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 Rambling Articles Provided by Mr. Napier Raise Three Key Points
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by Steven Gersman & Heidi Siegelbaum
January 3, 2008

We read with amusement the rambling entries provided by Mr. Barry Napier from April through November 2007. We won’t even bother engaging in the debate over the science of climate change. 

The articles’ very long diatribes raise three key points:  

1. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is “just a PR ploy.”
2. “Saving the planet is a fairy-story”
3. ‘Going green’ is just another word for making sound business decisions.
Despite this, Mr. Napier’s entries do raise some timely and important issues: the purpose and nature of business, the intersection of business and “the planet,” shifting trends and customer expectations, greenwashing and the trajectory of hotel planning and operation.

The Role Of Business: There has been a meteoric rise in the number of companies adopting corporate social responsibility (CSR) action and reports (www.csrwire.com) for several reasons: corporate social responsibility represents a range of complex, intersecting influences—the need and desire to support the communities in which companies have a presence, supporting pride, motivation and participation in a demonstrably positive side of corporate life, a desire to improve performance and good will, and enhance shareholder value (Greenwash Brigade).
 
Corporations - including hotels - are integrated parts of a community and already have a long history of supporting the communities in which they operate. CSR is an extension of this relationship as well as an implicit acknowledgement that companies have many stakeholders outside the ones that financially invest in the company.

There is a powerful and growing groundswell of support for shifting the trajectory of business - one which offers unparalleled opportunity to create social, economic and community wealth.  One need only read the Peter Senge et. al. book, Presence, which was written in response to Jack Mile’s Requiem for a Planet, to get an idea of the depth and seriousness with which major multinational corporations are addressing the fundamental role of business. You can also read the Summit Papers from corporation2020.org which provide a compelling blueprint for altering our future history. 

Accordingly, we disagree with the statement that the “whole” reason for existence of a hotel is to make money. An example of sloppy business practice not heeding market trends thereby leading to disastrous consequences occurred when farmers ignored the lack of international interest in genetically modified food, American corn exports dropped from 3.15 million to 33,000 metric tons in a nine-year period (http://www.ers.usda.gov). 

Hotels Can Save the Planet: We think that hotels, as part of one of the largest economic sectors in the world, can indeed help “save the planet.” We see this as a worthy and achievable goal that also coincides with good business practice.  Despite Mr. Napier’s disdainful references to saving the planet (“a fairy-story”), this planet is the only one we have  - as one commentator noted recently, “There is no Planet B.” We get our food, drinking water, clean air and the sum total of natural resources used to drive our economies from this disparaged planet.

He asks, “What is really going on? Are hotels and resorts just following a fashion and not a scientific principle? Is there any real need to go as far as they are going in the mad clamour to keep the green giant jolly?”

Mr. Napier labels waste reduction, elimination of the use of toxic chemicals and other strategies as sound business decisions. We agree. Where we differ is with his denial of a link between climate change and the implementation of these policies. 

The sound business practices he refers to were generally not adopted in the past, despite their cost effectiveness.  The opportunities to reduce expenses and improve the environment have always been there, their benefits to the hotel industry no different today than yesterday. So what has changed?

It is the imperative of the climate change issue and the public's recognition of its importance that is driving these green policies. That is the link between climate change and sound business practices. These include the development of new equipment, products and processes as well as energy efficiency standards (e.g., Energy Star, L.E.E.D.).

As a result, all of Mr. Napier’s “scientific” protestations about climate change are irrelevant. The industry is adapting to a changed marketplace as any business must, and that is good management practice. Reducing our use of energy, improving air quality, preserving drinking water through droughts and floods alike, eliminating toxicity from the environment our guests and employees are exposed to in a hotel - these are responses to a new consciousness called climate change. As they should be.

The Basis for Action: Everyone seems to want to jump on the green bandwagon, which inexorably raises opportunity for greenwashing. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission is holding workshops on January 8th in Washington, DC to revise their environmental marketing guidelines for carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates. Use caution when making environmental claims about what your hotel is doing and the new green products you are using but talk about it. Your guests, conference travelers and others are in fact very interested in the good work of hotels, even if they say nothing. It is not in the nature of people generally to congratulate or challenge existing practice. They will just take their business elsewhere next time.

To make our collective and positive change in hotel practice “go viral,” it’s crucial that hotels share their work and provide opportunities to transfer that knowledge and what it means to its guests and the local community in which the hotel operates. The manner in which those accomplishments are shared, if carefully framed, need not be lecturing in tone, or finger wagging- we would never suggest that approach for any written collateral. 

Hoteliers know that disruptive weather, insurance response, flooding, drinking water availability and related issues have a huge impact on their business. This past November, the World Tourism Market hosted the UNWTO’ Ministers' Summit on Tourism and Climate Change.  They called on the tourism industry, including specific mention of hoteliers, to “adjust their activities, using more energy-efficient and cleaner technologies and logistics, in order to minimize as much as possible their contribution to climate change.”

So, whether you predicate changes in the way you build and operate your hotel on saving the planet or just good business practice, hats off to you because you see the world changing and want to be proactive rather than be caught up in the turbulent and generally unsuccessful wake of reaction.



About the authors

Steven Gersman 

Steve is a businessman and principal of GreenTravelSolutions. He is a graduate of Hotel Institute Montreux in Switzerland, has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, and a dual Masters in Organizational Communication and Training & Development. Steve’s first real job was in a hotel. Since then, he has worked in the hotel industry and is also an experienced consultant and manager. He is skilled in areas of organizational communications, organizational development (OD), project management, training and development (T&D) and continuous quality improvement. He is focused on measurable outcomes with ongoing monitoring and improvement.

At Boeing he developed and introduced the first continuous quality improvement program with dramatic cost savings and cycle time reduction. Later he was National Training Manager at Verizon Wireless, a company with 55,000 employees. For nine years he managed programs there from executive level to front line employees. He is a skilled facilitator who has conducted executive retreats, problem solving groups, and quality improvement projects. He designed an award winning, online performance management system, and provided change management support designed to help employees deal with five mergers in as many years

Steve was featured in Training, a respected trade journal, for developing a uniquely innovative new hire orientation program. His work has saved companies millions of dollars, increased efficiency and productivity, and motivated employees and executives alike. In recent years, he has been focusing on sustainability issues with an emphasis on green hotels and tourism.

Outside of his work, Steve has performed in leadership positions for a number of non-profit organizations including Leadership Tomorrow, a joint venture of The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and The United Way. Its mission is “to develop effective community leaders who work to strengthen our region.”

Heidi Siegelbaum

Heidi is President of Siegelbaum & Associates which specializes in sustainable tourism, science translation, cross-border indicators with Canada, cross-disciplinary planning and environmental technical assistance to businesses.  She has worked for over 10 years to facilitate sustainable tourism and food strategies in Washington State. 

Heidi has expertise in communications and framing science, technical environmental assistance to business and worked extensively with the Pike Place Market and several downtown hotels on a water conservation pilot. She authored the Washington Sustainable Tourism Initiative and managed the Sound Tourism-Sound Environment program for several years.  She also worked in hotels, farms and restaurants for many years and graduated from the L’Academie de Cuisine’s Pratique program. 

Earlier in her career, she was in-house legal counsel for EPA for industrial chemicals and biotechnology and the Senior Performance Measure Analyst for the Washington State Department of Ecology. Heidi has a B.A. from Ithaca College, a Juris Doctorate from Vermont Law School, and is a Watershed Steward trained by the Washington State University Extension.  Heidi is on the executive committee of the Northwest Natural Resource Group (http://www.nnrg.org), which brokers FSC forest certification and landowner business services, and serves on the Technical Advisory Committee of the Seattle Culinary Academy.

Heidi recently joined American Public Media’s Greenwash Brigade which explores the nuances of incremental environmental management practices (http://www.publicradio.org/columns/sustainability/greenwash). 

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Contact:

Steven Gersman 
sgersman@gmail.com
 

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