A couple of weeks back I spoke at the DC conference of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association. The keynote speaker Stephen Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels, made a very interesting observation about implementation of their towel reuse program. Like many other hotel groups, Choice Hotels has implemented processes for customers to reuse their towels in most of their hotels. Towels hung up on the towel rail and are reused. Towels left on the floor are removed and freshly laundered towels provided. Although Choice Hotel's research shows that most customers want their hotel to have this option, most don’t actually use it. They continue to leave their towels on the floor.
I was involved in organizing the annual conference of the British American Business Counsel in DC last week. We heard Steven Winberg, Vice President of Research and Development at Consol Energy speak on a low carbon energy panel about clean coal and carbon sequestration. Steve suggested that consumers would not be willing to pay the additional hundreds of dollars that would be required to get to the carbon reduction levels in current legislative proposals. Sad to say, if hotel customers are not even willing to reuse their towels, how much more are they going to resist paying extra for electricity if that becomes necessary?
I used to believe that pretty much any green message in advertising is valuable for its contribution to raising awareness of environmental issues. But I am starting to see things differently. I am coming to the view that much current 'green' advertising is contributing towards a general belief that it is easy to fix climate change. You would think from watching the TV that all you need to do to save the planet is switch to on-line bank statements, fill the recycling bin each week and switch your laptop off overnight. Or even worse, choose a hotel that has a towel reuse program, even though you don’t use it. Perhaps it is time the business world stepped up the response a notch. We have an incredible marketing expertise in understanding and acting on what motivates consumer behavior and we could use that to great effect in the climate change arena. All part of the fourth dimension of sustainability - 'inform and influence'.