This week’s cover story in BusinessWeek featured the experience of Auden Schendler, corporate director of environmental affairs at the Aspen Skiing Company (ASC), as he tried to convince his senior management that going green was worth the investment (“Little Green Lies,” October 29, 2007).
From an outsider’s perspective, one might think that ASC would be highly receptive to eco-friendly investment opportunities, as the company has incorporated green as a core brand pillar and a central theme in its marketing communications. Yet, as Schendler points out, things are not always at they appear; apparently, ASC is not as green as its brand might suggest.
In one example, Schendler points out that in the past, senior management has resisted even modest investments in proven technologies – such as compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs) in hotel rooms – that yield measurable cost savings and a positive ROI. The rationale: CFLs are not aligned with the brand experience ASC wants for its customers. As one hotel manager said, “Fluorescent light would suggest a waiting-room ambience, jeopardizing the establishment’s five-star rating.”
Such a world view, however, does not seem to acknowledge evolving social norms and consumer expectations regarding green. According to a recent JD Powers Hotel Guest Satisfaction Survey, 75% of hotel guests are willing to participate in environmental programs. In the luxury hotel category, an even higher percentage of guests are willing to participate: 87% of Baby Boomers, 95% of Gen Xers and 79% Gen Yers. Based on this consumer data it seems that ASC may be underestimating their guests’ interest in and expectations for green as part of their hotel experience.
As such, it seems that ASC’s decision not to invest in CFLs may be at odds with current consumer sentiment. In fact, CFLs have already gone mainstream. Today, many luxury hotels already use CFLs for lighting. Their light quality has improved tremendously. And, retailers are selling them aggressively, despite the fact that incandescent light bulbs are more profitable for them. In fact, Wal-Mart has sold over 100MM of these bulbs this year alone.
Moreover, not investing in CFLs seems contrary to ASC’s own brand positioning and communications in the market. In fact, just weeks before the BusinessWeek article ran, ASC launched a new advertising campaign that, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, used “high-profile skiers and snowboarders to tout the resort operator’s environmental record and urging others to take action, too.” This campaign is supported by a lightly branded microsite called Save Snow which educates visitors about what ASC is doing and what others can do to reduce climate impact.
Ironically, the campaign also includes plans to send 40,000 CFLs to its customers.
So, marketers should take note. Consumers are increasingly willing to participate in environmental programs at hotels, and especially at luxury ones.
Hotels should not be afraid to invest in green initaitives including CFLs. Not only can such programs provide attractive ROIs, but, for companies such as ASC, they can ensure that the consumer experience aligns with their brand positioning in the market. For ASC, the decision not to purchase CFLs is, at best, inconsistent with its brand. At worst, the company risks that its marketing efforts are perceived as green washing.