Greenwashing within the meetings industry
Gorazd Cad Co-Founder at CONVENTA
green_hotels Photo Credit: Shutterstock
I recently attended an event where Dubaian hoteliers discussed sustainable measures they have undertaken. They spoke of recycling waste and their responsible environmental approaches stemming from their cooperation in initiatives preventing whale killing. A glance at the menu revealed the pathetic emptiness of their words. A bluefin tuna from Japan reigned at the top of the price list, trailed by marbled Japanese Wagyu Beef. Both ingredients travelled over 8000 kilometres to reach Dubai. There was no mention of the carbon footprint behind the gastronomic experience. As hotel guests, we should start questioning such decisions and thus make responsible choices when opting for hotels and tourism in general.
The editorial board of Kongres Magazine has been closely following and analysing various sustainability marketing campaigns. It seems their numbers have skyrocketed this year. As it turns out, many of them are misleading and purposefully used by greenwashers to increase sales or improve a company’s reputation. By doing so, they deceive well-intentional consumers and, ultimately, do not contribute to solving ecological and social issues. It is vital to stay aware of the ways in which they attempt to outwit us. Recognising greenwashing is how we can reduce its influence on our choices.
We have decided to prepare a series of articles that will uncover such practices and, hopefully, contribute to a more responsible meetings industry.
albena_resorts Photo Credit: Albena Resorts
Case 7: FROM WORDS TO GREEN ACTIONS
Type of greenwashing: A combination of all sorts of greenwashing
The hotel industry must take on responsibility for its harmful environmental effects. In whatever way we see it, tourism accounts for nearly 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, and hotels play a pivotal role. The corona crisis has showcased how blurry our memory is. We forgot everything the past two years supposedly taught us. Considering the corona equation and the rising fuel prices, lack of water, the dwindling biodiversity, not to mention the inadequate wages and lack of human rights of employees in the tourist industry, we can expect a storm that we must confront immediately. Those attempting to do so correctly will see progress, while others will fail. As the consequences of climate change and irresponsible behaviour have visible negative effects, the image is becoming perpetually clearer.
Despite ongoing turmoil, responses by hoteliers are still predominately marketing-focused. Marketing is the most exploited area of greenwashing. Most commonly, hotels use poorly-substantiated claims without any basis. Sometimes, they refer to certificates of suspicious origin. Alternatively, they emphasise the lesser evil or refer to offsetting. On occasions, it is a combination of several misleading practices.
It is vital to acknowledge that sustainable tourism principles can, likewise, be implemented in mass tourism. Too often, this concept is mistaken for boutique tourism. Thus, we have another reason to overview companies that have started to reduce their costs while building their esteem and increasing their market value by implementing sustainable principles.
albena_resorts Photo Credit: Albena Resorts
I have convinced myself of this in an unlikely place, Bulgaria, where I least expected it. The country’s most famous resort destination, Albena, next to the Black Sea, was envisaged as a socialist, tourist and urbanist experiment. In those times, delegations flocked to Albena to see the resort. The resort made it through the transition in one piece and has altered itself into one of the greenest resorts in Europe. A socialist utopia became a platform for testing new green technologies, innovations and principles, thus showing the green future of mass tourism.
11 measures for green transformation
I will allow myself to summarise the measures they undertook. The measures listed below are excellent examples of what hoteliers need for a green transformation. Their green pledge, comprising 11 points, reads like a textbook on green transformation:
- Biodiversity protection
The measure comprises the preservation of biodiversity. That is most often the motive behind visitors coming to Albena. In fact, that is the main reason the resort was created. All activities must have minimal effects on biodiversity and strictly protect the most vulnerable areas. In Albena’s case, they did so by protecting the Baltata Nature Reserve, stretching over 200 ha.
- Beach and seawater cleanliness
Albena prides itself on its long beach, stretching six kilometres. Due to its clean sand and water, the beach received the coveted Blue Flag certificate. The certificate signifies that Albena meets strict environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria. The quality is controlled constantly, and Albena is particularly proud of this certificate.
- CO2 emission reduction
This measure includes limiting car transportation around the resort and implementing ecological alternatives by encouraging bicycles and walking on foot. Instead of vehicles with internal combustion engines, they use electrical minibuses. Their most groundbreaking measure is moving vehicles to the periphery, or, in other words, closing the resort for car transportation.
- Mineral water use
All hotels, restaurants and pools in Albena use only hydrothermal mineral water with proven healing effects. It is rich in minerals such as silicon, sulfur, selenium, radium, iron, magnesium, calcium and bicarbonate. Its healing characteristic has been known since Roman times. Approximately 1,6 million litres of water are extracted daily. Furthermore, the water is beneficial as a source of energy for heating and represents the core of the balneological tourist offer.
- Own eco production
More than 50% of fresh fruit, vegetables, juice, wine, honey and meat is produced around local farms. As one drives from the airport to the resort, their zero-kilometre farming philosophy becomes evident. What is more, the quality of unforgettable tomatoes, apricots and peaches is unparalleled.
- Renewable energy use
They have placed more than 3000 square metres of solar panels on the roofs of hotels, intended primarily to heat sanitary water. Similarly, their energy-solving project X-flex optimises the ecosystem of renewable sources. Using photovoltaic optimisation to save energy is a textbook example of exploiting the tremendous potential of solar energy, thus reducing CO2 emissions.
- Waste management
Managing waste is an integral part of the strategy. You will hardly find any filth around the resort. The resort is making an inconceivable effort to manage waste. The gasworks play a crucial role, creating fuel from biomass and organic waste and thus concluding the energy cycle.
- Sport and wellness
Sports and physical activities sit at the heart of preventive measures they encourage for their employees and guests. The offer of sports activities is spectacularly diverse. One could say there is hardly a sport not advocated within the resort.
- Health and safety
A safe and healthy environment for guests and employees was tremendously important at the peak of the pandemic. It seems that will continue in the future. The resort appointed a Chief Sanitary Inspector who oversaw the implementation of all health restrictions during the corona crisis. The resort prioritises health and safety.
- Social responsibility
The resort aims to improve the quality of public infrastructure at every step. Thus, the event space Perunika Hall came to life, intended for tourists and locals alike. The resort ultimately creates prosperity for the local population whilst advancing the road and communal infrastructure.
- Guest satisfaction
The resort is devoted to ensuring its guests an unforgettable vacation.
albena_resorts Photo Credit: Albena Resorts
I HOPE HOTELIERS GLOBALLY START ASPIRING FOR QUALITY AND NOT JUST QUANTITY.
The resort is extraordinary on a European scale and was crowned with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certificates. In addition, their aspirations resulted in numerous awards and certificates, including the Green Oscar, Travellife, and ESPA Innovation Award. A purposefully appointed representative focuses only on quality, while all key stakeholders are involved in these activities.
Nonetheless, nothing is perfect, not even in paradise. As a relict of long-gone times, stands boasting kitsch and plastic are scattered throughout the resort. They can be perceived as the resort’s additional offer or unnecessary clutter. I do not doubt the resort will look even more exclusive and better without it. In my opinion, such plastic disorders should be immediately banned and driven away from the streets of Albena. I can almost imagine what Albena would look like without plastic.
In any case, I can confirm that Albena is endeavouring to develop sustainable tourism, respecting the needs of the environment, local inhabitants, economy and visitors – for today and tomorrow.
I hope hoteliers globally start aspiring for quality and not just quantity.
Note: You are invited to send us your suggestions and good and bad practice cases. We will share them with colleagues within the meetings industry. Together, we can achieve more.
Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in 1986. While on an expedition to Samoa, he was greatly upset by the hotel sign concerning the reuse of towels. He concluded that its purpose was solely a strategy to lower expenses instead of the hotel’s sustainable and responsible aspirations.
Westerveld was the first to use the term greenwashing in his expert article, and the rest is history. The term has survived till today and encompasses all areas of sustainability, including gender equality, poverty, hunger, health, education, paid work etc.
There are several typical examples of greenwashing. They have been around for some time, yet, we continue to be duped by them. We have summarised the most typical examples of greenwashing below:
- Presenting information selectively
An example of greenwashing is emphasising environment-friendly information whilst withholding negative information. A typical example is ignoring the carbon footprint of event transfers which can amount to 75% of an event’s entire carbon footprint.
- Lack of proof to back up claims
Let us suppose a company claims their event is green or eco-friendly but does not enclose any concrete proof. They should at least calculate their event’s carbon footprint and support it with a certificate issued by an official institution.
- Ambiguity and vagueness of claims
Another way of misleading is using loose and undefined terms that are nearly impossible to understand in one way. A recurring example, for instance, is stating that an event is carbon-neutral without elaborating what that stands for.
- Deceiving and irrelevant labels
Companies will often refer to certificates and labels that, in fact, do not exist or are misleading. Lately, there have been cases of green venue finders with no real foundation. This type of deception is embodied by companies that sell “products without CFC”, even though chlorofluorocarbons are forbidden by law.
- Highlighting the lesser evil
Event organising is environmentally unfriendly. Hence, the claim that one event is greener than another is plainly false.
- Selling lies
On occasions, companies choose to proclaim lies. Making false claims, certificates, and inventing facts will mislead customers.
- Meaningless labels
Certificates, labels and awards can often have little or no meaning. In some cases, organisations even award themselves with certificates or endorsements not backed by any authority.
There are even cases when companies tell outright lies. Sooner or later, such practices are exposed, and information about them spreads like wildfire.
In Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is reporting a boom in the number of complaints about environmental claims – up from 117 in 2006 to 561 last year. “What we are seeing is claims about being carbon-neutral, zero-carbon emissions and use of words such as sustainable and organic,” says Lord Smith, chairman of the ASA.