There are two main reasons why managers decide to make their companies more eco-friendly.
Whether they believe it is a necessary thing to do for future generations, or they know it is a legitimate way to reduce costs and attract new eco-conscious customers. Most often, it is a mix of both.
Regardless of the reason, an entrepreneur should show his commitment to the world and letting the word spread.
This is called marketing, or, more generally, branding, and even when a company already makes a lot of effort in this area, it is often the last thing they purposefully remember to do.
Entrepreneurs sometimes feel it is “normal” to do certain changes, so why draw attention to it? Sometimes we feel shy to advertise small changes.
But a company that makes the first steps and starts to “become different” can see tremendous indirect gains by showing these changes to their staff, customers, and providers.
For instance, employees who know the new direction of their company might start to feel better working for a company that “cares”. They might work more comfortably, be prouder. They might start to see the customers and suppliers who do not respect your company’s commitment as customers and suppliers they might not want to deal with in the future and they can motivate new initiatives.
The most important step is to share such a vision with the world because companies always attract people with similar ideals. The more you express your values, the more customers and staff will be attracted and motivated.
So how can a company concretely and credibly market its eco-changes? It all starts by using your existing communication tools – and to add the information in a relevant manner so that people can see your commitment. It starts by listing these tools you use, such as your website, your Facebook page, the flyers you might give to other partners. It can also be more direct tools in contact with your customers, such as a message in their room, the menu of the restaurant – anything they can read or see.
Below we analyse two examples of the most common communication tools and give further guidance how to maximise the visibility of your green efforts.
A WEBSITE - how to digitally show your hotel’s commitment
Your company’s website is most likely the main point of access for customers to understand what you do. In less than a minute, a customer will be able to “feel” if your hotel or restaurant matches their expectations - and they will dig into the specifics of what they expect to find. For a hotel, it might be the size of the rooms and the style of decoration, for a restaurant it might be the menu and the prices.
In every case, marketing a “green” orientation means that you additionally care for some details that go further than just offering a good service.
So how can you show on your website that you make extra efforts to protect the environment? Let’s see how Seehotel Wiesler does it.
When you land on the hotel’s website, your attention is instantly captured by the slider with large images displaying the beautiful surroundings of Lake Titisee, in Germany.
Clearly, the environment is of primordial importance for this location. A bit lower, in the footer of the website, the viewer can find the first tangible proof of the hotel’s commitment to sustainability. The list of various certifications, earned throughout the years, is a guarantee that Seehotel Wiesler takes the responsibility to minimise its environmental impact.
If the home page captured the interest of potential guests and they want to learn more about the hotel, they will discover that the first item on the menu, ‘Hotel’, explains the environmental policy. The place where the information about the environmental policy is displayed is very telling – it is the guiding principle of the hotel, its philosophy. Guests instantly understand that all the services the hotel offers are in line with this logic.
It is important to note that many of the things that Seehotel Wiesler implements are within reach of any hotel or restaurant. Showing it to the world makes perfect sense so that customers who do not know the hotel business world understand what is being done for them. If you want some tips on how to make your hotel or restaurant more eco-friendly, read our other articles here.
A RESTAURANT MENU – how to clearly show your commitment and encourage your customers to make eco-friendly decisions
One of the most important steps a restaurant can take in order to become more sustainable or “environmentally-friendly” is to thoughtfully choose ingredients and suppliers.
By simply acquiring food products (such as meat, cheese, eggs, vegetables and fruit) from local organic producers or selecting products bearing specific labels (such as MSC certified fish or Fairtrade cocoa) massive gains can be made in terms of reduced environmental impact.
It can be a challenge, and it sometimes means changing the menu to serve more seasonal products, but customers are increasingly concerned about the quality and origin of their food. So we need to make sure the customers know about this effort.
Letting the customers know what they can choose from
A simple icon shown on the menu next to those dishes prepared with local ingredients from organic farms can be enough to drive someone’s attention to this specific item (download free icons here). And if you were in their shoes at that moment, you would certainly favour the dishes with “green” ingredients over more conventional ones. This is part of the experience they can later tell their friends about, and it will gradually attract more customers of the same kind to your business
You could offer a suggestion of the day or a full menu called “the local choice” that would be based entirely on low-environmental impact ingredients, such as specific mushrooms from the local forest, seasonal vegetables and fruits grown in a local organic farm, or a typical local cheese from the milk of the goats they saw grazing on the nearby hills.
Customers do not expect to find everything all the time, and if they were to come back to your restaurant because trout and artichokes are in season, that means they visited your restaurant twice instead of just once. Most importantly, make sure to share the reasons behind the change. Your waiters can even initiate the conversation with this little introduction:“This month we're offering a special dish based on local, seasonal produce because we care for the environment, for the local producers and for the quality of our food – I’m sure you will appreciate it."
Take one step further and increase visibility and credibility through a recognised certification or label
The recent rise in visitors' concern for sustainability made green claims rather popular among hotels and restaurants. But not all claims are the same. Some are environmentally relevant and based on the results of actual efforts to improve environmental performance while others are unfortunately more vague commitments with unproven effectiveness. It is difficult to distinguish the first from the second ones if only based on self-declaration.
To make your actions and result stand out among the jungle of messages and to benefit from an increased credibility, you could consider applying for one of the different available schemes that offer an independent proof of your engagement in environmental improvement and of the results achieved.
There are two types of such schemes: environmental management systems and environmental certifications and labels.
Environmental certifications or labels are awarded to organisation that comply with a specific set of criteria. Many labels exist in the tourism sector (the website ecolabelindex lists 52 different ecolabels only for the tourism sector). The most reliable are those which are based on multiple criteria (i.e. covering different environmental pressures) and third party audited (i.e. the fact that the organisation comply with the criteria is checked by an independent auditor). Some examples are the pan European EU Ecolabel, the Blue Angel or the Green Key.
Environmental Management Systems (EMS), such as EMAS or ISO 14001, require organisations to implement a certain number of processes and commitments (such as demonstrating legal compliance, understanding the most significant impacts on the environment, facilitating employee participation) that ensure an improvement of their environmental performance year after year. The processes and the environmental improvement results achieved are checked and confirmed by an independent auditor. In this category, EMAS is recognised as the most transparent and credible system, because EMAS registered organisations commit to making publically available an environmental statement, verified by the independent auditor, detailing their environmental performance. This is particularly relevant when it comes to credibly promoting green efforts!
Unlike environmental certifications or ecolabels, the recognition of an EMS is not based on a specific threshold of environmental performance in determined areas (e.g. 100% of renewable energy or 80% of waste sorted). Therefore, the use of an EMS can be a good preparatory step to achieve the levels of performance needed to obtain an Ecolabel, or used to go further than the requirements of an Ecolabel.
Start with small steps
Update your website and/or menu and any other communication tool you have with information about how you care for the environment. Don’t forget to talk with your staff about the need to inform customers about your green efforts. If you want to make one step further, think about introducing an environmental management system or applying for an ecolabel. They are a guarantee of your commitment and will result in bringing many savings, involving your staff and guests, as well as generating more income by attracting eco-conscious customers.