How to Prepare a Corporate Environmental Program

By Arthur Weissman President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc. | September 02, 2010

The process of implementing a successful environmental program throughout a hotel brand can be a very daunting task for executives who have been assigned this role, or have decided to start such an initiative on their own. In this article we will try to outline some of the key questions and tools that brand managers will need to consider prior to implementing an environmental initiative throughout their chain. We will also suggest a few strategies that can help make the implementation of an environmental program efficient and streamlined for both corporate and property-level employees.

Your Environmental Policy and the Corporate Green Team Commitment

In a survey of hotel managers in the United States, Park(1) found that managers who have a high level of concern for the environment are also engaged with strong corporate commitments to reduce the environmental impacts of their brand. Without this top level commitment, company-wide environmental programs have a very small chance of successful integration with a brand's business plan and strategic positioning. But by taking on the responsibility of prioritizing corporate-level environmental goals for your brand, you can ensure that there will be an ongoing commitment to achieving these goals, raise your company's internal awareness of them, and allow for better inter-departmental coordination in achieving your desired reductions.

There are many tools and experts available now to help identify opportunities within your properties for environmentally responsible waste management, energy management, water conservation, and environmentally preferable purchasing practices that can improve your company's environmental performance. Often, however, internal identification of these areas for improvement are more successful, because your employees have a better understanding of your company's culture, as well as the most efficient means to implement environmental decisions into day-to-day operations. Before setting your environmental targets, however, it is also important to understand where you and your corporate-level Green Team can make the most significant impact. This is where reviewing your business plan and getting input from your various departments play a vital role in the development of your program.

Identifying and recruiting key corporate-level managers of your company's various departments into your Corporate Green Team will be challenging but also rewarding. Departments that you should try to bring into the team include: facility operations (to understand general energy, water, and preventive maintenance impacts), your contract purchasing department (to consider environmentally preferable products and services and your supply chains), housekeeping services, food services, human resources (to develop staff training programs and resources) and general administration (to understand back office impacts). The important thing to remember when you do ask them to join is to understand what their main concerns are and address them at the outset. A few ways to achieve this include presenting your potential team members with cost savings information, industry trend reports, or a list of other potential employee benefits that you have been able to research internally.

Once you have these colleagues on board, their expertise and insight into your brand's operations will be crucial for identifying which modifications to corporate-level polices can achieve the greatest reductions of environmental impact by each department. Developing an environmental policy with this Corporate Green Team will take time, but is usually successful if the team can meet monthly to report on their progress. If the group is unable to provide the analysis or data needed to understand your brands' impact, then you should seek external help for preliminary energy, water, and waste audits and if needed, supply chain analysis.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.