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  • Writer's pictureDr. Keneika A. Rowe, CHE, CHIA

Are You Losing Customers Because Of Greenwashing?

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

This images shows the greenwashing concept namely: green, bio, eco, and natural
Greenwashing Concept (Photo by: Shutterstock)

Greenwashing has been a trending topic for a few years in many industries but specifically the hospitality and tourism industry. Many businesses are called out for greenwashing their concepts and products to increase customers spending and loyalty. Greenwashing is the term used to highlight the unethical act of companies using green concepts in their marketing to portray pro-environmental practices. In her article, Jessica Welch highlighted, “Companies of all sizes use greenwashing to trick consumers through creative branding into believing they are choosing healthier and more eco-friendly options.” In 2018, LaCroix, a sparkling water company, was sued for lying to customers about their sparkling water containing "All-Natural" flavorings. The company has denied all allegations. These allegations are also seen in the restaurant industry as well. For example, a restaurant may advertise that it uses only locally sourced ingredients to produce their menu items when some ingredients were imported or have a high carbon footprint. We see these allegations even more in the hotel industry where hoteliers advertise that they are eco-friendly by merely asking their guests to recycle plastic bottles or take part in their Towel & Linen Reuse Program in which guests are given the option to reuse their linens and towels more than once. Even though little efforts seek to ameliorate the negative impacts of organizations' performances on the environment, it takes more to have a sustainable hospitality organization. To be a sustainable organization, managers must consider the three pillars of sustainability; these are economic, environmental, and social or (planet, people, and profit) and make every effort to implement programs that can contribute to organizational growth.

Customers Want Integrity: Are You Prepared For the Increase in Ecotourism Travelers?

This image include 3 tourists hiking
Nature Tourists on a Hike

Customers today are very knowledgeable and are aware of sustainable development and practices. Thanks to technology, customers can instantaneously find information and share their experiences on various social media platforms. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) does an excellent job by educating the public of their 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The 17 sustainable goals are listed to encourage both private and public sectors to contribute to sustainable development. There is a growing trend in Ecotourism. This form of tourism comprises of Ecotourists and Nature-based travelers. These travelers want to see the businesses they support taking part in environmental practices and sustainable initiatives. According to Kristi Foster, “Ecotourism is in high demand. International visitor arrivals could hit 1.8 billion by 2030 and ecotourism is predicted to grow more rapidly over the coming decades than traditional mass tourism.” This means your next guest could be an eco-tourist and your business must be fully engaged with the principles of sustainable development and not just having some catchy phrases to deceive customers. Companies must ensure that their messages to customers have integrity. Customers want to know that they can trust what was promised to them. As I mentioned before, technology has increased the way customers share their experiences. Therefore, you do not want to be caught greenwashing your customers as this will tarnish your reputation as well as the ability to attract prospective customers and increase revenue.

4 Guiding Principles Hoteliers Could Use to Implement Sustainable Initiatives or Practices

This image shows a hand with a pen checking off the checklist.

Research shows 4 guiding principles for best sustainable initiatives or practices:

  • Be Transparent with employees and stakeholders of the practices being initiated in your organization. It is always best when the reasons for implementing these practices are communicated to employees and how they will benefit as well as the organization and communities.

  • Be mindful of the organization’s activities and the impact they have on people and the environment.

  • Implement Social and Technological Advancement to improve the well-being of people within communities and the planet.

  • Demonstrate responsible citizenship by supporting not only local communities but global communities and societies.

Why Taking Part in Sustainable Initiatives or Practices Important?

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word sustainability is cost. According to research, small and medium-sized hoteliers are known to make little to no contribution to sustainable development due to the high cost of implementation and the lack of financial stability. However, all it takes are small steps to contribute to sustainable development that could make your organization more profitable in the long run. For example, hoteliers could join the Clean the World Foundation, a soap recycling program which focuses on providing hygienic products to impoverished communities globally. Every initiative counts, but what is most important is that hoteliers must seek certifications, as this looks better in the eyes of customers and the ability to gain a competitive advantage over competitors.

How to Improve Your Sustainable Initiatives or Practices?

There is a plethora of platforms with helpful resources that can help you get started or continue on your journey in operating a sustainable organization. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) provides a list of guidelines for hoteliers to contribute to a responsible and healthy environment. In addition, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers great resources, ecolabels, and standards to guide hoteliers in making their hotels green.

We encourage knowledge sharing on our platform and would love to hear from you. What are some sustainable initiatives or practices you have amalgamated that are cost-effective for your organization? Please share with us in the comment section below.

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