Sustainable or not, making the case for a better environment

Sustainable or not, making the case for a better environment

Contracting group business used to be all about room rate, F&B events, location and space availability. Now we can add to RFP requirements the following stipulation: “Confirmation of at least 15% of the program must be procured from local suppliers using sustainable methods.” Challenging times these are, and getting even more so with social and environmental contractual stipulations many clients’ board of directors now require. Sourcing suppliers who meet these criteria is becoming easier, but by no means a sure thing. I see this practice only becoming stronger, and hotels need to be prepared to answer the question, “What impact does a clients’ business have on the community and environment?” The answer requires documented confirmation, not just sales’ assurances and promises.

Large companies with significant leverage may find it more and more difficult to enter into leveraged volumes when a growing percentage of spend goes local. Still, ever growing but small-volume specialists are more nimble and have better access to the local, sustainable, diverse and community driven supplies, affecting at times the ability to drive leverage, and even more often the raw cost of products purchased.

Our contracting partners and suppliers are actually responding to this need for information quite well, but the waters are murky when it comes to truly defining the terms. What really is “local” anyway? Grown, farmed or caught within 100 miles? 200? A state or country? Because it is local, does that mean quality of product is less important, or will menus be first chosen on locality and then on group preference? This may be an easy sell in California, but not every locality is blessed with such a market basket of variety 12 months of the year.
Does “sustainable” mean it is self supporting? What about the human impact — ist it sustaining a community of people or just the wild resource? Farmed fish or ranched, which is better? Every one of these questions has follow up questions worth asking.

I am a huge advocate of sustainable fishing and farming, but there again the definitions confound. Our company launched a comprehensive global strategy of sustainable seafood this past June. It became quite clear early on that there were many organizations with identical goals but different interpretations of what sustainable seafood is, and which species met their definitions.

Sifting through the wealth of information produced by the big NGOs, the primary idea always was to provide global strategy with relevant guidance useful to properties on a local scale. Secondly, flipping the switch to 100% sustainable has potential cost implications, which is undeniably always a consideration. Communicated properly and transparently, however, hotels can reap healthy returns through a transparent picture of product sourcing principles. Finally, look for endorsing third parties who qualify.

Hotel chefs and suppliers can work together on these challenges to find solutions. Here is what I recommend as a start:


  1. Communicate to all suppliers the necessity of product source data. Most suppliers are actively informed and will often have items readily available.

  2. Look for pre-existing examples of products identifiable as local, sustainable, etc.

  3. Establish tiered goals to activate easy wins, establishing a communicable dialogue of defensible examples.

  4. Menu engineer offerings to identify the most popular items and then cross reference to see if any of those items can be converted to responsibly sourced items capable of carrying a premium price to offset cost.

  5. Guests are increasingly logo adverse and look for information beyond just an icon. Communicate through server dialogue and subtle menu descriptions.

  6. Understand that levels of interest vary. Be cautious of overly “educational” messaging or idealistic or seemingly activist viewpoints.

    Sustainable approaches are here to stay. Striking the balance of profit and knowledgeable sourcing will continue to be a major component of the hospitality business. Transparent and supportive supply chain management provides the foundation to profitably manage both.