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Observations on Sustainability Training by an Experienced Hotelier

Daniel Koeppel

Are you a visionary hotel general manager who has implemented an active environmental sustainability management system (EMS) in his/her operation for several years? Are you a motivated HR professional, belonging to a resort’s green team since the green team’s inauguration? Do you call a regional hotel brand your own? Have you noticed that the majority of your competitors are including environmental sustainability in their hotel operations? Do you desire to match their actions, but are uncertain as to how to begin?

Whatever your background, let’s assume talking about environmental sustainability does not make you defensive or doesn’t scare you. Individually, you, dear reader, might be aware of “going green” since the publishing of Silent Spring in 1962, or the bombing of the MV Rainbow Warrior in 1985, or the Rio Conference in 1992? Since last year’s COP 21 agreement in Paris, France perhaps? You remember, where representatives of every country of this planet gathered, selecting a common way to address rising CO2 levels and environmental degradation?

Hotels are great at training. Effective software programs support the monitoring and reporting of everything training related. Plus hotels are full of educated and experienced hotel professionals. Training on environmental sustainability, though, can pose a challenge. The challenge starts with environmental sustainability know how and conviction.

Only recently have hotel management schools started to include environmental sustainability as a part of their operational management curriculums. Purdue University in Indiana is one such example.

“Why should a hotel business care about the environment?” Short, relevant answer: “The way you make your bed is the way you sleep.”

Whatever your background, this article aims to convey observations of useful and less useful ways, best practices and hands-on tips on how environmental sustainability training enhances a hotel operation.

Below are real life examples, observed during 100+ on-site EMS audits at regional and international hospitality brands all over Asia. Environmental sustainability standards require their members to provide evidence of trainings held. The effectiveness of training is an important part in the continuous improvement of a sustainability management approach.

Look for an Expert

There is no shortage of specialists available for hire. Many are driven by passion and offer in-depth knowledge. Hiring one is an effective solution for a specific challenge at hand while at the same time providing motivation for one’s employees.

An island resort located in the Indian Ocean had a mosquito problem. Looking for a solution both outside the box as well as environmentally responsible led them to a specialist. She did not only analyze their problem thoroughly, providing a multi-page report plus an educational presentation (which all employees shared in their native villages) but also introduced natural countermeasures against mosquitos.

Trickle Down Effect

Audited hotels where the general manager is visibly and actively involved are the ones with the most effective and successful trickle down effects of their environmental sustainability training. Especially in the early stages of adapting an EMS the general manager’s presence is literally worth his or her weight in cash.

Feedback Based Training

Hotels conducting internal questionnaires or employee surveys including operational relevant or even position relevant facts received the most actionable feedback from their staff—feedback based on observations and genuine interest. Note: Surveys provide insight on employees with talent and passion.

External Training

Hotel operations struggle where extern professionals with strong academic background implemented complicated environmental management systems. Especially when said professionals were left alone working with or training a green team consisting of line-staff and supervisor levels from mainly back of house departments. In short, think of building the tower of Babel story. (Book of Genesis—Old Testament).

Bottom Up Pitfall

The bottom up pitfall can appear due to over-delegation. These effects have been observed when a green team consists of line staff and junior mid managers with development levels of high commitment but low competence. Such green teams attempt to inspire entire hotel teams to go green. Preferred activities include training sessions about sustainability awareness. Those sessions, mandatory to attend, rely heavily on technicalities, lots of technical data graphics and/or high-gloss pictures of environmental degradation from around the world. Good, but is it relevant to and actionable by your attendance, though?

Feedback Based Training

I made the observation at a hotel, which did survey their staff. Unfortunately the content of their survey questions was too general and even a bit patronizing and not relevant to the receivers. In addition the purchase manager of the same hotel had the idea to send out the identical survey to all their suppliers. During my review of the faxed back supplier-replies I noted a lot of signed but otherwise blank surveys. The majority of answers they received were not useful (e.g. “yes we agree”) and did not indicate any direction, feedback or ideas and it was hard to get any kind of dialog or training cooperation going.

Sustainability Training Tips

What is measured can be managed, ergo what is not measured cannot be managed. The planning and executing of training, where the entire staffs attend, requires a lot of time. We know time is money. As with every training it is only worth doing, if there is a measurable outcome. What outcome for the training session mentioned in the above paragraph about sustainability awareness is acceptable? Reaching 100 percent attendance?

Prior to the training, start measuring the status quo facts of the aspect. The gained information facilitates setting a measurable objective as well as gives an indication as to who actually has to be targeted as training attendees. For a water saving example (e.g. saving 4 percent water per month at the staff showers) the trainees could include selected engineering staff, purchasing staff and HR. To measure and achieve specific outcomes, the follow-up after conducted sustainability training is paramount.

Transparent & Relevant Facts

All sustainability related training should be determined by relevance to the trainee. The author has viewed hundreds of sustainability training presentations saturated with many an environmental problem on global scale (e.g. waste to landfill), while the same presentation was completely silent on the operation’s particular performance on waste to landfill.

To remain with aforementioned example of saving 4 percent at the staff showers, assess the following three performance data labels, to be included in a training session. Which one is most relevant (actionable) to the attending trainees and your set objective?

•    litres of water used per occupied guestroom;
•    litres of water used by the kitchens per cover served;
•    water flow in litre per minute at the staff changing room showers

Cause for Celebration

Training attendance, training outcomes and the reach of goals are reasons for celebration. Environmental sustainability, especially in the early stages, requires constant reinforcement and success celebration to ensure continuous attention. Training is a suitable medium for the communication of such praise.


Return on investment (ROI) calculation on environmental actions and/or trainings are achievable. Hotels are very good in tracking cost savings. The calculations of the non-monetary aspects might require a bit more planning.

How does one monetize increased motivation, reduced unexplained absences, better quality of service and improved stakeholder communication? It requires the setup of new processes for data capture and calculations. Processes and calculations, when addressed during training, will provide the necessary evidence for subsequent effective communication of improvements.

Passion & Experience

Green teams work most effectively when consisting of an equal number of people driven by passion being supported by senior managers with experience in operations.

Recently, I audited the EMS of a hotel belonging to a regional hotel brand with about 50 hotels under management. All their hotels use the same training management software. I asked the HR manager to show me via that software; how many (percent or #) of last year’s training sessions were in relevance to environmental sustainability, how many staff (percent or #) had attended those trainings in the past year and what were their positions.

He pointed to a stack of papers, about 3 inches thick, clogging his in-tray and said that the attendance sheets were not entered into the software yet.

Continuous Improvement

Rome was not built in a day, so goes the saying. Hotel operations should refrain from stating environmental sustainability objectives or trainings as destinations to be reached. It is more effective to employ trainings as change in direction, based on regular course adjustments. In turn established through analysis of facts. Guided by feedback from stakeholders.

About the Author

Daniel Koeppel’s background combines various hotel operation positions since 1985 with a Swiss Master’s degree in environmental sustainability management and is boosted by expat experience in Asia dating back to 1992. Since 2012 his company’s mission is to help hoteliers include environmental sustainability in their business paradigm. His company provides audit services and training workshops. Daniel describes himself as a green-blooded, triple bottom-line enthusiast. You are welcome to reach him via this e-mail.