Sustainable Hospitality and Tourism: 'Just Get Started'

By Robert O'Halloran Professor & Director, Hospitality Management, East Carolina University | June 15, 2010

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.

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