Dr. O’Halloran

Eco-Friendly Practices

Sustainable Hospitality and Tourism: 'Just Get Started'

By Robert O’Halloran, Professor & Director, Hospitality Management, East Carolina University

One of the new business buzz words is sustainability. People often refer to sustainable issues as green issues or environmental issues but what does it mean for the average hospitality business? A sustainable business is one that good for the community, has minimum impacts on the environment and also is a business that makes a profit. Sustainable practices like any new venture have costs and in some cases costs, that a small business operator (a large portion of the hospitality industry) cannot afford. An argument for pursuing sustainable business practices is to preserve and conserve our resources by having a business be socially responsible. Proponents of sustainable practices can be critical of small steps taken by business when more could be done. However, the counter argument is that businesses should “just get started” with small steps that are affordable and achieve obvious results and then add to their sustainable portfolio as time passes.

Green versus sustainability

The conversation about green versus sustainability is one that needs to define and differentiate each. These are not conceptual dictionary prescribed definitions but operational definitions for discussion. Green practices typically employ recycling, reusing and in general waste conservation. Additionally, things like the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water and potentially reducing land contamination are all part of green tactics. Definitions of green can be applied to different segments of the industry that include; hotels, motels, resorts, lodges, bed and breakfasts, and Inns and in the food service segment, chain operations, independents and more that need to be considered.

Sustainability on the other hand is a proactive or planning practice that changes operational standards and methods to reduce use and waste, instead of reacting to overuse. As noted previously operators need to be thinking about these practices in order to make good business decisions. Sustainable practices can and will save money and will also allow targeted marketing focused on diverse travelers and unique guest experiences. The increased awareness of environmental issues has highlighted the waste that exists in many businesses and sustainable planning and practices can reduce this waste. Often sustainability including the green practices of a business is framed by an organization’s corporate responsibility and ethics. Sustainability and it’s implied or inferred implication for responsible behavior is related to ethics and in the context of the hospitality and tourism business is tied to visitor ethics.

The hospitality and tourism industry manages a balance between livability and visitation. Visors to a site, hotel, or other business must have an appreciation for sustainable practices those results in action and results. Management can plan anything it wants but until the visitor embraces sustainability any established goals or objectives will be difficult to achieve. On the management side of the equation meeting planners, consultants, hoteliers, restaurateurs, employees and other stakeholders must balance the needs for sustainable planning and management with the bottom line results. As the demand from guests for sustainable practices increases often in combination with the demands from stockholders that may call for sustainability to be part of an organization’s culture, industry decision makers will find themselves making sustainable decisions for business reasons.

Tips and resources from associations and best practices form individual businesses abound. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA), the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and many others offer suggestions, tips and planning guidelines for those heading in a sustainable direction. The NRA for example has a virtual green restaurant on its web site. For a business beginning its sustainable journey it is relevant to identify best practices and or ideas for sustainable practices. These practices encompass topics such as reducing water waste and pollution, optimal and appropriate uses of land, reduction of green house gases, a reduction of waste in general plus consideration of employment and briskness opportunity for the local community.

Just Get Started

Getting stated means knowing where you are, where you want to be and then deciding how you are going to get there. In this arena a sustainability audit that documents what you are doing currently is a great place to start. Some argue that a sustainability team be created and this decision is based on the operation, its size and its complexity. It should be noted that the involvement of employees (management and staff from all aspects of an operation) can be a critical part of the overall strategy to integrate sustainability into the culture of the business. An audit will provide a business a baseline and frame your starting place to help to determine how far and how fast you will embrace sustainable practices.

The sustainable or green tactics that you will use can be identified by looking at the educational programs of a trade conference. For example, if you attend the AH&LA’s annual conference and or NRA’s annual show or others and look for sustainable, green or environmentally friendly workshop and or seminar topics you are likely to find many. For example some seminar titles that were identified were;

  • Creating a Sustainable Food Supply
  • 5 Things Operators Must Know About Energy Efficiency
  • Marketing to Conserving Customers: A Guide to Operating Green with a Triple Bottom Line
  • New Ways to Power Your Business
  • Organic Growth: Being Green to Build Customer Loyalty
  • Are Hospitality Businesses Becoming Sustainable? (NRA, 2008)

Some suggestions will be basic and simple but when combined with your own list of tactics and your plan to operate sustainably you are likely to end up with a comprehensive outline or checklist for a business. For example, some suggestions may be to save energy and block off and or group rooms in a hotel, reduce the temperatures for guest rooms, common space, checking on air conditioners and heating systems and or units to see if they operate optimally? More formal programs and ideas can include energy management (types and use), transportation, purchasing etc... These ideas in conjunction with things like reuse or reducing use of paper and machine cartridges etc... are all tactical aspects of sustainability that can drive profits. Many web sites offer suggestions and advice and operators should look to see what fits their needs at the stage of their sustainable progress. Some web links are shared here;

Finally and very importantly, staff will need to embrace the concepts and therefore should be part of the planning processes. Think about staff members who report leaks, reuse containers, turn off lights and all the simple things that make a sustainable program work. This requires being part of a team and a community that embraces sustainability and conservation as good for them, well the environmental and good for business. To embrace sustainability as a concept it needs to be part of your mission.

For example a hospitality business could have a mission like the following; “Our mission is to offer an outstanding hospitality product by delivering great experiences to our guests, staff and stakeholders. We accomplish this mission by embracing

  • A balance between technical, service, and managerial skills,
  • A commitment to personal and professional ethics, responsibility and success,
  • The development of the local workforce,
  • A strong relationship with the community through the development of sustainable practices that translates into profitability, and stewardship of the environment through community engagement.”

With you mission as a starting point; know who and where you are; where you want to be and then plan your strategy and implement tactics that will be assembled into a workable and embraceable sustainability plan focusing leadership, education and communication and “Just get started”.

Bob O’Halloran, Ph.D., is a Professor and the Director of the School of Hospitality Leadership at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina. He is on the Board of Trustees of the American Hotel and Lodging Education Foundation, Vice Chair of the AH&LA’s Certification Commission and on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association. Prior to joining ECU he was on the faculty of the University of Memphis, the State University of New York/ Plattsburgh, the University of Denver, Michigan State University and Central Michigan University.He has presented seminars and workshops for organizations in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia and is a regular contributor to industry publications and has written over one hundred articles, columns and cases for trade journals, newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals. Dr. O’Halloran can be contacted at 252-737-1604 or ohalloranr@ecu.edu Extended Bio...

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