Knowledge of Sustainability as a Job Requirement
By Michelle Millar Assistant Professor Hospitality Management, University of San Francisco | August 26, 2012
Some lodging companies have employees whose primary responsibility is to promote and incorporate sustainability into their business practices. At the same time, more and more hospitality educational programs are teaching about sustainability, because educators and executives alike believe that sustainability will someday become "a norm". As it does become "the norm", it will become increasingly important for lodging companies to employ those that are knowledgeable about the practice. And since potential new employees will be learning about it in school or elsewhere, why not take advantage of that knowledge? What are we waiting for?
Sustainability Jobs within the Hospitality Industry
Several lodging companies have jobs that cater specifically to sustainability in one form or another. For example, the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco has a Community Projects Manager whose job entails working within the community to "be a good neighbor" and support those that need help, in addition to working within the city's lodging industry to promote re-use and recycling of as much material as possible. Wyndham Worldwide has a Vice President of Sustainability and Innovation at the corporate level of its organization; Kimpton Hotels has eco-designers; Hyatt has a Vice President of Sustainability; and Fairmont, well known as a leader in the sustainability effort, has had a Director of Environmental Affairs for many years. Their Green Partnership Guide is a staple for many hotel managers. Interestingly, all of these positions, with the exception of the Community Projects Manager, are at the top level of corporate management, with similar titles, or at least jobs with "sustainability" in the title, fairly non-existent at the property level. One might ask why this is the case when it is the properties themselves that have the most-direct impact on the environment and society. Having said that, realistically, it is nearly impossible for every lodging facility to have one employee on board whose sole responsibility is sustainability. It's just not feasible. That is why it is all the more important to have all employees involved with sustainability.
Sustainability and Culture
Many of the companies that have made a commitment to sustainability, but may or may not have jobs with "sustainability" in the job title, have gone so as far as to incorporate sustainability into their mission statement. As J.D. Marriott says, "An integrated green strategy is a business imperative". A part of Marriott's mission statement shares their commitment to the environment: "Both in and beyond our hotels, Marriott seeks to take responsibility for the environmental impact of our business operations. We focus our efforts on five key elements of environmental responsibility: Energy, waste, water, & carbon; supply chain; green hotels; engaging guests and associates; and, conservation". Hilton Worldwide states the following: "Since Hilton Worldwide brands touch thousands of communities and millions of people every day, it's important for us to lead our industry with sustainable practices that deliver great guest experiences and protect the world we live in".
These are just a few of examples, and many hotel companies, even if they do not have an "official" sustainability person or mission statement, still incorporate sustainable practices in their operations because it's engrained in the culture. The W Hotel San Francisco is a great example of that. While they do not have a sustainability employee on board, the general manager of the hotel, Michael Pace believes in the concept, and practices and promotes it diligently throughout the property where possible. It fits with the culture of the property because of his management style. That is not to say, however, that he or other managers would not or should not seek someone to direct sustainability programs, especially within larger properties. According to Nancy Scanlon, a professor at Florida International University, "Our industry in the last five years has understood the need for sustainability programs in their operations," she says. "Individual properties now have the mandate to have green programs but they cannot afford to allocate resources for one individual to focus on them. It will [however] eventually happen". Ideally, though, all employees within a lodging facility would direct sustainability efforts. Once this begins to happen, it becomes increasingly important for new graduates from hospitality programs, and new employees in general, to be knowledgeable on the topic.