Financial motives revealed behind hotels’ ‘greenwashing’


Hotels urge customers to save energy on electricity and water services. But their motives are the wrong type of green, according to a WSU study.

Most consumers are familiar with the ‘save the planet’ theme that the hotel industry has publicly embraced, but few are familiar with the cost-saving ulterior motives many hotels employ in their involvement with the green movement.

WSU researchers conducted a study on consumers’ behavior after they understand the cost-linked motive of the hotels’ green actions by sending surveys to more than 3,500 non-faculty WSU employees. The study was conducted in 2013 and was published last month.

“We proposed that when consumers perceive that a hotel adopts green programs as a way to save operating costs rather than truly care about the environment, they are likely to feel skepticism about the hotel’s green initiatives,” said Jeongdoo Park, an associate professor at North Dakota State University.

The researchers found that when consumers became aware of the ulterior motive of common greenwashing programs, such as the re-cycling of bath towels or signs about conserving water and electricity, they would still participate, but most likely would not return to the hotel.

“If you are a hotel and you only choose the practice that can help you save cost and not the others that really help the environment or you use the less credible green certification as a marketing ploy to attract guests, that’s greenwashing,” said Christina G. Chi, a business and hospitality professor at WSU.

The researchers suggested that if hotels want an authentic eco-friendly reputation, they should certify in the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification or the Green Seal certification.

The LEED certification is more appropriate for new hotels and focuses on the design of the property and the Green Seal certification focuses on ecological practices of hotels.

“Nowadays not only very environmentally conscious guests, but federal employers require their employees to stay in green hotels, but the general consumer wants that too,” Chi said.

The lead researcher on the study, Imran Rahman, an assistant professor for the department of nutrition, dietetics & hospitality and business management at Auburn University suggested that hotels go for an all-encompassing approach, keeping a portfolio of their green activities and making them available for consumers.

“Consumers know that the linen reuse programs or posting signs cautioning ‘save the planet, turn off the lights,’ are the hotels trying to save money,” said Rahman. “We did anticipate some of the results. It might be interesting to replicate the study in five or ten years to see how it changed because consumers are smarter and they’re exposed to greenwashing more.”