Greenwashing practices, combined with claims of corporate social responsibility, have reduced the trust of U.S. consumers who are increasingly recognizing hotels’ green claims may be self-serving, according to a new study in the Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, as reported by Eco-Business. All of this could cause hotels to lose valuable repeat customers.
The paper, Consequences of Greenwashing: Consumers’ Reactions to Hotels’ Green Initiatives, conducted by hospitality researchers at Washington State University, investigates the consequences of greenwashing in the lodging industry and suggests ways hotels can establish credibility in consumers’ minds.
As many as 79 percent of travelers worldwide agree that implementing eco-friendly practices is important to their choice of lodging, but research shows a majority are willing to boycott a company if misled.
The researchers surveyed over 3,000 consumers to see whether recognizing a hotel’s profit motive caused them to be skeptical about the hotel’s environmental claims and if it influenced their intention to engage in a linen reuse program or to revisit the hotel. Because environmentally-conscious guests often are willing to pay more for green hotels, the researchers also examined whether their sense of moral obligation would override skepticism and willingness to participate in a linen reuse program or revisit the hotel, Eco-Business reports.
Recognition of a self-serving motive made consumers skeptical and unlikely to participate in the green practice or revisit the hotel in the future, the research found. But consumers with high levels of environmental concern still felt morally obligated to participate in the hotel’s sustainability initiative, despite realizing its greenwashing tendencies.
Hotels can take several steps to develop a positive image of their hotel and reduce consumer skepticism, the report says. The single most important thing is to become certified by independent and credible agencies such as Green Seal and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), the two major certification programs in the lodging industry. In addition, the researchers suggest hotels use positive word of mouth to attract customers by posting favorable reviews on websites and social media channels and by training staff to follow the establishment’s green practices and be able to inform guests about them.
In May, Hilton Worldwide announced an initial three-year commitment with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to reduce its impact on the environment. As part of the partnership, Hilton and WWF will collaborate to develop a multi-year water stewardship strategy, expand Hilton's sustainable seafood efforts globally and accelerate the adoption of renewable energy. The partners also will work to further Hilton's RePurpose waste solutions program by reducing food waste within the company's operations and supply chain, and integrate all learnings into LightStay, Hilton's proprietary environmental performance measurement and reporting platform available to all hotels.