A Necessary Mindset: Sustainable Hospitality in 2024

BU Experts
7 min readJan 24, 2024


The extreme temperatures and climate volatility of 2023 have greatly impacted global travel and global living. As the new year begins, hospitality and tourism professional Leora Lanz asks that we collectively develop a mindset of sustainable living and sustainable travel. A step, she says, can be as simple as “one-light-switch-off at a time.”

The landmark Paris Agreement of 2015 laid the foundation for nearly 200 countries to commit to limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 C. This goal is to be achieved through the attainment of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. As each country agreed to set their own emission-reduction goals, it was also contingent upon local municipalities to help strive toward the intended results. Individual cities, including Boston, have developed their own markers to push this forward, such as “Carbon-free Boston,” an initiative that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This means a variety of aspects of city-living should be considered (however small to start) to contribute to this overarching goal. A daunting task, but with proper planning and implementation, coupled with clear communication and education, it can be achieved. With localities setting examples, residents will follow suit. Goals for the planet impact places, and places will guide people.

Leora Halpern Lanz, ISHC is Assistant Dean, Academics and Associate Professor of the Practice at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration. Her near 40-year career in hospitality and destination marketing has established her as an advocate for cross-cultural exchange and learning, particularly to appreciate the people and places of varying backgrounds and countries. “Conscious marketing” is an underlying throughline of her teachings and philosophy. In this Q&A, she shares her insights and take-aways from the research and conversations conducted in her Boston University School of Hospitality Administration Experiential Marketing course.

Photo by Felix Rostig on Unsplash.

As someone passionate about the hospitality industry and as a marketing professional, what does “sustainability” mean to you?

In early 2023, the U.S. Travel Association released a survey indicating that 90% of travelers desire sustainable travel options, and 76% of executives want to “increase sustainable corporate travel choices” — even if the options cost more. Since climate change and environmental sustainability are very important to the Gen Z demographic, we know this issue will only grow in importance in the future.

A year earlier, Expedia Group shared data affirming that seven in ten consumers avoided a travel destination or transportation option due to “inauthentic sustainability” commitments. This means that overpromising or “greenwashing,” is a serious marketing faux pas, and customers will call you out and go elsewhere. Balancing a meaningful sustainability effort with effective education and clear information, through marketing, is crucial. Boston University alum and director of marketing and communications at the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), Alix Collins, reminded my class that there are aspects of “sustainability” as important as environmental efforts, such as social connection.

Sustainability impacts people, places, and the planet. Therefore, initiatives must be designed to positively impact socio-cultural, socio-economic, and environmental needs. Hotels, restaurants, mixed-use real estate, and convention centers have the responsibility to take steps to help achieve this important net zero goal. My students so eloquently shared that as travelers, “we need to leave a place better off than how we found it.” But, what does this mean for marketing? We must communicate and educate sustainability initiatives to local residents as effectively as we connect with visitors and guests.

Is it exploitive or insincere when a business brags about its efforts?

There is a perception that “sustainable” is more expensive, which is not necessarily the case. As former CEO and current Board member of Panera Brands Niren Chaudhary shared with my students, studies show that people are willing to spend more on sustainable products, as long as they understand the positive impact. When Panera piloted Doughnation, every store committed to donating their leftover baked goods at the end of the night to a local food bank. While profit is a major focus for business, Panera had determined that it should invest marketing dollars on a meaningful campaign to share the Doughnation message, rather than a traditional awareness or transactional ad campaign for the brand. The results? The campaign drove more business, and the company was still able to charge higher prices. Consumers were willing to spend a bit more to support the necessary cause. As Niren emphasized, “purpose can drive profit too.”

Encourage consumers and travelers to “be a hero” and help people, places, and the planet in their own way. Brands should capitalize on the evidence. Market to your target audiences so they feel the intrinsic reward when supporting a brand that supports the community, the locale, or the environment. Businesses must communicate internally first to owners, employees, and customers. With strong buy-in for taking measures to support the community and the environment, the brand only enhances its value with customers. Businesses must also realize that they are not competing with other companies who are trying to sell sustainable or organic products. Rather, as my students so beautifully articulated, we are all partners in the overall mission to do our part and help the world together.

If and when there’s resistance to change, look at other comparable businesses around the globe and assess their sustainability initiatives. In my class, we learned a lot from reviewing information about The Marcel Hotel in New Haven, Connecticut–the country’s first net-zero hotel. Learn from these comparable businesses and then set achievable deadlines and benchmarks. Share the policy publicly on a website to hold the company accountable. Create your own environmental, social and corporate governance data (ESG) report to monitor progress. It is not self-serving to market sustainability initiatives. It’s necessary, as long as the measures are authentic and notable.

Photo by Eddy Billard on Unsplash.

How should owners of hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-driven businesses get started?

My friend and colleague Johanna Wagner is a lecturer in the graduate hospitality program, IMHI, at the ESSEC Business School in France, as well as an instructor in the School’s sustainability concentration. She recently explained to my students that for businesses to get started on this path, they should, “improve what they have rather than try to do more.” In many jurisdictions, including Boston, there is a 2050 goal date to meet. If these businesses start now to implement the systems and operations to achieve these goals, the financial investment would be eased over time, and they will save money in the long run.

How can travelers in 2024 start developing a mindset of responsible, sustainable travel?

To prevent greenwashing, hospitality operators should put criteria in place to identify themselves as “sustainable.” Specific requirements can include participation in annual trainings and conferences; DEI actions in hiring or encouraging visits to diverse communities to educate visitors on the historical significance of neighborhoods; partnering with an underrepresented company and hiring local, and when possible, evidence of reduction in carbon emission. Visitor information centers and hotel concierges can encourage guests to enjoy running or walking paths, biking or kayak tours.

As for individual travelers, we each have the responsibility to trailblaze and do the right thing for people, places, and the planet. We just need to start somewhere. I often recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which inspires readers to change their habits and get 1% better every day. So if your 1% is to carry your water bottle, turn off the lights, or participate in a purposeful experience, that’s an excellent start.

Photo by Febiyan on Unsplash.

What marketing tactics can hospitality businesses implement in their strategies to connect with guests and visitors to educate and inform?

When Dan Ruben, author of Sustainable Hospitality, spoke with my students, he highlighted that to start on a journey of sustainability, a company should look internally first. “Internal newsletters will help jumpstart the awareness to elicit support and enthusiasm from within,” he shared. Internal buy-in is key to brand authenticity and values. To connect with external stakeholders, be sure to insert appropriate keywords into your website, social posts, and other elements of digital presence. Terms such as “eco-friendly,” “responsible travel,” or highlighting a landing page sharing the stories of the purpose of the tasks. If there isn’t a page on your site showcasing “Our Sustainability Story” or if the information isn’t easy to find, visitors will assume there is no sustainability effort at all. Consider a gamification of sustainability milestones or achievements to keep web visitors on your pages a little longer too.

Another tactic is to designate “sustainability ambassadors.” These can be hotel concierges or passionate team members who could share itineraries of DEI or historically-focused attractions and experiences which encourage visitors to participate in community-building activities. Working with micro-influencers or nano-influencers who focus on recycling or sustainability, or can authentically share the information, also enhances the ambassador program. They can encourage us to weave sustainable measures into our everyday lives.

Finally, the Green Key eco-rating program is a leading Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and internationally-recognized certification program designed “specifically for the lodging and meeting industries.” Hotels and businesses can work toward this or online travel agency (OTA) certifications, such as Booking.com, so that guests can appreciate the criteria involved.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on X at @BUexperts. Follow Leora Lanz on LinkedIn. For research news and updates from Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration, follow @BUHospitality.



BU Experts

Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts