An Overview of Sustainability Focused Company‐University Partnerships

By Rani Bhattacharyya Community Economics Extension Educator , University of Minnesota Extension- Center for Community Vitality | December 19, 2010

Market turmoil, the Gulf Oil Spill, and increasing public scrutiny of irresponsible land use planning all have been issues forcing travelers and hospitality professionals alike to think hard on how their purchasing dollars are impacting the environment and others. As a result, the need for performance based reporting has never been in greater demand. To meet this need, hospitality professionals and other travel service providers are grappling to define what social, economic and environmental responsibility means to their customers and their bottom line. I've focused this article on three key trends that are helping to catalyze the formation of sustainability focused company- college partnerships in the last few years. By also highlighting a few of the program approaches and course topics, I hope that property and brand managers can identify a program specialized enough to help your employees understand and incorporate environmentally and socially responsible business practices into your operations.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act launched in February of 2009, many state level economic development agencies were awarded green job training funds to support the growth of green construction and facility management industries. A requirement for receiving support through these programs was to develop apprenticeship curricula that would help transition students into careers where environmental engineering and construction skills are needed. Many technical colleges and workforce centers have been developing programs to meet this requirement. Below are a few examples of programs that were developed with direct or indirect support from Act or other private sector matching funds.

The Asian American Civic Association in Boston has developed a Building and Energy Efficient Maintenance Skills (BEEMS) Program and the Energy Efficient Technician Apprenticeship Program (EETAP). EETAP's course work is based on the requirements of the Building Maintenance Institute's for Building Analyst Certified Professionals. Upon completion of the BEEMS and EETAP courses, students have a fundamental understanding of cleaning, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, and basic computer skills, in addition to energy auditing and shell weatherization.

The Southern California Green Jobs Education Initiative is a partnership between Southern California Edison (a regulated utility company serving Southern California) and over ten Southern California Community Colleges to provide skills training in the following fields: renewable energy system installation, maintenance and operation of green transportation technologies, water conservation /wastewater management, and sustainability planning/ environmental compliance monitoring. By helping the community colleges develop and implement these new curricula, SCE is also helping to build an employee pool of professional who can manage on-site environmental systems and reduce SCE client carbon and water footprints.

The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) is the largest community college system in the country and includes nine college campuses located across Los Angeles area. With support from the Act, the District has partnered with the City of Los Angles' Green Business Program to provide career transition and employment opportunities between the Districts new Green Technology Program and hotels and restaurants that have signed the City's Green Business Program Pledge. Course topics being proposed include: certified energy management/ auditing certification, waste water management certification, watershed bioengineered remediation, and a variety of renewable energy system certifications.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.