i-SITEs and the implementation of authentic sustainable strategies: 100% pure rhetoric?
For sustainable business strategies to be effective, they need to be authentic, and successfully implemented with active participation from management and staff throughout the organisation. This process has been under researched in the environmental and strategic management literature. The tourism industry provides an ideal context to examine this process when it is based on a ‘green’ image, as it relies on the ‘authentic’ imagery of and engagement with the natural environment to differentiate destinations and to create competitive advantage. As the outcomes of these strategies are dependent on the active participation and engagement of front-line staff, and are observable by consumers, poorly implemented strategies will not be authentic and can open organisations to allegations of ‘greenwash.’ This paper investigates the translation of the 100% Pure New Zealand branding campaign into authentic sustainability strategies, and the implementation process to embed these strategies. The study was undertaken using the qualitative research based on of multiple case studies, where information was gathered using semi structured interviews with the manager and front-line employees of four i-SITEs, as well an observation of the i-SITE buildings, where tourists interact with the 100% Pure brand. The results were examined using thematic analysis, where a number of themes emerged, including: sustainability, the definition, policies, practices and procedures, as well as an identification of barriers to implementation; the perceptions and relevance of third party accreditation, in particular the Qualmark Enviro Awards; an exploration of authenticity in a tourism industry context; the communication of sustainability top-down from council and ground-up, including with tourists; and an exploration to identify an understanding of imagery and concepts of 100% Pure campaign. Four concepts were identified for further discussion. First, the constraints and barriers to sustainability strategies: with reference to the council, the building, and a discourse between the participant’s home sustainability actions and work implementation. Second, how Tourism New Zealand translates the 100% Pure campaign into a strategic vision. Third, an exploration of the understanding and meaning of authenticity. Fourth, a discussion on implementing and embedding authentic sustainability strategies. The study makes contributions to theory, policy and practice. For the implementation of authentic strategies the study suggests that a whole organisation approach, that combines top-down and bottom-up approaches, is necessary to implement and embed successful sustainability strategies. These theoretical insights are elaborated from two perspectives: top-down and from bottom-up, resulting in two levels of policy implications. The top-down perspective focuses on how Tourism New Zealand and local councils can better communicate the strategic vision created using the 100% Pure brand, as well as suggestions for more effective dissemination of information and knowledge about sustainability, and related policy. The bottom-up perspective focuses on employee empowerment, to engage in the creation, implementation and review of sustainability strategy to enable authentic implementation and embeddedness. Specific recommendations are offered for management practice that there must be an involvement and commitment of time and resources, not just financial resources, by the management and staff at the i-SITEs, the local councils, as well as central government through Tourism New Zealand to more effectively embed authentic strategies throughout the organisations involved.