Opinion & Statements

What honesty and sustainability have to do with Gen Z

by Ida Lobkowicz

Who will my generation support? Which brands will we choose? Which businesses and hosts will inspire us?

Depending on who you ask, Gen Z, whom I am a part of, includes people born around 1996-2010. At a webinar held by the agency Futerra in March this year, the results of a study on this "Honest Generation" were presented. As a member of Gen Z, the statements were surprising, but also confirmed and resonated with my own thoughts. In between viral videos, influencers, likes and the general show-what-you-have buzz that seems to distinguish my generation in social media, the study observed the following: Gen Z has much higher expectations towards products and brands than the generations before them. Gen Z expects honesty, transparency and truth from the brands they let into her lives. By gradually entering the workforce themselves, this generation now decides whom it supports: may it be from choosing an employer and having high expectations towards their work environment to voting with their purchasing power and choice of products.. These observations are also relevant for the hospitality industry, i.e. for hotels, restaurants and catering establishments, bars, organisers of festivals, events and conferences.

I rather choose a product that communicates honestly with me. How do I believe to recognize this? The honesty of a brand to me is communicated by also showing its unfavourable or imperfect sides. Because who needs perfection? To be completely honest, perfection to me is not a state you should aim towards. Why not strive for something more attainable and show character?

For a company this would mean presenting itself in all its imperfect glory. This step is certainly not easy for many brands. It entails identifying your own weaknesses and sharing them with your surroundings. But isn't that strength? I think so. Through honesty a business can show profile, actively control the discourse about the brand and make itself less vulnerable. We do not expect companies to be perfect. We want them to be honest. But where then lies the difference between transparency and honesty?

“Transparency is purely about making information available – that’s to say that although it’s available, it isn’t always accessible to those who don’t know how to find it or navigate it. Honesty, on the other hand, is about proactively communicating information on topics that people want to know about in the most understandable way possible.” (Futerra 2020)

What does honesty, in turn, have to do with sustainability? For me, sustainability is above all a process. Part of this process is to see the circumstances as they are and then to consider what needs to be changed. Only going halfway does not work in the case of sustainability, it needs full and honest commitment. This does not mean that everything must be changed immediately, but rather that a process of transformation is set in motion. Only by being honest with yourself and your surroundings can this process be successful.

One example of dishonest sustainability is greenwashing. Greenwashing is like the rose-tinted glasses of being in love: the self-invented image cannot be maintained forever and within a certain time reality catches up with you. At first glance, everything looks fantastic and perfect, but appearances are deceptive. Once the rose-tinted glasses are taken off, there is no going back. In order to avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing, you should face the reality rather than the illusion right from the start. This will pave the road for long-term success. Honest sustainability does not demand perfection, but rather a "getting on the road".

What does all of this have to do with hospitality? What do I think is important when it comes to hosts and honesty? What are my generation's expectations for the hotel, catering, event and festival industry? I believe that these two demands are essential:

1. Hosts should be aware of the positive and negative effects they have on people, living beings and the environment and communicate these in a comprehensible way. This oftentimes requires them to first take a step back, and take an honest look at their own practices and procedures. Only then they can be thoroughly able to start the process of change and commit to action.

2. Hosts should make sustainability an honest experience and thus inspire us as guests. The second point revealed itself to me after several discussions with my friends about their expectations of hotels. It was difficult to define what honesty and sustainability in hotels would mean to them. On the one hand, I think this is because my generation is only now beginning to get in touch with hosts independently. On the other hand one can conclude that the industry is not (yet) shining with its sustainability efforts or has not yet managed to connect with us. In my opinion, the key for this lies in communication. One of my friends summed this up nicely: "I think honesty is very much about communication, and when there is a lot of communication, honesty is expressed.

My conclusion
My dream of a perfect hotel, hostel or festival looks something like this: Sustainability is lived and communicated to the guests, with a large portion of honesty. Guests have the opportunity to experience sustainability, as the hosts see it as their responsibility to become part of a sustainable development. They involve guests in their commitment and create awareness. They point out sustainable lifestyles, educate and make their kind of ecological and social responsibility tangible. Their weaknesses do not come across as such, as they are communicated as part of a development towards more sustainability. By the end of my stay, I have taken in the many impressions and something new for my everyday life. These kinds of hosts will inspire me and my generation. Will you be among them?

Sources: Futerra, April 2020

Summary:

  • I, Ida, a member of Gen Z and an intern at TUTAKA, describe my perspective on my generation's expectations when it comes to sustainability and honesty. 
    Gen Z expects honesty, transparency and truth from the brands they let into her lives.
  • The honesty of a brand to me is communicated by also showing its unfavourable or imperfect sides.
  • Through honesty a business can show profile, actively control the discourse about the brand and make itself less vulnerable.
  • Only going halfway does not work in the case of sustainability, it needs full and honest commitment. This does not mean that everything must be changed immediately, but rather that a process of transformation is set in motion.
  • Greenwashing is like the rose-tinted glasses of being in love: the self-invented image cannot be maintained forever and within a certain time reality catches up with you.
  • Honest sustainability does not demand perfection, but rather a "getting on the road".
  • Hosts should be aware of the positive and negative effects they have on people, living beings and the environment and communicate these in a comprehensible way.
  • Hosts should make sustainability an honest experience and thus inspire us as guests

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"Hosts should be aware of the positive and negative effects they have on humans, animals and the environment and how to communicate them properly." Ida from the TUTAKA Team 

"There are so many ways for a host to communicate sustainability transparently. Where does the milk come from? Will the soap be recycled? What about accurate waste separation? This creates trust and also gives the guest an incentive to do more himself." Jana from the TUTAKA Team 

"When you demonstrate, how easy it can be to transform your life in a sustainable way, you dissolve reservation and inspire people." Alexa from the TUTAKA Team