Sustainability: Smashing Myths and Building Customer Response
By Rohit Verma Executive Director, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research | June 03, 2012
Co-authored by Glenn Withiam, Executive Editor, Cornell Hospitality Quarterly
As the global hotel industry continues its push toward increasing sustainability, we see a mixed picture in terms of programs and results. As we discussed previously in this space, part of the issue regarding results is that the industry has yet to find consensus on how to measure sustainability. Another factor that perhaps is inhibiting sustainability efforts is the question regarding how customers view hotels' sustainability programs-and whether guests will participate in green policies.
Building on the information shared in the most recent Cornell Center for Hospitality Sustainability Roundtable, held in fall 2011, we first focus on the myths of sustainability and then explore the interaction of hotel guests and sustainability.
During the roundtable, David Jerome, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at InterContinental Hotels Group, led a session on managing sustainability globally. He pointed out three myths and one real barrier faced by global hotel operators as they work to implement sustainability programs system-wide. The barrier is the lack of consistency from property to property and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. He cited as many as 350 different voluntary or mandatory certifications, frameworks, standards, or regulations that a global operator would need to address. Needless to say, the codes and standards are in constant flux, and several companies now use computers to keep track of the codes and changes to codes.
One emerging trend that Jerome is seeing is an increased level of expertise required for hotel employees who are part of a company's sustainability department. Many corporate responsibility departments have evolved to handle a diverse range of issues. This has led to a knowledge gap in some organizations, where not all internal stakeholders are equally aware of sustainability issues.
The increasing number of regulations and certifications also presents an opportunity for the hospitality industry to shape and influence such policies. Many certifications have been developed without real input from the hospitality industry, but industry research and collaboration can bring about more appropriate policies. Chief among these policies is how to measure sustainability, which we discussed at length in a previous column.