Sustainability 2.0: Beyond Green Teams

9/24/2012 By Francisca Quinn

Imagine a hotel recognized and supported by customers for its responsible environmental practices. A hotel where employee and customer satisfaction rankings, along with occupancy rates and margins, are consistently above average. Yes, this IS possible. All it takes is a well-managed sustainability program.

Grass Roots Versus Deep Roots

Until recently, many hotel managers were content to task sustainability initiatives to employee-driven green teams—voluntary groups of enthusiasts with a personal mission to “green” operations. Using this approach, hoteliers quite often saw some successes—reduced waste through material re-use and recycling programs or reduced water consumption by switching off taps, to name a few.

Real, consistent and measurable sustainability results however, require a much more strategic approach to sustainability. This level of change requires a fundamental shift in the way people think and operate throughout all levels of the organization.

Welcome to Sustainability 2.0, a comprehensive approach to sustainability that adds value beyond what most green teams could accomplish on their own.

This article explains why sustainability must be integrated throughout a hotel’s operations and how standard strategic business practices including leadership, communication, training, and reporting can produce measureable results and business gains that last.

Drive Sustainability from the Top

To be truly effective, a successful sustainability program requires 100 percent support from the leadership team.

Sustainability programs that function as stand-alone initiatives separate from other business operations are limited in their effectiveness. CEOs and other managers may claim to support these sustainability efforts, but in reality know little about them and as a result, fail to fully capitalize on the benefits of going green.

Sustainability must therefore be integrated into the core business strategy. The hotel general manager or CEO should have overall responsibility for achieving sustainability key performance indicators and targets, just as they do for financial, human resources and marketing indicators.

To help the program gain and maintain momentum, top-down support for the program should be made visible at every opportunity, but it must be genuine. Many hoteliers have a sustainability charter or commitment that is signed by the chairman, CEO or general manager. This sends the right message to employees, guests and suppliers, but what are the leaders actually doing to fulfill their commitment?

Senior executives can get involved in monitoring progress around the implementation of the charter by asking questions and devoting time to discussing strategies, resources and issues with operational staff. This will not only demonstrate the leadership team’s commitment to the program, it will also help to increase the program’s visibility and keep the topic of sustainability front of mind.

Knowledge is Power

Processes, procedures and expected behaviors need to be transparent to employees. Just as most hotel chains document and regularly update brand operating procedures, green standards should also be implemented. An illustration of the Sustainable Operating Standards Manual that was recently implemented at Delta Hotel & Resorts is pictured here (at right), to demonstrate what one might look like.

The best way to maintain these standards is electronically on a common intranet site or shared document repository so that up-to-date versions are readily available. Printed “master” binders should also be stored in each department office so that employees who do not regularly access computers can have fast and easy access to these green policies and practices. Many companies now also deploy these resources on tablet devices.

Train for Success

A sustainability program’s success relies heavily on the employees’ ability to put green standards into action. Effective training programs can help engage teams with the brand and energize employees to make sustainability a priority in all that they do.

The most effective programs are those that generate discussion and help employees understand why a certain program, action or behavior is being promoted. This can be done easily with videos (YouTube is a great resource) or posters (provided free by many NGOs).

It’s also important to connect theory to practice. Delta Hotels & Resorts very successfully implemented a waste diversion program using a “learning-by-doing” training approach. At a regional training session, groups of Delta employees were given garbage from housekeepers’ carts to sort according to waste stream—recyclable paper, organics, hazardous items, metals, glass and landfill. The activity not only created discussion, it emphasized the importance of adapting the national system to local circumstances. Grouping departments together for this training also helped participants understand the job-specific actions that would need to change, and generated the “social pressure” required to gain buy-in for new practices.

Training for new hires and “refresher” courses for long-term employees is key to program success, but can become costly and ad-hoc if the hotel relies solely on external consultants. Internal “train the trainer” sessions are a cost-effective way to provide capacity for regular, ongoing training.

Lastly, implement a plan to manage training schedules, track completion rates and measure behavioral change after training is complete. Internal standards audits and external mystery shoppers are a few tactics that can be used to ensure employees adhere to proper behaviors and procedures.

Motivate, Validate & Celebrate

Motivation is a key driver in the success of any program. Employees must feel like they’re part of the program. And to keep them involved, reward their efforts. For the same reason, management must also be evaluated on their sustainability progress on an ongoing basis.

Set short and long-term milestones and qualitative targets for each operations group. Short-term targets reflect success in behavioral change initiatives, while longer term targets are dependent on capital budgeting cycles.

For example, Delta Hotels & Resorts has a two-year 10 percent reduction target to reduce energy. They are accomplishing this by switching off equipment, elevators and lamps while not in use, setting “dead bands” on thermometers, and changing light fixtures and bulbs. Its five-year 30 percent reduction target is tied to initiatives for HVAC upgrades, renewable energy, and building envelope improvements.

Many hotels have bonuses for achieving certain occupancy targets and customer satisfaction metrics. Sustainability should be no different. Develop reward schemes, including some financial awards, to recognize people and departments for moving towards green goals.

Use regular reporting to keep teams on track. Delta developed a system that allows each hotel to input monthly consumption online to track their progress against goals and identify opportunities for improvement. This user-friendly tool also allows properties to compare their progress against other properties, which generates a desire to achieve more, promotes involvement, increases employee engagement, and, ultimately, produces better results.

Pictured above: Sample score card used for tracking water consumption at each location.

You may also seek external validation through participation in certification systems such as Green Key Eco Rating Program, Green Seal, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Global Sustainable Tourism Council and other regional and national systems. Employees will be proud to work for an organization that is recognized as a leader in sustainability, which will further drive performance.

A Fundamental Shift in Thinking & Practice

Sustainability 2.0 is about integrating sustainability into the company’s core business strategy and operations, and changing the way employees behave and perform. It’s about developing a reputation as a responsible organization that is sought out by customers and employees alike. It’s about achieving sustainability goals that have a real impact on the environment and the company’s bottom line.

Through effective leadership, employee communication, training, and regular reporting, hoteliers today are in a position to dramatically change the industry and reap the true benefits of going green—reduced operating costs, employee engagement, new customers, improved customer retention, and better risk management. Isn’t that a future worth contemplating?

About the Author

Francisca Quinn is the Sustainability Practice Leader and Senior Principal at Loop Initiatives. Loop Initiatives is dedicated to helping clients and peers learn about corporate sustainability best practices. She has worked with leading, international hoteliers and hospitality organizations on climate change and sustainability strategies since 2003. Prior to specializing in sustainability consulting, Francisca was a traveling general strategy and management consultant who gained her fair share of hotel experience through the customer’s eye. Follow Francisca on Twitter @franciscaquinn. She can also be reached at fquinn@loopinitiatives.com.


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