How often have you read the card in your hotel bathroom that states, “A towel on the rack means, ‘I will use again.’ A towel on the floor means, ‘Please replace.'”? It makes you feel good when you place those towels on the rack as if you’re doing something to help the hotel help the environment.
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the experience shared by Jay Westerveld. Instead, upon considering the negative environmental impacts the towels have on the environment, Westerveld coined the now familiar term “Greenwashing”.
“Greenwashing” describes the scenario when a company promotes its efforts to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but, in reality, is making no significant impact on sustainability overall.
For example, most can remember that BP (AKA British Petroleum) has dedicated much of its current website design to describing its efforts towards sustainability and achieving a “net zero” carbon emissions. Yet, even after being party to the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, they continue to resist and reject efforts to clean up the environment through measures such as the Paris Climate Agreement.
This is an extreme example of greenwashing, but effectively clear as to how it can be used to promote sustainability while hiding the uglier truth.
Consumers of “organic” foods have long been navigating these waters as companies have learned to use words such as “natural” to fool consumers into trusting the ingredients in their products. But, accustomed to a history of creative marketing and false claims, only a tiny margin of American consumers relies on the FDA’s organic labels despite their veracity.
Greenwashing Within the Hospitality Industry
How does greenwashing impact the hospitality industry? Many studies conducted by various organizations over the last several years indicate that most travelers agree that sustainable travel is vitally important.
Some studies indicate that travelers are willing to spend more on travel if it makes their trip more sustainable.
Your guests are likely searching for information regarding your sustainability goals and strategies before making reservations, so these efforts are not something to sleep on.
It is important to note that while some organizations purposefully engage in greenwashing to satisfy their own goals, some may unintentionally find themselves guilty of greenwashing. For example, one area of a hotel or resort can engage in efforts towards sustainability, while another area may be undermining those efforts due to their unsustainable practices.
First, let’s examine some of the many areas in which a hotel can unwittingly become a party to greenwashing within their operation:
- Hotel products
- Hotel services
- Food and Beverage sourcing and disposal
- Waste Disposal
- Water Usage
- Equipment Efficiency
The investment in money and resources necessary to convert each of these areas into sustainable, eco-friendly operations is significant.
The sheer amount of research necessary to confirm that the products you source from are eco-friendly is daunting. In addition, the expense resulting from current HVAC and lighting equipment can also be overwhelming.
But there’s good news: you don’t have to take this on all at once.
Companies such as IMPACTenergy provide facility energy audits, focusing on the hospitality industry. Energy audits are crucial before making investments in new efficient technologies. In addition, going through an audit allows you to gain a holistic understanding of where quick improvements can result in greater efficiencies and gains towards reaching your sustainability goals.
How to Avoid Greenwashing
The easiest way to avoid engaging with greenwashing practices within your organization is simple: Don’t do it.
Actively greenwashing your efforts to reach responsible sustainability is deceitful and irresponsible. Accidental greenwashing is understandable, but consumers may not factor in your intentions when making future travel plans. In this regard, the saying that “any press is good press” is unequivocally untrue. Once consumers believe you’re guilty of greenwashing, it will likely require ongoing and sustained efforts to overcome that negative perception, particularly among travelers passionate about eco-responsibility.
Instead of reaching for 100 per cent sustainability and eco-friendliness, take smaller steps that make sense within your operation and budget. Simple changes like LED lighting and temperature control technology are simple ways to make a big difference out of the gate.
And don’t hesitate to include your guests in your efforts. Tell them about your hotel’s journey towards eco-sustainability and share the small steps you’ve taken towards that goal.
Greenwashing represents the ugliest parts of commercialism and marketing, so consider taking the opposite approach and sharing your journey with humility. Your guests will likely reward you with their patience and return business.
Frequently Asked Questions about Greenwashing
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing conveys a false impression or provides misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly. – Investopedia
What is greenwashing in the hospitality sector?
Examples of greenwashing within the hospitality sector would include providing misleading impressions of the products used by the hotel, energy usage, the treatment of its staff, supply chain impacts, and how the hotel supports and operates within the local area.
How can resorts and hotels prevent greenwashing?
Be honest for forthright with your efforts towards achieving sustainability and eco-friendliness. Do not make boastful claims that cannot be substantiated with facts.
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