These fresh statistics from two recent reports, one from YouGov and the other from Euromonitor, bring a new perspective to the sustainability and environmental conservancy conversations.
What I sense from the results I share below is an air of frustration with which, to a certain extent, I agree with. Let’s first look at the sentiment of this cross-sector question asking if consumers believe the industries listed are doing enough or not enough to minimise their impact on the environment.
It is encouraging that 24% think that hotels are doing enough, but 46% don’t agree, with 30% saying they don’t know. Now, as ever, statistics like these must be taken in context. Why did some people answer that they don’t know? Maybe because they simply don’t travel or stay in hotels. Maybe they don’t even know enough reducing environmental impact themselves to feel qualified enough to comment.
What is concerning is the 46% who answered said that hotels are not doing enough. I believe the problem here lies in two areas:
1. Not enough education around the subject for both business owners and consumers
2. A lack of knowledge around how to talk about the sustainability actions that hotels are doing
Let’s tackle the second area first.
No one wants to feel vulnerable, but the journey towards building a more sustainable and environmentally friendly business requires you to do just that. There are very few hotels that can say they have all areas covered and are 100% eco. Every business has to start somewhere. There are some fantastic examples of positive environment friendly initiatives out there but there is a reluctance to showcase them for fear of being accused of greenwashing because maybe in other areas there is still a lot to do.
The most important action any business owner can take around the sustainability topic is to get started with something that you have the capacity to consistently manage. Too many sustainability initiatives get forgotten about after the initial momentum wears off. There is no finish line when it comes to sustainability action, it is a journey that should be woven into your product development, business-wide operations, and your marketing materials.
It sounds a LOT, but getting started and learning how to talk about what you are doing while acknowledging what is still on the to-do list is the only way to truly show consumers that you have the matter in hand.
Before we move on to address the area of education, take a look here to see if your country is on the geographical breakdown of the same question addressed in the cross-sector example above, this time specific to hotels.
So, education around sustainability. There is simply not enough of it, and I understand why.
Sustainability as a concept is complicated because it is inherently subjective. It means something different to people depending on various factors including their geographical location and their cultural norms. To explain this more clearly, a strategic business focus and understanding of why reducing water consumption is important is totally unquestioned in rural Australia. Not so in rainy northern England.
This is where the concept of responsible tourism makes sense because it encourages business owners to choose sustainability action that is the most relevant, important, and impactful to where they are located.
A business located in a remote destination is unable to source much food within a 5km radius, but they could choose to pool resources with other nearby businesses in a bid to to reduce emissions from packaging and delivery.
We need more focus on teaching businesses, and consumers, that their choices matter. That their decisions can have impact. That we should not give up. Some pressure is healthy as it can become a catalyst for change, yet we cannot hide from the fact that we, as individuals and consumers, have a responsibility to change our habits instead of blaming the industries for not moving forwards fast enough.
A small example… I have often voiced my frustration that iceberg lettuces continue to be wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. But I have a choice. I know I might not need that lettuce until the weekend, and Tuesday is my shopping day, so it is tempting to put it in the basket knowing it will still be fresh when I need it. I am busy, we all are. Buying fresh produce every day or couple of days so I can provide healthy food for my family is a challenge, but if I want to make a difference as a consumer, I need to embrace that choice and not buy the plastic wrapped lettuce.
It is a balance. We need strong governance too, stronger than most countries currently have, to help and support businesses in this inevitable transition because the result of inaction is unthinkable.
Support is a keyword here, and support that makes sense according to your geographical location.
I can’t say I was surprised to see this global trend pop up in Euromonitor’s 2024 customer trends report, but I don’t agree that it is wholly fair, or helpful, for two reasons.
1. Using the term "Greenwashed Out" just fuels the power of the word "greenwashing". As discussed above, many businesses who are doing great things are not talking about them because they are unable (for a whole host of reasons) to tackle everything at once. Most have superb intentions to get through their own to-do list, but achieving sustained results takes time, and should not detract from the value of their efforts, and
2. The phrase "Consumers are pushing the responsibility back on businesses". What I discussed above, about the responsibility we all have over our choices and decisions, is relevant to this. It is OK to sound out frustration, but that is not an excuse to hide from our own inherent, individual responsibility to do better every day, even if it is just a little at a time.
However, the phrase that did catch my eye in this screenshot is: “[…] real change needs to be a collective effort”, and that echoes my own thoughts that there is action to be taken on all sides.
So, in conclusion,
Businesses need to get brave and vulnerable to start, measure, report on results and share them proudly, even if this is just what % of waste your business has reduced over a 3-month period. Transparency here is the key by saying you also know you have lots to do in other areas, but you have chosen to get started here so you can build on the momentum of the positive results.
Consumers need to take responsibility for their choices and support those who are doing what they can. Share your experiences of best practice examples in businesses you visit or shop at, do more at home, talk about this with friends. Your “collaborative effort” is desperately needed.
Governments need to move faster with sector-specific support to help educate and guide everyone in the same direction.
Many questions arise from conversations like these that I have with my clients. Most are fuelled by concern and fear about where to start and how to commit to sustainability endeavours over time. These fears are set aside once we go through my pre-sustainability action framework that presents you with the right questions to make an informed decision about what to get started with and how.
If you are interested to know more, schedule a free 30-minute orientation call and we will take it from there. There are lots of solutions out there, from the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance’s Pathway to Net Zero; to tailored, in-house, real time resource use monitoring using innovative e-tech such as that available at My Green Butler, but taking those first shaky steps is easier with personalised advice based on where you are located, what you are passionate about, your available budget, and the time you have to commit to whatever you choose to start with.
Collaboration was a buzzword throughout the pandemic, and while it is still relevant, if I could choose the buzzword for 2024, it would be personalisation. I invite you to schedule that call to gain clarity and structure around your own, customised, sustainability journey.
Heads up... weekly slots are limited so I am able to manage my own capacity and be at my best for you so take a look at the calendar today. I look forward to speaking with you.