The ideas of sustainability and social responsibility have been floating around the hotel industry for quite some time. However, this year is different—these topics have become crucial for the hotel industry. Travellers increasingly seek out eco-friendly and socially conscious accommodations, prioritising ethical travel more and more.
Over time, the concept of corporate social responsibility has evolved. Now, it looks at the well-being of not only investors but customers, employees and the larger society, community and environment. That said, just recycling won't cut it to be socially responsible in 2023. You need to have a holistic look at your practices and partnerships to get closer to being a sustainable and socially responsible hotel. Above all, you need to motivate your team, guests and community to move towards a more sustainable future as well.
Amidst a sea of greenwashing, it can be hard for travellers to discern which hotels are authentically intentional from those only hopping on the green bandwagon. We look at how you can ensure your hotel achieves a more sustainable status and lives up to the standards of eco-conscious travellers. Plus, we look at how to communicate your efforts with your guests in an inspiring way that creates trust.
Starting your hotel’s journey towards sustainability
A true commitment to sustainable practices is not an easy journey from the start. For it to truly work, you need to be committed, intentional and have your whole team aligned. On top of that, you need to reassess every side of your business—from procurement to guest experience, hiring and partnerships. Here are a few topics that can give you a good start when reassessing your responsibilities.
1. Get your employees on board with training
Your staff plays a crucial role in your journey towards sustainability and social responsibility. As with any grand plans for change, everyone needs to be on board. These days, people are more aware of the impact certain actions have on the environment. Still, it’s helpful to quantify your impact to paint a picture for your staff. Show them the reasons why changes will happen, and what the changes will mean. Then, train them on sustainable best practices. Most importantly, get their opinions on areas of the business that concern them. Take time to understand their processes and see how you can optimise them to include socially responsible behaviour.
Being socially responsible doesn't only mean bringing your team to work together to become more environmentally conscious. True sustainability means caring for your employees and fostering an environment that cultivates growth according to ethical work standards. For example, the Langham Hospitality Group has committed extensive efforts to foster an environment where its employees can reach their full potential.
2. Look at your resource usage
True sustainability and social responsibility require commitment and long-term strategic change. And pleasing sustainably-focused travellers is not the only benefit. For instance, energy efficiency can reduce your operating costs by cutting consumption by 20-30%—without impacting the guest experience. A good way to start is by encouraging guests to opt out of housekeeping. From your side, you can achieve better energy efficiency through a multitude of ways. One is by upgrading to smart technologies such as LED lights, light dimmers and smart thermostats. Another is by covering your pools and saunas to diminish heat loss. In the longer term, consider upgrading to renewable heating and installing solar panels. You could also introduce lighting motion sensors, which can reduce your lighting cost by 30 to 50%. As a result, you will both reduce your carbon footprint and save money on energy bills.
Similarly, conserving water can save a good portion of your utility costs. On top of that, as places around the world suffer from droughts and water shortages, water conservation shows more than sustainability; it shows compassion towards more than just your local environment. Much like energy efficiency, water conservation requires a long-term commitment. Start by creating a management plan for optimising your water usage—evaluate your bathrooms, laundry service, landscaping practices and pool water consumption. Some ideas are to introduce low-flow showerheads, toilets or faucets. Most importantly, make sure to educate your staff and guests on sustainable practices. Particularly for your guests, encourage them to reuse towels, and take shorter showers instead of baths.
Many hotels already put in place energy and water conservation policies. For example, Last Drop Village Hotel & Spa reduced their footprint by only changing bed linen for stays over 3 days unless requested by the guest. Similarly, Cinnamon Hotels' in-house water waste control systems have an annual saving of 816 cubic meters.
3. Reconsider your waste management system
Hotels, bars and restaurants are massive consumers of both perishable and non-perishable resources. And the average hotel guest generates about 1kg of waste per night. As a result, it’s crucial that hotels set up a system to reduce their impact when it comes to managing waste. On top of that, a well-designed strategy will also save your hotel time, money and resources. Moving towards a system in which nothing gets wasted could cut your waste disposal bill by a third. Creating zero waste is indeed hard—but it’s good to start by auditing where most of your waste comes from. Look at food and beverages, but also single-use items such as toiletries.
Communicate with your team and guests the importance of the 4Rs: reduce, reuse, replace and recycle. Say goodbye to single-use, and see where you can use refillable dispensers—both in the rooms and in your breakfast buffet. Moreover, ensure you purchase biodegradable or recyclable products and consider composting your waste. Also, have a look at your food practices, and create a plan for your leftover food. Lastly, partner up with local organizations to donate unused items, and put them to better use.
A great example of nifty sustainability practices that can reduce your waste comes from Columbus Hotel Monte Carlo. They minimised their waste by making their (eco-friendly) dental and razor kits available only on demand. Moreover, they buy their organic coffee in bulk or biodegradable capsules and use a partner to recycle their soaps.
4. Ensure your procurement is sustainable
You cannot be sustainable while using products made or transported in a non-sustainable (or worse, unethical) way. This is why you need to start looking at the products you use. Luckily, there are many benefits to buying sustainably. Think about cost savings, improved reputation, improved access to capital and access to tax breaks and credits.
Before embarking on grander things, take a look at sourcing environmentally friendly products. Look for certified eco and fair-trade labels, like B Corp, Certified Rainforest Alliance and PETA-approved. On top of that, take advantage of your local community. Sourcing locally helps you support and form better relationships with your local community while reducing transportation costs. As goods take less effort to reach you, you reduce your overall carbon footprint. And in the case of food, you will provide your guests with fresher dishes made from organic products, and a more authentic experience. For example, the Langham Hospitality Group has committed to having at least 50% of their menus sourced from local farms, fisheries or homegrown.
5. Engage your community
Much like all the other topics, engaging your community entails a wide scope of activities. Think about sourcing seasonal, local food, or providing a more authentic experience for your guests. Do this by engaging local businesses, and using local partnerships to grow your reputation.
While it’s important to use your local community to improve your services, it’s also important to give something back. Be a home for marginalised groups through inclusive local hiring. Offer training, and help locals build skills. Most importantly, develop mutually beneficial partnerships—help small local businesses get recognition and empower local entrepreneurs, so you can all grow together sustainably. Lastly, be a social hub for your community. Support local charities, host events or workshops and partner with local organisations to create a positive impact.
For instance, among their Unesco Sustainable Travel Pledge, Hotel Okura has committed to supporting their local communities to thrive.
“We support local and national good-will organisations and individuals by making our time, spirit, know-how and materials available to those in need.”
Similarly, Stayokay has several projects running, one of which is Stay4all. This helps students unable to afford to go to a summer camp. And they include their guests as well—for any Stayokay meeting room booking, the hotel donates one euro to the cause.
Communicating your sustainability efforts
There are two sides to communicating sustainability efforts to eco-conscious consumers. You need to earn their trust by proving your authenticity. Then, you have to make sure your message reaches the right people.
Earn your guests’ trust
One foolproof way to show authenticity is by becoming certified with reputable eco-labels. A few examples are B Corp, the European Eco-Label, Green Seal, LEED and the Rainforest Alliance. Becoming certified puts a stamp of approval on your efforts and helps guests trust your long-term commitment. Then, you will want (or may even be required) to publish a yearly sustainability report. This is a great outlet to take accountability for your actions, acknowledge your mistakes and highlight your efforts. Have a look at how The Social Hub creates their sustainability reports in tune with their branding and tone of voice.
Let the message be heard
There are several ways to make sure your efforts are known to travellers. Make sure all social responsibility activities you carry out are displayed on your hotel’s website and social media channels. Use these outlets to share news and information about your impact, and encourage guests to share their experiences and join in the conversation. For guests that have already made it onto your property, have information displayed in your room—as well as ways in which they can reduce their environmental impact during their stay. This can be information about recycling, or best practices for water conservation and energy-saving habits.
Your partnerships should also speak for themselves. When partnering with sustainable organisations or influencers, the association with them supports your efforts. This is Make sure travellers know about your partnerships by highlighting them on your marketing channels. You can also further spread the news by hosting workshops and events with your partners.
Next steps for your hotel’s sustainability
Like any other strategy, measuring and reporting your performance is crucial. To ensure you stay on the right track, hold yourself accountable and increase your impact, regularly reevaluate your performance against the standards you’ve set. Look at where you came from, where you are now, and how you can optimise your strategy. And as you communicate your performance, your guests will appreciate your dedication to authentic sustainability and social responsibility.