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Overcoming Objections to Sustainability: Inform and Be Informed

This lesson is a part of an audio course Overcoming Objections to Sustainability by Aurora Dawn Benton

Organizations create policies for a reason. If everyone just did what they want, then there would be chaos. It's easier to set expectations about performance if there are policies to follow.

But you might be surprised to hear that some sustainability initiatives are thought to be against a policy.

Unfortunately, this really shuts down the conversation! This is especially true if the person or group who supposedly set the policy is considered in some way "unreachable" such as a lawmaking body or a board of directors or corporate office of a large company.

One example I often encounter in hospitality is that larger corporations are generally mandated to purchase a certain amount of their supplies from pre-approved vendors with whom there are negotiated contracts. Let me paint a picture for you.

Do you know the little retail areas in the lobby of a hotel or in the corridors of an airport? Have you ever noticed the products they carry? If you have, you probably saw a set of standard, national brands that you can see at any convenience store anywhere in the country, and possibly even anywhere on the planet. Many of these brands are part of global food companies. I won't name these brands, but it's the same two or three brands of chips, sodas, candy bars, and other snacks that are prolific. And sometimes you see a candy bar or a snack box with an image of the city, but if you read the label and small print, you will learn these are mass-produced somewhere far away, and often by those same global snack makers.

Now let's consider an alternative view of the typical airport or hotel sundry shop. Imagine the shelves stocked with locally produced chips, cookies, candies, and beverages. Envision the unique, local flavors represented in these products. Think about the stories of the makers and entrepreneurs who created them. To the traveler, these products feel like more one-of-a-kind options. They are special and add value to the travel experience. The traveler may even want to buy extra to take home to remember the positive experience or share the flavors with loved ones that were not on the trip with them.

I don't have time here to explain all the wonderful benefits of a buy-local strategy. There are numerous social, environmental, and economic benefits. You can learn more about these at

Now, why would we not see more of the local product mix in these scenarios? Believe it or not, this is often considered against the policy. Keep in mind that policies that seem to limit were often set with good intentions in mind. For example, purchasing mandates in large companies are generally designed to guarantee consistent quality and experience for customers and to capitalize on economies of scale.

Those in charge of purchasing will often claim they cannot purchase more from local vendors, but the policy does not EXPLICITLY prohibit it. The reality is, yes, there is a policy, but no it's not as limiting as you might think.

Let me share another example I see as a pervasive problem in the hospitality industry in the U.S. I speak on food waste with those who work in foodservice in restaurants, hotels, convention centers, stadiums, and other venues. When I ask this question, generally about 75% of the hands in the room go up!

The truly shocking aspect of this is that there is a U.S. law that protects those who donate food under certain conditions. One might think if the assumption of lawsuits is so pervasive in the industry that must be because there have been so many! But in the more than 23 years this law has been in effect, it has never been tried in court. Where do such assumptions come from? Rumors? Myth? Misinformation?

While many major hotel brands are making significant strides in educating staff and setting new policies, sadly, many staff at hotel properties I visit still say donating food is against their policy.

Take time to educate yourself on the laws and policies that pertain to your situation. Know the policies and know where there is flexibility. Where policies create real or artificial barriers to sustainability, revisit those, determine an approach that maintains the spirit of the policy without limiting potential social and environmental benefits. Then be sure that everyone is informed about how to best leverage policies and regulations to minimize risk and maximize positive impact.

Let's get to the next obstacle, so your progress towards greater social and environmental impact continues. In the next lesson, I talk about making a business case for investing in sustainability.

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Written by

Aurora Dawn Benton