Shoppers will see health stars on Kelloggs cereal boxes from June. Photo: Kelloggs
Recently breakfast cereal giants Kelloggs announced that from June 2015, they will voluntarily be adding the federal government’s Health Star Ratings to their cereal packages in Australia and New Zealand.
This is a positive development for the average consumer as many people are justifiably suspicious that some cereals are heavy in sugar and low on nutrition. However, previously there was no easy way to compare cereal products.
What do breakfast cereals have in common with hotels with a sustainability focus?
Many hotels around the world are linked up to different sustainability schemes. Like comparing cereals, some of these schemes are rated by stars and others with colour coded certificates to help potential hotel guests more easily choose where to bunk down with clear consciences.
Are hotel sustainability schemes actually understandable or even comparable?
Unlike having to choose between a bowl of the highest rating All Bran (5 stars) or sugar laden Coco Pops (2 stars), deciding between hotels that best fit our needs is a completely different and complex beast.
There are over 150 different hotel sustainability schemes out there. As well, each consumer may want to match their unique values to what a hotel’s sustainability credentials means to them.
Agreeing with a contact of mine from the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute (BMWHI), we wondered how many potential guests out there are scratching their heads when it comes to comparing and then having to choose a hotel that claims to be sustainability focused.
The marketing power of the terms ‘green/sustainable’ are immense but may do little to assist prospective customers to make informed choices. For a start, there is no globally agreed definition or standards for these terms when applied to hotels. Therefore, how does one decide if the eco credentials of a hotel are genuine or just a money grabbing ‘greenwashing’ exercise?
The following three prominent sustainability schemes used in the hotel business provide a useful cross sectional impression of programs in the market place. Their websites provide more detailed information.
3 key sustainable schemes explored:
National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) is a government run Australian sustainability ratings system that measures the actual operational energy and water efficiency of buildings including urban business hotels on a scale from 1 to 6 stars. A 6 star rating represents market leading performance.
The assessments are also verified by independent accredited assessors. Together with a reverse calculator to understand how each star rating is obtained, the system appears to have a high level of transparency.
However, there are question marks regarding whether the information presented is easily understandable to the lay person.
2. TripAdvisor GreenLeaders
The TripAdvisor GreenLeaders program is an industry derived independently operated scheme that aims to assist potential hotel guests to identify hotels that are committed to various green practices. Hotels that qualify as GreenLeaders are divided into 4 tier levels (Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze).
GreenLeaders prides itself on being a transparent scheme because viewers are able to access a publicly available list of the hotel’s sustainability practices. For example, potential guests interested in how a hotel handles waste should be able to check its recycling practices before deciding whether or not to make a booking.
Hotel guests can also provide feedback to GreenLeaders if hotel claims are inaccurate triggering an independent third party audit.
EarthCheck is an Australian headquartered global tourism, environmental management and advisory group operating an environmental benchmarking and certification program.
They claim to focus on utilising a science based approach to measure and reduce water waste, energy usage from non-renewable energy resources and carbon emissions output.
EarthCheck’s benchmarking and certification ranges from platinum, gold, silver and bronze. However, the factors that determine the type of certification earned by a hotel is challenging to decipher for a prospective hotel guest.
Why decision making is not simple
General information about NABERS, GreenLeaders and EarthCheck certification can be readily found on their websites. All these three programs refer frequently to their transparency. However, how much use is this selling point when the typical end user will struggle to understand what the star ratings and certificates really represent?
What differences are there between a hotel that has Platinum EarthCheck certification compared to one with a Silver certificate? Is a hotel with a NABERS 6 Stars – “Market leading performance” rating that much better than a 4 Stars – “Strong performance” competitor?
As an environmentally conscious traveller, how do I decide whether to stay at a NABERS 6 Star property or a GreenLeaders Platinum ranked hotel or an EarthCheck Platinum certified institution? They are all top tier rankings for each sustainability scheme but with ratings generated differently from their own distinct assessment criteria, weightings and calculation methods.
Deciphering hotel sustainability schemes is already difficult to do within each system. It is even more challenging when trying to understand the differences across schemes as can be seen by the above examples.
The importance of having schemes that the end user can easily understand and make comparisons about is increasingly important as people seek evidence of a hotel’s sustainability actions.
One unhappy guest disputed the eco commitment of a GreenLeaders rated hotel because it did not have a compost bin on the breakfast buffet. However, I suspect most guests would actually prefer to have the bio-waste sorted back of house.
In this respect the hotel industry has some work to do. Merely showing a ‘green’ logo of some description attached to advertising for a hotel does little to really help guests to make enlightened decisions.
Green hotel communications.
The hotel having a low carbon footprint might be more important to some than just re-hanging bath towels to use another day. Others want to know if the hotel is using renewable energy or what happens to the waste products.
Sustainable hotel certification needs to be understandable and relevant to the end user. The challenge now is how best to match these two factors and to then present this information.