Rebecca Hawkins, director of consultancy firm CESHI, says hospitality operators must be able to prove that their sustainable business practices make a difference in order to win consumers for whom CSR matters.
"Businesses engaged in the broader sustainability agenda will have noticed that the range of issues embraced by this topic has expanded significantly. Once, any organisation that was engaged in energy, waste and water management could claim to be pursuing sustainable business practices. But today these initiatives are just seen as standard, good business sense.
The broadening of the sustainability agenda for hospitality businesses and the ambition that it demonstrates is welcome. But the merging of all these issues under a single banner provides problems for operators seeking to promote their corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials.
The reputational risks of failing to meet promised performance standards mean many hospitality businesses understate the range of initiatives they are involved in.
Also, they do not know enough about the consumers who make choices based on environmental and ethical factors. The available data is contradictory and relates mainly to tourism.
Findings include Defra's 2007 research, which showed that environmental considerations have little influence on holiday decisions; and a VisitBritain NOP poll, which discovered that 14% of domestic holidaymakers in England had chosen a specific holiday because of environmental or social reasons.
This is supported by the success of sites such as responsibletourism.com and may signify that businesses with a market presence for credible CSR initiatives stand to benefit. However, mainstream operators are unlikely to benefit in this way without the following:
â- Improved understanding of the elements of responsible business programmes that most appeal to different consumers
â- Demonstrating the credibility of their programmes and proving that the initiatives make a genuine difference to the quality of the experience and the issue being addressed
â- Understanding the incentives that consumers respond to in this area and applying the techniques that are emerging in the social marketing field.
Working with partners such as Considerate Hoteliers and Coast, Oxford Brookes University is starting to address these issues and develop tools such as a Chefs' Charter and Green Passports to help businesses communicate the actions that matter to their clients."