WASHINGTON'S LEADING BUSINESS MAGAZINE

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Embracing global responsibility is the right thing to do, but you also have to do it for the right reasons.
David Sullivan |   September 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

Before the recent unpleasantness—aka the recession of 2008—green was writ large. Most companies were flaunting their green credentials, and it seemed as if every product out there was green. Eventually, people grew tired of green. Not because it wasn’t a valuable attribute, but because it appeared to be a marketing ploy. In many cases, it was a gimmicky holy grail that many executives were only interested in because it might save money or make money.

Today, as we emerge from the murky financial mess that did considerable damage to the credibility of corporate America, consumers are demanding accountability and transparency. They want companies and products that clearly demonstrate concern for social, economic and environmental sustainability. For example, according to Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle’s survey of top corporate hotel clients, globally responsible practices are a significant factor when companies choose a hotel for business travel or professional meetings. This heightened focus on global responsibility is what companies need to focus on, not only to be profitable but also to be part of the solution to sustainability problems around the world.

Fortunately, the business model for success in this arena is simple. Companies genuinely pursuing practices that give back to their communities, that help the environment and that clearly report their initiatives will be winners. We have done this at the Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle and it is paying off for our guests and our business. In our industry, more companies choose to stay with hotels that support sustainable initiatives. We have experienced an increase in individual corporate business as well as group business due to the global responsibility programs we have in place. Beyond directly benefiting our guests, many of our sustainability initiatives have directly improved our company. The implementation of a Natura water filtration system, for example, has reduced our annual water costs by more than 60 percent and eliminated the need for plastic water bottles.

With the launch of our PanEarth program, we now incorporate the community and the environment into all aspects of corporate decision making, honoring the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Has this change added to our expenses? Yes, if you look solely at the short-term impact. For instance, our housekeeping associates collect an average of 100 pounds of partially used soap monthly. This is donated to Clean the World, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing sustainability practices in the hospitality industry. There is a hard cost to our hotel, but the return on the investment we made to establish this partnership, train our staff and ship the soap is enormous in terms of the overall positive impact.

If you want to incorporate globally responsible practices into your business, here are my suggestions:

• Communicate your shared values about people and planet so you can attract and maintain beneficial business relationships and partnerships.

• Partner with and support community and nonprofit organizations in your local community.

• Honor all levels of socially responsible citizenship by adhering to the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.

• Examine and evolve your supply chain; choose the most environmentally and socially sustainable vendors and services.

• Maximize your product life cycle by investing in quality, longer-lasting, environmentally friendly products and by donating used items whenever possible.

The most successful companies will be those that are run by socially conscious individuals who put sustainable practices in place because it’s the right thing to do. These companies won’t just tell you they’re committed to these initiatives or simply post information about them on their websites. They will demonstrate daily what they are doing and will be honest and transparent about it. The most successful companies will invite you to kick the tires and check under the hood.

David Sullivan is general manager of the Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle. A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Sullivan has more than 25 years of international and domestic hospitality experience.