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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: Starwood Shows Their Commitment

May 19, 2010 2 comments

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.

In my last two articles, I summarized a variety of hotel environmental policies and outlined a three-step process for developing a strong environmental mission statement. The following analysis of how one lodging company has chosen to develop their commitment to sustainability will provide guidance on how to incorporate a tangible plan to protect the Earth into your own business.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. has published an excellent Environmental Sustainability Policy on their website.

We, at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., believe that economic growth and the well-being of society are inextricably tied to the health of the environment. Accordingly, we embrace our responsibility for environmental stewardship and are committed to integrating leading environmental practices and sustainability principles into our core business strategy.

Through collaboration with our hotel owners, franchisees, suppliers and business partners, we will actively work to reduce the environmental impact of our business activities and to continually improve and innovate on practices aimed at:

  • conserving natural resources,
  • minimizing waste and pollution,
  • enhancing indoor environmental quality,
  • establishing and reporting on key environmental performance indicators, and
  • raising environmental awareness among our associates, guests and communities.

We acknowledge that, in many ways, we, like the global community we serve, are only in the early stages of developing and implementing the many changes that will be necessary to achieve these vital goals. Nonetheless, we strongly believe that our efforts to support a healthy environment serve the interests of both current and future generations and constitute the foundation for enduring success.

Starwood’s understanding that the planet, people and profits are all inextricably linked is clear in the intialparagraph of their policy. Accepting this “triple bottom line” concept is an essential first step in developing an environmental mission statement, because it answers the question of why sustainability is important to their company. In addition, Starwood acknowledges their accountability and states their commitment to environmental responsibility in their opening sentences, which are strong points that create an impactful introduction to an environmental mission statement. Starwood has been effective in defining why the protection of the natural world is important to their organization.

In the second paragraph of their policy, Starwood’s environmental goals are presented in a clear manner and cover important “green” topics both inside and outside of their hotels. The objectives include an educational component, which is a critical piece in changing business practices and personal habits. They list hotel owners, franchisees, suppliers and business partners as the stakeholders with whom they will work to achieve their environmental objectives. Not including clients in this list of active “green” participants working toward Starwood’s environmental goals may result in their missing an important opportunity. In the past few years, there has been a surge of interest in environmental sustainability. Developing an explicit partnership with guests that goes beyond education is an important way to leverage the energy and commitment to protecting the Earth that an increasing number of clients posses. If invited to become involved, interested guests could help Starwood progress in their sustainability commitments. Those who opt not to participate will simply be aware that Starwood is actively seeking to work with all of its stakeholders to become increasingly “green.”  Not including guests underestimates the role this group can play in making Starwood’s Environmental Sustainability Policy come to life.

Many hotel companies incorporate a generalized statement about endeavoring to protect the natural world that lacks the specificity required to promote measurable change. Others claim they are currently engaged in sustainable practices, which does not provide incentives for them or their stakeholders to do more. Starwood sets itself apart by boldly stating a plan for success that seeks to “continually improve and innovate” their environmental practices. In doing so, they have set a bar they can never fully reach, creating an ideal situation that propels them ahead as they persistently explore new “green” avenues for improvement.

Unexpectedly, Starwood closes their environmental policy by acknowledging the nascent stage of their environmental efforts and admitting they have a lot of work ahead of them. Despite their identification with the many other companies that trail behind in implementing sustainability initiatives, Starwood demonstrates their willingness to take large strides toward a new way of doing business with their public statement about the many changes that are necessary in order to move their company in a “green” direction.

Starwood’s environmental mission statement includes all the three pieces of an effective statement: Why is environmental responsibility important to the company? What is the end goal? How will the business measure their success? Starwood logically outlines why they are interested in protecting the Earth, how they plan to lessen their impact on the natural world by listing their “green” goals, and explains that they will deem their efforts successful only if they work to continually improve them.

While well-crafted overall, Starwood’s policy misses a potential opportunity that provides us with another occasion to learn about effective environmental mission statements. I believe that if encouraged to become involved, clients who hunger to do more to help the environment will spend their own time working with brands they value. Some may simply tell friends and family about a new local business in which they believe and that they want to succeed. Others will do much more. Many of Starwood’s clients are meeting planners who might wish to reduce the energy and materials consumed at the events they coordinate. If asked by Starwood to engage their attendees, most planners would be happy to ensure their meeting participants are aware of the ways in which they can help minimize the impact of their conference, such as recycling and turning off lights. Customers who seek more should be offered opportunities to become involved in addition to environmental education, but exactly how companies reach out to their clients will vary depending on the organization’s “green” goals.

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.