Sustainability as a modern pillar of branding and marketing: Part 1

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 eco friendly 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.


Food outlets

You can’t get away with incorporating a few select organic ingredients in the menus of your signature restaurant anymore. Sustainable practices must now be the norm for every facet of your F&B operations, 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.

Look for Part 2 of this feature tomorrow which will address sustainability and marketing issues in other departments, including the guest room and other parts of the property,  

Are hoteliers ready for the “smart” hotel room?  
Sustainability as a modern pillar of branding and marketing: Part 2