Sustainability as a Modern Pillar of Branding and Marketing

With weird weather becoming the new normal, environmental activism has shed its hippie roots and become vitally mainstream. Consumers all over the world are waking up to the power they have to help reverse climate change by voting with their wallets – buying goods with smaller carbon footprints and, for our intents and purposes, selecting hotels that have sustainability programs firmly in place.

A peculiar trait of any ecofriendly initiatives you take, however, is that the majority of the resultant operational efficiencies, which can run well into the millions, are never seen by the guest. That is, most of the actual cost savings are back-of-house and invisible to the customer experience. As consumers will only purchase what they see or know, it is important that you wholeheartedly promote your environmental upgrades, not only to selfishly garner more cachet from prospective guests but to altruistically lend the movement more legitimacy.

Years ago, I glibly dubbed this as the ‘going green to be seen’ ethos where, even though the front-of-house sustainability upgrades you make may not have as great a direct impact on profits than those made behind closed doors, they are nonetheless imperative for upholding long-term business prospects.

Such ecofriendly ventures and related marketing activities cannot work as a one-off ploy, though. Only by making these a core pillar of your brand identity will you realize tremendous success, both from substantial reductions in on-property energy consumption as well as from the upwardly trending demand from guests for travel accommodations with conservation practices.

So, while you engage an environmental consultant to help figure out a road map for all the back-of-house capital expenditures you will inevitably make, you must likewise plan for how you intend to upgrade your front-of-house operations to reflect your newly enlightened stance on sustainability Moreover, you must rethink your marketing of all of the above at every possible point of interaction with customers. We can therefore analyze each of the most prominent guest-facing operations for improvements, and then look to what advertising vehicles can spread the good word.

In Every Food Outlet
Not just your signature restaurant for a few select ingredients anymore, sustainable practices are now the norm for every facet of F&B from locally sourced vegetables and proteins to the proper recycling of food waste for all catered events. This department is an easy place to start because there is widespread documentation of how to make it work.

To understand the serpentine pathway from bolstered sustainability in the kitchen to increased revenues, though, you must first look back at why the locavore movement became mainstream. Not to blur five decades of agricultural history, but local foods, organic, natural ingredients and any other superlative modifiers are all a reaction to the emergence of the global supply chain and the continuous drive for increased efficiencies of food production that resulted in more herbicides, more pesticides, monocrops, GMO, advanced preservatives and a slew of other processes that negatively affect the nutritional value of what we eat.

After a few generations, the toll of all these new chemicals in our foods has added up with the effects being increased obesity rates, more instances of adult diabetes, heightened allergy sensitivities and so on. As the old expression goes, “You are what you eat,” and indeed customers all over the world are now highly wary of where ingredients are sourced and how they are processed.

As many of the processes used by the large agricultural conglomerates have been proven to be harmful for the environment in the long-term, switching to producers who utilize more sustainable practices is in essence you voting with your hotel’s wallet for a better tomorrow. While there is a sizeable added cost to the operator, healthy eating has an established perceived value, so this cost can be easily forwarded onto the customer. Sustainability and going local not only implies better quality foods but it also means you are putting more back into the community which in turn will mean that your efforts here will drive more support from the neighborhood.

But how do you start? Small, of course, is the best way with local craft goods followed by key ingredients used in your operations. While it may be logistically and financially impossible to make everything sustainable, whatever efforts you are able to successfully integrate must be matched by suitable promotions so patrons know you are consciously steering the ship in the right direction. Name your agricultural partners on the menus or make the necessary information available in the foyer of any foodservice facility. If you can recruit a graphic artist, have a map produced that shows how close the farms are to your hotel.

Next comes the implementation of a proper food recycling or donation program. For this, too, you must be one part environmentalist and one part impresario by highlighting your efforts on the website and perhaps on a nicely constructed pamphlet for onsite distribution. As an emergent trend related to this, inventive chefs are also trying to use every part of a plant or animal in their culinary creations so as to limit the amount of waste produced at the outset. One much-touted example is the beet root green salad whereby the leaves of the beet are utilized along with the fleshy bulb so barely anything is discarded while preparing the dish.

In the Lobby and the Building in General
While LEED certification is now all-but-required for any new hotel build, incremental upgrades are equally newsworthy because when it comes to helping the environment every bit counts. For starters, any existing badge that you already possess in this regard should be prominently exhibited both online and onsite. For the former, the website is the obvious starting point but this is also great content for any third party as well as social media. As for the latter, signage at front desk along with a more detailed handout to elaborate upon the full extent of your environmental policy.

But as stated in the introduction, most of what constitutes a thumbs up from a green building agency like LEED will stem from back-of-house operations. Hence, in order to drive the message home and spark a loyal following, your interior design must likewise exude a sense of place reflective of this newfound brand identity. Procuring lobby art that is made from recyclable materials is less so about conservative and more so about making a statement that you support sustainability as well as the greater community.

Thinking again of the back-of-house, when you refurbish, one of the foremost criteria for choosing your designer must be how he or she intends to enact gradual change while also incorporating recycled materials. Then there are the usual suspects of converting to LEDs, better boilers and more efficient waterflow machinery for bathrooms as well as the grounds. Also check in to see what government grants can be taken advantage of.

Around the property, there’s potential for drip irrigation, incorporating local species of plants into the landscaping or the building of a garden for heirloom crops. While this garden won’t be enough to meet the demands of your entire foodservice requirements, it is a token effort that, when properly planned, can be put front and center where guests can see. Another odd bedfellow of the garden is the apiary where a few bold hotels are tucking these away on their roofs or just beyond reach then branding their own hyperlocal honeys.

As one final benefit that you may have overlooked, while sustainability efforts are designed to save money on the back-end and heighten guest appeal in the front, you must also consider another key stakeholder – your employees. People want to work for places that care. Your associates are the ones who live and breathe your hallways and spaces, so any material upgrades you enact will help to motivate your team. This can be further bolstered by explaining your mission and getting buy-in so everyone knows the importance of what you are trying to accomplish.

In the Guestroom
Most of these you should already be well aware of if you have attended any hospitality technology tradeshow in the past three years. Still, though, they are worth repeating and substantiating.

While there are a myriad of in-room sustainability upgrades you can make, none are more explicitly guest-facing than the smart thermostat. These can be finely attuned to conserve energy by not heating or cooling rooms when no one is present. As well, with the rise of IoT guestrooms, these can be linked to the PMS so you can have just-in-time temperature settings for when a guest arrives or leaves.

Next best is a towel recycling program as well as something as simple as separate garbage bins for waste and recycling because these are both highly visible. Along these lines, you might consider detergent dispensers instead of mini-bottles to reduce the amount of plastic consumption. These three all come with the corollary that you must retrain your housekeepers accordingly and account for any additional time needed to clean the rooms.

Thinking aesthetically, there are many other subtle enhancements that might also apply to other operations like meetings and not your rooms and suites. These include using mugs for the coffeemaker instead of paper cups, providing electronics for writing to get away from notepads, wiring in a master switch that turns off all the lights in a room after you remove your key or, if necessary, thick window films to reduce heat transfer.

Throughout Cyberspace
Always the showman, all these efforts would be for naught if you don’t amplify them across multiple channels. As previously cited, most important is your website where, after you’ve gotten the ball rolling on a few of these initiatives, a dedicated page or subsection on corporate social responsibility would be drafted with the proper environmental keywords strategically repeated throughout.

Thinking holistically, make sustainability part of your mission statement then link to it through the appropriate channels and websites that already scrape information from yours to furbish their landing pages. You might also recruit environmentally inclined journalists and travel bloggers to report in on what you are doing as part of a public relations campaign. The key term to keep in mind here is ‘conspicuous conservation’. You can’t just make the change; you have to tell everyone so they too can get in on the action!