Dealing your sustainable business a better hand

My grandfather spent a chapter of his life as a card dealer in a poker hall.  A maxim he often shared was “Call a spade a spade”.

Today, in corporate reporting circles, such an approach is called “Transparency” and it occurred to me as I read this article shared by MeetGreen’s twitter feed.  The rest of this post will make more sense of you read the actual article, but at issue is a hotel who earned uncomfortable attention for their ‘green’ initiative to reduce the total guest rooms cleaned each day, thereby ostensibly reducing the energy and water required to support the cleaning.  This initiative has also had the effect of reducing the weekly earning of the housekeeping team, which is where the drama begins.

I feel this train wreck can be a nice example for how organizations often get sustainable business wrong

(in no particular order)

  • Stakeholder Engagement. (on a limb here) The organization likely did not engage affected audiences before rolling out the program.  By not providing some background and/or getting their ownership (or at least a notice), they more readily open themselves up to employee backlash.  Perhaps theirs is not a culture where such a discussion/presentation would have been deemed welcome but, as has been proven elsewhere,  employee groups more easily support tough or smart business decisions when they understand the bigger picture or feel a part of the process
  • Lack of transparency:  Consumers are more educated/more jaded than ever and when a plan like this gets communicated as being all about the environment it is, to many, offensive.  Is it an important and creative method to partner with customers to reduce costs for mutual benefit? Say that.  Let it be ok that it’s a smart business move which has measurable benefit to eco-efficiency goals if that’s the case.  The biggest benefit to the property, one might gather, is the reduced labor cost.   How that pencils with the reduced room rate would take some study, but it appears to be a successful program to reduce costs.  Why not let that be part of what is measured and reported?  Transparent reporting/communication would have helped to build trust and might even have made this article read differently
  • Green. This article raises social responsibility issues which cannot be addressed through the green lens alone.  Businesses which successfully integrate a balanced approach to sustainability, with a measured eye on social and economic indicators as well as those of eco-efficiency, will sooner prosper with a healthy corporate culture in tact.

Many guests are comfortable with the idea of going without getting their sheets and towels changed everyday and might well appreciate a reduced rate as their part of the deal.  Initiatives like these are example of the sort of innovations which bring needed improvement to reducing our impacts on our natural resources.  It’s important that, in pursuit of such initiatives, organizations have clear plans based on triple bottom line considerations, including social elements of the business, and provide transparent reporting on the results of their decisions.  Call a spade a spade and avoid messes like these.


  1. Good points, just a few thoughts.
    First, it is not consumer backlash that is happening here…it’s a battle by union labor, always a contentious subject in and of its own (at least in the United States, not sure about Canada).
    As I see it, the inherent weakness of these workers’ protests lies in the fact that they call eco-friendly programs “fake” because the hotel is profiting from them. Wellll, no kidding!!! That’s the idea of strategic CSR and sustainability in business! And the hotel is already sharing the improved margins with their clientele through vouchers…not a bad deal for the consumer at all.
    It sounds from this article that only a small handful of all employees are actually disgruntled. And not that they shouldn’t be accounted for, but the flaw in their argument leaves me feeling that these hotels are still trying to do the “right” thing…whatever that is.
    How would others suggest the hotel make up for the reduced labor hours and still be fair to the planet and financial investors? Can they continue this operation with only a double bottom line accounting? What are the suggestions out there?

    • Michael Luehrs says:

      Astute, as always, Midori. Unions play an interesting role in today’s hospitality industry (a number of hotel companies view unions as combative and counter productive to quality service cultures. These same companies have issues with signing the UN Global Compact only because of Principle #3 related to collective bargaining for workers.) Still, where unions exist, they present a stakeholder group that needs to be a part of the process to roll out a successful plan.
      One of the problems with this, which maybe I wasn’t able to make so clearly here in this post, was that it’s not enough just to want to do ‘the right thing’. These issues get so complex so fast that only a strategic approach with a sustainable framework (BS8901, anyone? Had this hotel embraced that process they might well have avoided difficulties) Such frameworks, as I know you support, can help good intentions become meaningful actions for sustainable business.
      I look forward to examples and suggestions from others in follow up to Midori’s question above!
      Thank you, Midori!

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