Where does your brand sit on the green-o-meter?
It’s worth asking yourself this, as more and more millennial customers are starting to pay attention to the environment, and holding businesses accountable for their services, company vision, and strategy to cut waste, pollution, and plastics. Customers seem to care about it – so perhaps you should, too.
For the food service and hospitality industry, this is definitely the case. Many governments and global companies are making moves to eliminate single-use plastic items from their inventory and are appealing to their customer base in doing so. The need for environmental sustainability is adding a new element of customer service demand to its customers in the industry and companies are developing strategies to not only keep customers, but also draw in a new labor force that is vital to a sector with a millennial audience.
Earlier this summer, the Canadian government announced plans to ban single-use plastics from the food-service industry and other sectors. Everything from straws to cutlery to stir sticks would be banned under the new law, which could surface as early as 2021.
While the ban was met with applause by global companies that have already committed to global waste reduction strategies, it was also met with hesitance. That said, smaller companies are starting to take advantage of an opportunity to reach new customers by touting their sustainability goals and draw a connection with a customer that goes beyond the product.
The Gusto 54 Restaurant Group is one of the companies making changes and using the opportunity to reduce the use of pollutants by investing in sustainable solutions. The result? Even with little promotion, they were able to see an uptick in interest from prospective employees who wanted to work for a company focused on environmental sustainability. Elio Zannoni, executive chef of Gusto 54, had his own motivations in switching to bio-degradable packaging but what he quickly realized was how much people/customers care about the same issue.
“While it wasn’t a move to gain more customers; it actually ended up (doing that) and helped gain more employees. With a younger generation [coming to work with us], it was surprisingly one of the first questions they were asking,” Zannoni said.
Part of the value equation that businesses need to provide is to their customers, demonstrating that they practice corporate responsibility. Many companies are going to have to adapt to grow a follower base that sees them acting with a customer base’s ethical concerns in mind. It’s just another level of customer service that companies are getting used to, whereby they are marketing the initiative and not necessarily the product itself.
And: Earlier this year, Hyatt, IHG and Marriott International also made moves to cut single-use plastics from its inventory over the next few years. In a press release from IHG, Keith Barr, CEO of IHG, announced that the hospitality group will eliminate single-use plastics at 5,400 of its hotels. “There is always more we can do to minimize waste, but the work we’re doing to reduce single-use plastic is a powerful example of how we can come together with guests, owners and colleagues to drive positive change,” Barr said. If it wasn’t important to guests, would they be doing it? Again, it’s another level of customer service and another way to appeal to guests to invest in your product. “We care about more than just your money.”
Marriott International also announced a similar sentiment in its press release earlier this year. Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of one of the world’s largest hotels, said that the company plans to eliminate more than 1-billion plastic straws per year.“We are proud to be among the first large U.S. companies to announce that we’re eliminating plastic straws in our properties worldwide,” Sorenson said. “Removing plastic straws is one of the simplest ways our guests can contribute to plastic reduction when staying with us — something they are increasingly concerned about and are already doing in their own homes. We are committed to operating responsibly and — with more than one-million guests staying with us every night — we think this is a powerful step forward to reducing our reliance on plastics.”
By engaging guests to care about your company’s initiatives, you are offering another method or way to bolster your brand accountability. These days, companies have been held more accountable to provide customer service that goes beyond the product. Part of that responsibility lies in initiatives like this.
Whether it’s environmental sustainability, kids’ programs or other charitable initiatives, customers, especially millennials, are leaning on companies to do something about the issues that impact our daily lives. Companies that address these trends, not just to gain new customers but also to gain loyal employees, will inevitably be better off in the long run.