Despite contradictions involving finances, operations and marketing, today’s hotel and restaurant operators are making huge strides toward sustainable operations.
This was one of the key findings of the Cornell Hospitality Sustainability Roundtable, held in New York City this past November. Participants, led by Associate Professor Alex Susskind, examined the critical issues in sustainability – namely, customer demand, cost effectiveness, supplier and stakeholder engagement, global trends and system-wide integration – and concluded that:
- While hotels and restaurants can save money from sustainable practices, they often lack the capital to invest in them.
- Hospitality organizations have made substantial strides toward improving operational sustainability, but most of the “low hanging fruit” (i.e., energy-saving lightbulbs) has already been harvested, challenging these organizations to develop new and cost-effective sustainability practices.
- Operators want to improve practices, but they lack measurement and benchmark standards against which to gauge their progress.
- Although guests expect hotels and restaurants to operate sustainably, they don’t use that as a decision factor when selecting a property.
Roundtable Findings and Recommendations
Owners should compile and share industry best practices. Each hospitality organization seems to be making its own way in developing sustainability practices. These organizations could progress more quickly by sharing knowledge and experiences.
Sustainability is ultimately tied to profitability. Integrating sustainability often involves a substantial initial capital investment. Like it or not, hotel and restaurant owners must approach these sustainability initiatives within the mindset of ROI. Bottom line, no sustainability program makes sense if it does not have a favorable cost-benefit ratio.
Biggest sustainability issues include water and energy use, and sustainable sourcing. Guest room water and energy management is at the forefront of today’s sustainability efforts, but owners struggle to conserve without inconveniencing guests in any way. Likewise, consumers’ demands for locally sourced ingredients and healthier menu options complicates restaurants’ abilities to integrate effective sustainability practices.
Sustainability should be more than just a “program.” According to breakout session leader Sebastian Escarrer, Vice Chairman of Sol Melia Hotels, sustainability has both environmental and cultural aspects. Industry leaders must find socially responsible ways to implement sustainability practices, integrating them into organizational culture, values and strategies.
Research indicates a trend toward certifications in sustainability. Corporate executives have shown a preference for certifications as a starting point for making sustainability more widely accepted and practiced. But while many businesses would like to get recognition for their sustainability efforts, certifications vary and are potentially confusing to consumers.
For more information on the impact sustainability practices are having on today’s hospitality organizations, visit the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration Center for Hospitality Research.
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