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Hospitality Leadership Through Learning
CHR

The Hotel Industry Seeks the Elusive “Green Bullet”

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Vol 2 No 1
By: Sustainability Roundtable Participants

Executive Summary:

Chaired by David Sherwyn

Participants in Cornell’s first sustainability roundtable concluded that a major challenge facing the hotel industry is to define exactly what “green” means. Hoteliers looking to create a green hotel are caught in a situation where standards are unclear and consumers’ views are inconsistent. Thus, hotels are sometimes reluctant to implement sustainable systems, especially given sometimes lengthy payback periods.

While participants agreed that the industry needs to improve the sustainability of its operations, most hotels encounter substantial barriers to implementation. Hoteliers still need to determine exactly which green hotel practices are most effective, for instance, and they must consider payback periods to demonstrate the value of financing such initiatives. Practices with a payback period exceeding three to seven years are difficult to contemplate and finance.

Consumers are the great unknown in this equation, particularly because they may conclude that some hotel practices amount to “greenwashing,” which involves exaggerating the environmental value of certain hotel practices. In that regard, some hotel operators have focused on sustainable development quietly, to avoid the greenwashing accusation.

Roundtable participants recommended that the green hotel industry develop clear indices of sustainability, even though that means comparing dissimilar programs. For example, recycling and clean energy are both important to sustainability, but the energy program is invisible to guests, unlike the recycling program. Thus, participants suggested developing a “green bullet” that would involve creating and sharing effective sustainability models to move the industry forward and to develop a realistic measure of sustainability. Such a measure should combine the sometimes competing interests of owners, management firms, and customers.

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