Room for Growth: Fair trade in the hospitality sector BY K IM BER LY LEU NG
ost people don’t wash their towels on a daily basis, but it wasn't long ago when many hotel guests expected a stack of fresh towels every day. These days, “reuse your towel” signs are displayed atop counters in hotel bathrooms everywhere, urging guests to think about the cost associated with needless laundering. With well-known hotel chains such as Hilton and Marriott installing water-efficient fixtures, using low-energy lighting, and working on waste-reduction strategies, it's obvious that green initiatives within the hotel industry are becoming mainstream. Sourcing fair trade products should be the logical next step for any establishment looking to do more.
What is standing in the way? For a mass-market hotel, however, fair trade sourcing can be a tough sell. While many popular green measures can directly reduce a hotel's or restaurant's operating costs (i.e., reduced water and energy costs), properly certified fair trade goods tend to cost more. Steven Strecker, executive sous-chef at ERA Bistro, located in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, agrees. As he puts it, “Years of cheap, unethical products have led to a market that fair trade products struggle to compete in.” Strecker is an advocate for the use of fair trade products, but he sees challenges in regularly featuring them on his menu. While ERA Bistro is committed to using fair trade products including spices, coffee, tea, wine, and chocolate, there are times when some items are no longer practical to use. Strecker compares the
demand for fair trade to that of organic foods, which took several decades to catch on with the average consumer. He notes that the public generally supports fair trade in principle, but practical concerns over cost often take priority. “We as a society and restaurateurs must start supporting fair trade products and the start-up costs associated with them if we hope to see a reduction in cost and make it a more affordable and appealing choice for the consumer.” Among international hotel chains, fair trade sourcing sometimes exists as a component of a larger sustainability initiative. As a part of their Green Partnership program, several Canadian Fairmont Hotels and Resorts properties offer carbon reduction options, energy and water conservation initiatives, as well as the use of fair trade food products, usually coffee and tea. However, the demand and feasibility of implementing fair trade products varies by region. Mubashar Shahab, the executive director and head of global procurement for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts notes that there is a lack of suitable supplier partners to service their properties in some parts of Asia and Africa. Outside of food and beverage, fair trade in the hospitality industry is an initiative still in its infancy. In Amsterdam, the Steigenberger Airport Hotel is a leading the way, offering fair trade bed and bath linens in certain rooms. While large-scale changes are unlikely to happen overnight, decision makers in the hospitality industry can research fair trade suppliers and find new ways to incorporate fair trade sourcing into their businesses without
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