for companies to involve the community in their corporate social responsibility programs? I believe it is the later and think Audi and The Nature Conservency have made a wise move.

This all revolves around Audi rolling out its TDI clean diesel in the United States. What folks around the world have know for years, that unleaded gasoline is less efficient and releases more particulate matter into the atmosphere per mile driven, has never really found a place in the American psyche. We equate diesel with working vehicles; from 18 wheelers that carry our goods across the country to bulldozers that move dirt from here to there. We all agree that no matter what a diesel engine does, one thing is for sure: it belches dirty exhaust into our skies and thus must be bad for the planet. Right? Well, sort of….

Diesel engines release more greenhouse gases than unleaded engines; however, diesel engines have become more efficient than their unleaded cousins. In fact, the 15% increase in greenhouse gases produced by a diesel engine actually turns into a 15 – 25% decrease because a diesel engine uses less gas to move itself from point A to point B. So, Audi’s claims that their TDI clean diesel is similar to hybrid cars  and better for the Earth than unleaded engines is true. I don’t see any green-washing here.

As far as developing a partnership with The Natural Conservancy and providing funding through their Facebook Cause is concerned, I think it a fantastic idea. In fact, I think Audi is one of the first of what will be many companies that join Facebook Causes. Based on my own searching, they appear to the be only car company associated with a Facebook cause. And they choose one of the best respected environmental advocacy and action groups in the world with which to work. For over half a century The Nature Conservancy has worked hard to preserve our planet. To date they have protected 119 million acres of land and 5000 miles of rivers across the globe.

I have heard that Audi capping its donation at $25,000 is proof of its less than sincere commitment to the planet. I believe that the $25,000 is symbolic, a way to drum up support for its TDI system in America as well as an opportunity to explore the new world of social media marketing. The current facts are clear:  a TDI diesel engine is cleaner than a standard unleaded engine.

And now that Audi and The Nature Conservancy have partnered for a green cause using Facebook, I predict that corporate relationships with environmental advocacy organizations which use the ever growing network of social media will become a staple of the sustainability movement. I look forward to watching as this latest chapter in corporate social responsibility is written.