Hygiene and Sustainability: How to make both work?
— 17 experts shared their view
Just when it seemed as if single-use plastics were slowly becoming a thing of the past, COVID-19 hit the industry. The second half of 2019 had seen more and more industry leaders making public pledges to abandon a product group that had become the infamous representative of an old and immoral, linear economy.
A few months later, the former sustainability arch-enemy is experiencing a massive comeback as a hygiene hero. COVID-19 and the fear of future pandemics are radically challenging recent approaches to product circularity/re-use by imposing enhanced hygienic standards. Keeping a strong position against single-use items might impose dramatic acquisition costs and operational distress on businesses slowly recovering from their liquidity breakdown.
Whilst pondering the reputational risk of violating hygiene law on the one side and diminished sustainability efforts on the other, the former is likely to turn up trumps.
The battle for sterility might be won by detergents containing ingredients unlikely to biodegrade in wastewater. Laundry services might cause more emissions due to an average increase of the washing temperature.
Where lies the sweet spot between hygiene rule compliance and sustainability? Must there be a trade-off? Are there Best Practices to share?
Co-Founder at TUTAKA
Hygiene seems to me a bit like an iceberg. Only a small part of the package is visible to the eye. These days we see hospitality brands: 1). Overdoing it on the visible elements of hygiene. Busy cleaning personnel, signs, and cardboards to increase the experience of hygiene for the guest. 2). Competing for their guests' trust and confidence to be onto the invisible elements of hygiene as well. Marriott reminding guests of their long history of hygiene perfection, IHG issuing a “Clean Promise”, Accor developing their own hygiene label.
Now, overstretching on the “hygienic experience” is just the same as confidence-eroding greenwashing. However, confidence is becoming the ultimate currency for guests to return to hotels. The path to confidence-building ultimately requires careful consideration of different factors, including sustainability. Panic moves to re-introduce single-use items will do nothing good and erode trust. Hygiene, as an Austrian expert told me, is all about crystal-clear standards and processes as well as well-trained personnel.
From a procurement perspective there are many options to combine hygiene and sustainability. Examples are zero waste solid soap dispensers, chemical-free cleaning devices, eatable single-use gastronomic items, and many more. Reliable, loyal, and happy personnel will be more important than ever. It is thus time to move away from seeing humans as resources to acknowledging their potentials. Communication-wise now would be a good moment to switch from classical “veiling” campaigning to “revealing” communication. Guests are ready to go beyond shiny hotel lobbies.