Snapshot: Environmental League of Massachusetts Corporate Council meeting with Governor Patrick

elm_with_wordingAs a member of the Environmental League of Massachusetts Corporate Council, I had the privilege of participating in a private meeting with Governor Patrick and his environmental team last Friday to discuss a wide range of issues.

I was struck by the willingness, openness and accessibility of the Governor and his Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, to new, fresh and bold ideas, and their commitment to making Massachusetts a state in which there will be incentives, rewards and opportunities for companies and organizations to do the right thing from an environmental standpoint.

I was especially encouraged, despite the tough economic times, by the Governor’s commitment to make the necessary investments to enable Massachusetts to become a national and international “green” hub for sustainability, cleantech and other environmental innovations.

Here’s a list of the other members of the corporate council (in addition to Grossman Marketing Group):

To read more about the council:

  1. Please see the December 2008 Boston Globe article
  2. Please see the council’s member page on the ELM site’s 12 eco-trends to watch

Hey all – I wanted to share this interesting briefing on about eco trends that present exciting opportunities for marketers and entrepreneurs.

Trendwatching refers to these opportunities as an eco-bounty, and they provide the following definition: “ECO-BOUNTY refers to the numerous opportunities, both short and long term, for brands that participate in the epic quest for a sustainable society. Some of these opportunities exist despite the current recession, others are fueled by it, not in the least because of new rules and regulations. Downturn-obsessed brands who lose their eco-focus will find themselves left out in the cold when the global economy starts recovering.”

Have a great weekend!

Green Hotels: The Business Case for Sustainability

green-coverA chat with the authors of High Performance Hospitality: Sustainable Hotel Case Studies

I had the chance to catch up last month with Amisha Parekh and Michele Diener, two of the three authors of High Performance Hospitality: Sustainable Hotel Case Studies, a lodging industry textbook.  At a time when the Westin is launching its Element line and other hotel chains are playing up their “green” credentials, this book is the first in-depth analysis of the business case for sustainability within hotels.

Amisha and Michele, who also wrote the book with their friend and classmate Jaclyn Pitera, met while they were dual-degree students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the University’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.  This book was the outgrowth of a joint master’s project.  Michele currently serves as the Director of Sustainability Strategies at MGM Mirage, Amisha is a strategy consultant for Deloitte, where she is part of the firm’s sustainability team, and Jaclyn is in her third year of the joint program.

The book focuses on eight hotel properties and features detailed analyses of their respective sustainability efforts.  What differentiates this text from other coverage of “green” business is its focus on the details.  As Michele said, “There was no comprehensive book taking a property from design, to construction to operation…from soup to nuts, how a hotel can be more sustainable.  Our intent was to get this information out there to the industry in a very simple way, with a lot of checklists, lessons learned, etc.”

She continued, “There is a matrix at the front of the book summarizing all of the green initiatives [the featured hotels] are doing.  We also categorized the programs based on complexity (how difficult to implement), guest transparency (would it make a positive or negative impact on guests), etc.”

Of course, the economy is top-of-mind for everyone these days, and during our conversation this was a main piece of the discussion.  Amisha and Michele explained that the book is “the business case for sustainability” in the lodging industry, with a focus on the financial benefits to the company to implementing certain steps.  As Michele explained, “At a time when [hotels are making cuts], management sees sustainability as a benefit, helping the organization to consume less water, less energy, and therefore, save money.”

Key takeaways
According to the authors, below are some of the key takeaways from the study.  Although they were derived from their hotel analysis, they are very relevant to all organizations interested in driving change around sustainability:

  • Employee education is key – Green is not something for just the green team to implement, but rather must be part of the company culture.  If it’s part of the culture, it is much easier to implement (and less likely to be cut)
  • Experimentation is important – Some of the products and programs and technologies that the authors studied are new to the industry.  What they found, Michele said, is that “if it’s new to your property, you need to experiment with it, in a few rooms, a floor, at your home –for example a manager installed a low-flow shower head at his home to see how it worked.  Through experimentation, an organization can identify the projects that work, and then execute them more effectively.”
  • One size does not fit all – Amisha said, “We looked at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco and the Comfort Inn and Suites in Revere, MA.  They both were very strong in educating people about sustainability.  However, the Ritz was behind the scenes, whereas the Comfort Inn was more ‘in your face about it’ to guests.”
  • Financial drivers to going green are there – either from less start-up costs or lower ongoing costs

The authors studied very different hotels, balancing their selection across a number of variables, including size (90-900 rooms), price (mid-rate, convention, luxury), location (urban/rural), diamond rating, guest type (transient, government, business, conventioneer).  In addition, they also considered whether the hotels, all of which are in North America, were existing vs. new buildings, as well as branded versus independent.  However, all were considered green in some respect.

The book did not address the consumer.  However, when asked how customers have responded to hotel sustainability, Michele said, “Anecdotally, the consumer is not willing to pay more for [the green] rooms.  But it has become more of the expectation.  When companies are contracting with hotels for meeting and conventions, those questionnaires now include questions on lighting, recycling, green attributes.  If you want that business, you need to make those efforts.  Corporate clients are increasingly green options.”

The authors also were very grateful for the support they received from the following organizations:

If you’re interested in reading a portion of the book, here’s a link to downloadable chapter, which includes the book’s foreword, executive summary, as well as a case study on the Comfort Inn & Suites in Boston, MA.

Key findings from Direct Marketing Going Green panel

875191As I wrote before, I was on a panel titled “DM Going Green – Separating Fact and Fiction” on January 13.  The session, which was organized by the New England Direct Marketing Association, was interesting and the conversation was lively.

Floyd Kemske, who serves as Editor of NEDMA News and Creative Director at Amergent, wrote up a nice summary from the event.  As it is not online yet, I’m pleased to include select portions of the piece below:

****From NEDMA News****
The session, moderated by Mariah Hunt, Senior Production Manager at Digitas, featured four practitioners from the front lines of the campaign for industry sustainability.

Each panelist provided a unique perspective on sustainability, its achievability, and its benefits. Ben Grossman, Director, Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group , for example, has been instrumental in developing a model program for his company, which offsets 100% of its energy use through an organization called Renewable Choice Energy. This allows Grossman Marketing’s customers to credibly claim they make their printed collateral with certified wind power. In addition, Grossman has replaced petroleum-based window material in its window envelopes with corn-based material, which is both compostable and recyclable. Although the corn-based windows cost more, Grossman said, the company absorbs the premium so its customers pay the same as if they’d bought the petroleum-based ones.

According to Grossman, the company’s sustainability practices confer benefits in terms of increased sales, reduced costs, and more productive recruitment. But he advised the audience that sustainability isn’t something you can just say you do. “Customers are smart,” he said, “and they are conversant with the issues. They can discern a real commitment.” Transparency is important, he said. “Give people a way to dig down and investigate.” If you work at it and you are sincere, he said, you can use sustainability as a competitive advantage.

Mary McCormick, Senior Account Manager, Neenah Paper Inc., said her company was committed to manufacturing products with high post-consumer waste content, FSC-certification, and reduced carbon footprint. Before delving into some of the technical aspects of sustainable paper manufacture, she may have confirmed Grossman’s assertion about competitive advantage when she noted that the invitation for President Obama’s inauguration was printed on Neenah paper, chosen because of the company’s sustainability practices.

FSC certification, which is the premier paper certification standard, guarantees a chain of custody for pulp products from the harvest site to the finished product. It doesn’t simply guarantee sustainability. It also addresses social issues (e.g., rights of indigenous peoples) and forest recovery as well. Neenah’s website offers a calculator you can use to find the environmental savings you will achieve by using FSC papers. Neenah has also developed no-new-tree papers, including one manufactured from sugar cane bagasse.

The panel presentations were followed by a lively discussion in which some members of the audience sought proof that sustainability practices could increase sales. None of the panelists could cite such proof, but Ben Grossman stepped up and said that if anyone in the room wanted to conduct a test to determine whether a legitimate green logo would boost response to a mailing, his company was willing to subsidize it. There’s a man who backs up his belief in sustainability!

EPA Revises Green Power Partnership Program Requirement

gpp_logo180I was glad to see that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised its Green Power Partnership program requirements last weekThe Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that encourages the use of renewable energy in the United States.

My firm was chosen to be a Green Power Partner in 2008 because we offset 100% of our energy with Green-e certified wind power – we have continued the initiative and have gotten a number of our suppliers to join our consortium (we work with Renewable Choice Energy).
Below are the notable changes:

  1. Minimum purchase percentages have risen for an organization to be able to be included in the program
  2. Program requires purchase of new renewable energy, rather than from existing sources.  As the announcement stated, “The Partnership’s primary objective is to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. power sector by increasing renewable energy supply.”
  3. Window for making an initial green power purchase has tightened – new partners will only have 6 months (rather than the previously-allowed 12) to make an initial purchase.  I like this change because companies won’t be able to market their involvement in the program without making the necessary investment in renewable energy…if it were up to me, I would shorten the window even further.

These are encouraging changes, as participating companies will now have to make more substantial investments in new energy sources in a shorter timeframe, helping to weed out the types of companies that join to make the minimum investment possible for the purposes of greenwashing.