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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.

Environmental Mission Statements: A List of Hotel Sustainability Policies

February 15, 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.

A mission statement can help an organization navigate difficult times. I wonder how many hoteliers used their mission statements to remind them what of mattered most to their company during the past 18 months. As is true with many sectors of the world economy, 2009 was the worst year in recent memory for the hospitality industry. Meeting planners and business travelers moved to on-line conferences whenever possible and overnight vacations became a luxury for many people. Despite these financial problems, hotels and their investors understand the importance of developing a sustainable product and have been investing in green technologies.

This is the first in a series of posts that will investigate environmental mission statements. The articles will focus on how to develop an environmental mission statement, which companies have them, how are they being used, and discussing whether environmental mission statements are necessary. I have started by compiling links to the environmental policies and statements of several well-known hotel organizations.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts – One of the first hotel companies to incorporate sustainability into their organization, Fairmont’s Environmental Policy outlines  their commitments to protecting the natural world. Mission Statement

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts – While it is not a true environmental mission statement, the “Supporting Sustainability” paragraph on their Corporate Values page summarizes Four Seasons’ stance on being “green”.

Hilton Worldwide – A Sustainability Statement and an Environmental Policy are both available on Hilton’s Sustainability web page. Measurable goals are documented and ways to achieve them are noted. Mission Statement

InterContinental Hotels Group – Listing eight steps it will take to improve its relationship with the earth, IHG’s Environmental Policy is clear and aggresive. Their Green Engage program is an industry leading environmental initative and shows they are serious about their mission. Mission Statement

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant Group, LLC – The foundations of the EarthCare program were set almost 30 years ago. Since then, Kimpton has dedicated itself to innovative “green” practices across all of its locations. Mission Statement

Marriott International, Inc.Spirit to Preserve is the sustainable arm of Marriott’ s Social Responsibility and Community Engagement program. In their Social Responsibility Report, J.D. Marriott says, “An integrated green strategy is a business imperative”. While Marriott has several partnerships with international conservation organizations, I am unable to find an official environmental mission statement.

Omni Hotels and Resorts – Similar to other hotel companies, Omni Hotels does not have a specific environmental mission statement. Instead, they provide information on their Environmental Stewardship practices.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. – Their Environmental Sustainability Policy is clear and professional, outlining the five “green” areas on which they are focused. Mission Statement

Wyndham Worldwide Corporation – The Wyndham Green program is well defined on-line. Their Policy Statement defines their thoughts on the environment, provides local and global goals, and lists seven areas of focus. The site also provides links to their Green Scorecard and Core Initiatives. Mission Statement

Local Food: Another Piece in the Sustainability Puzzle

September 3, 2009 Leave a comment

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

August is New Hampshire Eat Local Month and a great example of the growing push to reorganize our society and economy around environmentally sustainable and socially responsible practices. Eating local foods not only helps combat global warming by reducing the transportation required to get food to our tables, it provides a major boost to the Granite State economy. Increasing the production and consumption of locally grown food and moving away from super-sized supermarkets is an important step in creating a truly sustainable society.

The development of the modern day grocery store did not happen over night; however, more has changed in the way we grow and purchase food during the past 50 years than during any other time in human history. The current model favors rapidly produced items made from ingredients that are increasingly devoid of nutritional value. Food is a multi-billion dollar business in the US and much of what we find in our Hannaford, Shaw’s, and Market Basket stores comes from monstrous manufacturing facilities completely detached from the reality that their products are intended to nourish people.

Instead of providing healthy food choices at honest prices, most of the over 45,000 items found in a typical supermarket reflect the attitude of their makers. Primarily, that food is just another product to sell. Our consumer driven society has let them be successful in marketing this food because we like the promises of fat free ice cream and the sound of exotic spring water. When the marketing efforts are more important than product itself, we have a problem. The recently released movie Food, Inc. likens today’s food industry to the giant cigarette companies that once stood proud and tall as model corporate citizens. Both, it claims, mis-led the public about the effects of their products and both fought vigorously to continue their charade while the health of our country suffered. Phillip- Morris had to change its name, it now goes by Altria,  and its strategy, such as focusing on reducing under age smoking, because of the dubious nature of its business. I wonder if Kraft, and its horrible products like lunchables which have 17 grams of fat and 1100 mg of sodium in a single serving, will one day be forced to do the same.

The wonderful truth about local food in New England is that it can supply most of what we want as consumers. Our farmers’ markets abound with fresh vegetables, ripe fruit, and many locally produced jams, breads, meats, and dairy products. The food tastes better because it was picked recently when it was ripe, not weeks beforehand and then shipped to us from 3000 miles away.  Producing and consuming foods within a local geographical region is a model that thrived for several thousand years. It is time to focus on local food grown within a few hundred miles of our homes and businesses and restoring our communities to fully functioning organisms.

The transition to a new food economy is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily complex. What could be more natural than buying food from your local farmer, to say nothing of growing some yourself. California and Mexico provide examples of where the process becomes more difficult. The San Joaquin Valley produces more than ten percent of our county’s food. Turning off their pipeline of lettuce, raisins, beef, and asparagus may help the farmers in NH but many of those in CA would have to shift into new industries as their national markets are reduced by a growing demand for regional food.

Which brings me back to August being NH Eat Local Month. Initiatives like this start the discussion. Many of us have been speaking about the benefits of local food for years. The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to which my family and I belong is an example of what happens when local food becomes important to many residents of the same locale. Together with about 30 other members, we pay the farmers at Brookford Farm in Rollingsford, NH for a share of their harvest. In return we recieve twenty pounds of fresh produce every week as well as milk, yogurt, eggs, a chicken, and some beef. What could be better? Fresh food from local people.

As we close in on 2010, I often find myself excited thinking about the changes taking place here in NH. The University Office of Sustainability (USO) at UNH is doing fantastic work with their Food & Society Initative, which promotes local agriculture and the concept of a Sustainable Food Community. The number of farmers’ markets across the state has risen from less than 20 to over 100 in the past decade. This equates to more local food available to more citizens and less manufactured food required by our population. As individuals, families, and businesses become increasingly involved, momentum is building and another piece in the sustainability puzzle is being put into place.

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.

A Sustainable Experience

August 22, 2008 2 comments

Employees today want to know that their employers are working to protect the natural world. But highly publicized green initiatives aren’t doing the trick. Workers need to believe that their company truly cares about the earth. They are looking for a sustainable experience.

 

Zogby recently completed its 14th annual “Attitudes in the American Workplace” poll and choose to highlight their finding that only 17% of employees surveyed believe their companies are going green for socially responsible reasons. Commenting on the survey, Environmental Leader began its coverage by saying “Half (50.8%) of U.S. workers say their company has a significant initiative such as carpooling and recycling, but most report being cynical about their employer’s motivation for going green…”. When I look at the data I see a reason for these numbers: without understanding that their organization is led by people who also have a great deal of concern for the environment, employees assume green programs are simply another way to increase the bottom line.  

 

The poll shows that 77% of US employees surveyed feel it is “very important” or “somewhat important” that their companies be green but only 71% of employees said they were being educated on how to be greener at home. I believe the fact that not enough workplaces are educating their employees about green living outside of the office significantly limits the worker’s buy-in to sustainable efforts in the workplace. When sustainability programs seem to come out of nowhere and are not rounded out with employee education, it makes sense the worker’s question their origins.  

 

Here are the reasons people believe their companies began environmental initiatives: 24% thought they were to save money, 22% said it was because the company wants positive publicity, 14% responded that it was the politically correct thing to do, 13% said green programs were enacted to combat rising energy costs and only 17% believed a sincere interest in CSR (corporate social responsibility) was at work.

 

I find these reasons interesting and but expected. Stopping climate change and protecting natural resources are concerns that affect each person and every business on earth. When almost three quarters of organizations are not educating their employees about these pressing issues and how to help combat them both at work and at home, I think it is clear why so many people question the motives behind their employers green interest.  

 

The Society for Human Resource Management’s June 2008 issue of HR Magazine was entitled Working Green. Their article, Get in the Business of Being Green, provides a great overview of how an HR department can roll out employee education and other steps on the road toward sustainability. In addition to SHRM’s suggestions, eLearning materials can be developed to create an interactive and effective training course that can be hosted on the company’s intranet and accessed by employees across an organization.

 

Once companies go through the time and expense of educating their workforce on the company’s initiatives and how they can be green at home, I believe the employees will have a sustainable experience with their employer. They will realize that even though their companies are often saving money, gaining public support and publicity, and dealing with the energy crisis, they also have a sincere commitment to CSR.