Talking Point: Reputable or sustainable: what comes first?

Unlock the door to sustainability reporting

Unlock the door to sustainability reporting

In today’s Talking Point blog, Clare Garnham, Senior Account Director at Speed Communications sets out the case for how hotels can benefit from communicating their sustainable activities and why they need to be clear and proactive about doing so.

According to the Reputation Institute – the global gold standard for reputation measurement and management – even the world’s most reputable companies continue to lag behind when it comes to their CSR reputation. Only six out of 101 brands, including the likes of Google, Microsoft and Disney, received a ‘strong’ score for their CSR reputation from their key stakeholders (including consumers) with the remaining companies earning an ‘average’ score, including at least one well-known hotel group.

Mind the Gap

Leaving aside the debate as to whether the term ‘CSR’ is still relevant and meaningful, this research would indicate that being seen as a responsible business and having a strong reputation are inextricably linked and for some, there is still a visible gap between the two.

In any business, you cannot manage what you cannot measure and producing timely, quantitative analysis of responsible business practices is one of the great challenges to proving success. Take the reduction of CO2 as an example. Countless businesses, including hotels and resorts have implemented a CO2 reduction strategy*, most likely within their wider environmental impact plan. But, the critical element to success is follow-through, including by ensuring that such initiatives are measured and successes, challenges (and even failures) are shared.

(*For more information on how you can measure and reduce your carbon footprint using the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative tool, see below.)

Communicating Responsibly

Communicating responsible business activity is about communicating responsibly. Many business travellers will actively look for an environmentally conscious hotel, some even willing to pay more for the experience, which is encouraging, but equally challenging. Starwood's Element hotels are a good example of this. Environmentally friendly from the ground up, the hotels include features such as floors made of recycled materials and energy efficient lighting and incorporate facilities that help green travellers maintain their routine away from home. And it seems to be working, with the brand expanding internationally and the latest Element hotel coming to Europe in Frankfurt late last year. Two more are planned in the coming years in Amsterdam and London.

Sustainable practices need to be evident, recordable and – critically – transparent. Communicating sustainable practices can’t sit in isolation, a bolt-on, a bit of text in one area of the website; they need to be communicated from all parts and all people in the business. Retail chain Marks & Spencer continues to be an excellent example of this in the UK, and whether you buy into the brand or not, you are confronted with their sustainability message from the shop floor to the boardroom. They have acknowledged the powerful marketing potential of sustainable action; particularly in attracting customers and even new recruits. When a responsible business strategy is fused with a business model, then strategy becomes sustainable (in both senses) and importantly, profitable.

In the hotel and hospitality industry, the perfect responsible business balance is a tricky thing to strike. Sustainable tourism is arguably a contradiction in terms, where successful destinations see increasing footfall and pressures on resources in natural environments that would probably benefit from fewer people putting additional strain on their delicate ecosystems.

A communications campaign which seeks to negate potential criticism, whilst promoting best sustainability practice can only be as great as the sum of its parts. Relying on a press release or a CEO interview with a broadsheet newspaper will have impact on a given day but is gone tomorrow.

Reflecting Commitment and Purpose

The communications toolbox, and in turn the role of PR, is now far more wide ranging. Teams like us are called on to look at every aspect of what makes and maintains a business reputation; both internal and external. For example, a programme of activity which uses existing brand champions (be it staff, loyal customers or stakeholders) to support responsible business messaging and act as an extension of your chosen company spokespeople, is an obvious (and largely inexpensive) first step. As is increasing industry collaboration and looking to work with peers and even competitors within the hospitality sector to help improve the overall reputation of the industry. **

There is no doubt that responsible business strategy will continue to take on an escalating role, as will communicating such activity. For hotels, the challenge is to think about what you want to be known for and what you want your responsible business plan to say about you and your people. Gaining clarity of this and greater confidence in your beliefs will support a braver, a more holistic and importantly, a long-term approach to responsible reputation building. And communicating your sustainability will undoubtedly lead to increased CR activity across the board.


* If you are keen to measure and reduce your hotel’s carbon footprint, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) has collaborated on the development of the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI), a globally recognised – free – tool which enables properties to measure the carbon footprint per room, stay or meeting. Learn more here.

** ITP provides a non-competitive platform for hotel industry leaders to share ideas, build relationships and work collaboratively to make hospitality one of the world’s most responsible industries. Our members constitute almost 20 global hotel brands, working together to increase sustainability in thousands of hotels around the world.

Leave a Reply