Hospitality Assured Director, Heather Lishman shares her insights into how hospitality organisations can incorporate Corporate Social Responsibility throughout the whole business.


Successful organisations understand that their focus can’t just be on the profit and the size of the bank balance.  They know that, to be successful, there is a moral obligation to balance the economic goals with those relating to environmental and social objectives.  This blog will help hospitality organisations see how corporate social responsibility can be interwoven throughout the business model, so that it is engrained in the business rather than a supplementary add-on.  A sustainable core business strategy makes good business sense as it potentially enhances a company’s profits, management effectiveness, public image and employee relations.  Here’s how;

  1. Customer Research

First things first.  You need to know your market.  What are your customers’ ethics, and how accepting will they be of sustainable products and services?  What are their expectations of the benefits that sustainable products and services will offer?  Will they see the legitimacy of the environmental positioning of your organisation?  Does your focus fit with the image perceived by your consumers, suppliers and other stakeholders?  It is so important to understand your market before you make any decisions.  Then you need to agree how to communicate your offering.

  1. The Customer Service Promise

How can you ensure your offering is communicated effectively?  Consider your use of web-sites and social media, but also the subliminal messages communicated by your team.  An action speaks a thousand words!  If you are making your organisation more accessible then you need to consider all aspects of the customer journey from planning and booking, to arrival and their experience throughout their time with you.

  1. Business Leadership and Planning

Sustainability tends to be forward thinking, it involves planning the changes a business might make to secure its future (reducing waste, assuring supply chains, developing new markets, building its brand). 

Research suggests the following seven key characteristics are among the most important in distinguishing the leadership approach taken by individuals tackling sustainability issues:

  • Systemic, interdisciplinary understanding;
  • Emotional intelligence and a caring attitude;
  • Values orientation that shapes culture;
  • A strong vision for making a significant difference;
  • An inclusive style that engenders trust;
  • A willingness to innovate and be radical; and
  • A long-term perspective on impacts.

The triple bottom line needs to be planned for capital investment and budget planning in just the same way as the traditional profit model would be. Here are some examples of how objectives can be integrated with the Vision, Mission and Values;

Economic: Plan for internal and external economic benefits.  Indicators such as company revenues, operating costs, company profits, employee compensation, taxes, donations and other community investments can be measured.  It could also be beneficial to measure the proportion of spending on locally based suppliers as a local economic benefit measure.

Environmental: Direct and indirect environmental impact indicators could be used.  Traditional indicators such as; direct and indirect greenhouse emissions, energy and water consumption (and the amount saved through conservation and efficiency improvements).  Recycling such as percentage of materials recycled and water recycled and reused can be measured as can waste via production and consumption.

Social: It is important that this looks at all stakeholders.  It can include objectives for the individuals, social life and social infrastructure.  The individual level can include objectives for the total workforce by employment types/contracts, Living Wage, equal opportunities, employee turnover v indicators of diversity, percentage of employees receiving regular performance and career development reviews, skills, education and lifelong learning, training and working conditions.  For the social life areas such as community integration, social and cultural diversity, local identity and stakeholder communication should be considered.    When you consider objectives for the infrastructure the areas could include; workplace safety, local integration, community involvement and volunteering and fair sourcing.

  1. Operational planning and standards of performance

Denning introduced the world to the Plan (objectives and processes designed), Do (implement and collect data), Check (analyse data and variances from expectations), Act (on significant differences and root cause) (PDCA) repeating cycle.  It is at the core of the Hospitality Assured’s ethos.  It will ensure that the team is integrated within the process to support the sustainable initiatives.    There are a number of areas that a hospitality business can consider.  For example; procurement procedures for energy, equipment and material purchasing to ensure that they are as environmentally friendly as possible.   It is important to look at the suitability of your suppliers to engage in a sustainable supply chain, maybe through the introduction of supplier codes of conduct.  It could be that you focus of food miles (gate to plate) or food security – the provision of nutritious food that maintains a healthy and active life and respects the environment (principles of health, ecology, fairness and care) e.g. Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Red Tractor etc.

  1. Resources

The simple message here is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and to adopt social and environmental responsibility for all activities and decisions.

When you design new areas consider how to maximise sustainability and wellness e.g.  air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind and to ensure accessibility e.g. people with disabilities, seniors, families with small children etc.

You can measure the amount of energy used e.g.; carbon, water, energy, lighting and you could split the measures between guest rooms, public areas and service areas.

It is also important to consider waste – this can be e-waste (how do you dispose of those obsolete PCs?), but also the waste in the ‘gate to plate’ analogy from extraction, production, transportation, processing, consumption and waste removal.  Waste management necessitates accurate ordering, accurate measuring, portion size control, and good use of daily offers and you could consider local charity donor programmes for food-stuffs and toiletries.

Many businesses are taking employee welfare to heart and cutting down on split shifts, and even the number of opening days.  This helps them focus on their teams, and gives a better balance to the working week. The Quaker history is about pushing for employee welfare.  What they did 100 years ago is still being aspired to by many organisations today!

  1. Training and development

Sustainability for the work-force can be applied to the development, training and management to ensure people’s full potential is realised.  It is important to consider which are the most cost-effective learning and development activities, both internal and external.

What training and development are you implementing to support sustainability?  Do you include sustainability as part of your induction programme?  Could it benefit your organisation to train all team-members on the possible marginal gains of decreasing waste and saving resources.  How do you involve your staff and encourage them to come up with innovative ideas? Do you allow them to try these out?  Do you set individual objectives and targets related to sustainability as part of your appraisal process?  Do you implement a staff survey to establish their engagement?  Research shows that engaged staff perform better and have more buy in to your organisation and its objectives.  Do you have a sustainability champion? Could you motivate people by setting up a related award? Or an innovation award?  But it is about basics; if your team are to deliver sustainability they must know and understand how to implement your practices and procedures for separating, recycling, waste and energy saving strategies.

  1. Service delivery

In this crucial section, we look to ensure that all plans are implemented effectively.  Do you check that your team practice what you preach?  Do you have quality audits in place to ensure that you are meeting the standard required and that sustainability processes are being implemented correctly?  Are you conforming to all legislation or the green schemes that you have signed up to?  At the end of the day it’s the guests’ perception of the product or service delivery that counts.  What processes do you have in place to get feedback from customers?  Do you have mystery visits, focus groups, feedback forms, telephone conversations with customers, or specific sustainability social events?  What do you do that gives you feedback on your products and services?  How do you measure the feedback that you do get?  How do you produce measures of customer satisfaction?    What happens when things go wrong…

  1. Service Recovery

This is part of your process for preventing future failures.  So, what happens when things go wrong? Do you have a complaints procedure?  What are staff trained and empowered to deal with?  Please remember that resolving problems well will create loyal customers and enhance the long-term sustainability of your business.  It shows you care and want to do everything you can to keep the customers happy. They will trust you.  Always link your procedures to your Customer Service Promise, and check that you are fulfilling this, or where you may be falling short.  Most importantly, what do you do with the data received about complaints to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

  1. Customer Satisfaction improvement

Look at your absorptive capacity e.g. ability to keep ahead of the curve by ensuring you are always open to innovation through learning, networking, knowing your competition, meeting with suppliers, talking to customers and being a pro-active member of business networks and associations, i.e. by having an outward-looking business strategy. Acquiring, assimilating, transforming and exploiting external knowledge generates competitive advantage.  High absorptive capacity is associated with greater innovation and better performance.

Could you submit for sustainability awards?   Different industry sectors have a variety of sustainability and quality awards and benchmarking activities.

Standing still is not an option.  Act on all feedback.  Do not become complacent, it is the enemy of excellence.  A focus on continuous improvement will pay dividends and give you a competitive advantage.

For further reading

Sustainability in the hospitality industry – Willy Legrand, Philip Sloan, Joseph S. Chen

About the Author: Heather Lishman

Heather, Director of Hospitality Assured is a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality (IOH) and currently serves on the IOH Executive Committee. A trained Hospitality Assured Assessor since 2011, Heather has assessed 40 business across the hospitality sector, and she now runs a successful hospitality consultancy.