Sustainability continues to be a hot topic in hospitality. Consumers are becoming more aware, corporate policies demand it and most importantly – it’s the right thing to do! From the travel itself to buffets and miniature toiletries, hospitality has a significant environmental footprint and we should do our part to make it as small as possible.
Let’s be honest though; we also have tight budgets, tight schedules and guest expectations to manage, all of which can make it hard to make a shift. Here are some tips to get you started, whether you’re just beginning your journey or ready to take it to the next level.
1. Make it easy
Most of us do our part for the environment in some small way, but it’s probably not top of mind all of the time and definitely not when we’re racing to clean a room or clear a table. If you’re having trouble getting your sustainability program off the ground, consider how you operate. Getting more involvement may be as simple as changing the location of a recycling bin or adding some signage to remind people until better habits are formed.
2. Make it part of culture
It’s easy to cut corners, especially when a sustainable practice is new or takes more time. If you really want to transform your business, you need to make it part of your company culture. Talk about it when recruiting, in trainings, in team meetings – but don’t just talk, it’s true that actions speak louder than words. Planning events like planting trees or beach clean ups can be great for team bonding as well as the environment.
3. Make it everyone’s responsibility
Change is difficult, especially when you’ve been doing something the same way for many years; on average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit! You need to consciously turn off a light or choose the right bin a lot of times before it becomes automatic, especially if it isn’t a personal priority. If you are struggling to get everyone to do their part, try tying sustainable practices to performance reviews, reward systems or even some friendly competition between departments. Often only certain team members have KPIs around water consumption, but we bet that the chefs will be more careful about closing the taps if they have similar targets.
4. Find champions
Let’s face it, not everyone is passionate about food waste or plastic straws, and if you aren’t passionate it can be hard to get others on board. Find the members of your team who are true believers – the ones who take metal straws and reusable bags everywhere they go, or spend their days off volunteering to clean up waterways. Form a committee and challenge them to find new initiatives and ways to get the rest of the team involved, as well as monitor results.
5. Seek out alternatives
Unfortunately, switching to more sustainable practices can mean rising costs; organic food is more expensive, and often recycled packaging is as well. This is beginning to change, however, as the market increasingly demands it. If you’ve written it off as impossible in the past, it may be time to revisit the possibilities; refillable dispensers, alternatives to plastic and sustainable products are all becoming more mainstream, and more affordable. If you have the budget, energy management systems, food digesters and other technologies are increasingly available and may be worth the investment.
6. Seek out partners
Like many journeys, the one to sustainability is easier if you don’t have to make it alone. Finding like-minded partners and suppliers can bring marketing opportunities along with a wealth of knowledge and best practices, and may even be better for your bottom line. We’ve worked with partners to donate partially used bathroom amenities, leftover food and old linens to shelters, suppliers who contribute to CSR initiatives and even a beverage company with a system to refill spirit bottles instead of replacing them. Take the time to find out what’s available in your area, and make business practices part of your consideration when looking for suppliers.
7. Work together
Don’t just seek out suppliers – seek out others in the industry who share your sustainability goals. This is a great way to get new ideas and inspiration, share challenges and solutions and make your team feel a part of a wider movement. Small businesses may even consider working together in purchasing in order to increase buying power and alleviate some of those extra costs.
8. Get creative
Sustainability doesn’t have to be all talk about waste management and turning off lights – why not bring some fun into it? Use old bottles to build a garden wall, create artwork, repurpose wine barrels as tables or planters – let your imaginations run wild! This can be a great opportunity to get guests involved as well.
9. Make it relatable
We’ve all seen the statistics: there are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean, 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year, as are 1.7 trillion gallons of water. And most of us look at this, think for a moment that it’s terrible and – move on. Our brains simply aren’t equipped to process such numbers, much less how our personal actions can make a difference.
Unfortunately, this problem can lead to staff indifference as well as complaints if you are making changes which have an impact on the guest experience; they want their towels replaced daily, even though it’s only once a week at home. Try to break it down – if you switch from individual shampoo bottles to a refillable dispenser, how much plastic waste will you eliminate each year? If people can understand the reason for the change, they can also understand the part they play and will be more likely to go along.
10. Get your guests involved
A corporate company might be able to put a sustainability program into place which is solely internal, but we know this is impossible in hospitality – if our guests don’t buy in we won’t get far. Giving them a choice or prompting an action with a small incentive is a great way to get them involved as well as spread awareness of the great things you’re doing. Choosing to re-use a towel gives a feel-good moment if you know the savings go to plant trees, reward points might make you happy to forgo housekeeping service for the day, a discount can make bringing your own re-usable cup to the café worthwhile. They might be small choices, but each one adds value.
Education and buy in can be especially valuable when the industry and our guests back the same cause. Consider what happened a few years ago when plastic straws suddenly became vilified; almost overnight, it seemed, they were replaced by alternatives in materials ranging from metal and paper to pasta tubes. The power of market demand drove supply of alternatives up and prices down, making the change possible. And yet – straws were only a small part of the plastic waste F&B generates. Imagine what else we could accomplish if businesses and guests come together to demand a more sustainable future?