Mr. Weissman

Eco-Friendly Practices

An Overview of Environmental Innovations in Five Hospitality Areas

By Arthur Weissman, President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc.

With all the greening tools and programs that are now available, both property managers and guests are having a harder time discriminating what is really environmentally preferable. To help remedy this, an important principle to consider is: how significant is an activity in reducing the environmental impacts of my property and service? If the reduction is minimal, you might want to look at your operations a little more deeply in some of the areas we present in this article. For each operational aspect listed, we've tried to highlight some of the current trends and tools that are available that are easy to implement, as well as a few that might take a bit more effort. Starting small and working towards achieving the more complex will make your property and services not only more environmentally responsible, but also more efficient, reliable, and enjoyable for clients as well. Is there anything better for your property and brand than that?

The five main aspects of hospitality management where lodging managers and executives can significantly reduce a property's environmental impact include: facility operations, purchasing, housekeeping, food services, and staff engagement and outreach. Through adopting environmentally responsible practices in these operative areas, a hotel chain or property can measurably reduce its impact on human health and the environment.

Facility operations, while one of the broadest aspects of hospitality management, is also one of the more common areas wherein property and chain managers are focusing their efforts. Environmental initiatives to track energy and water efficiency, ensure preventative equipment maintenance plans are implemented, and to divert all or part of the waste stream towards recycling or re-use programs are the most common and easily implemented aspects of facility operations that a hotel chain or property can adopt without a huge expense. Energy, water, and waste diversion can be tracked by hand or by using many of the facility management software platforms currently available. These data can also be used to define environmental goals for a company's environmental team and are frequently used when a hotel chooses to report on its environmental impact to customers. While not an initial cost, facility upgrades are also popular, but often have a greater environmental impact when planned for after the tracking initiatives, preventative maintenance, and waster diversion programs are already implemented.

Environmentally preferable purchasing can also affect a broad range of hospitality operations. By localizing your supply chains, paying attention to the ingredients that make up the products and services you use, and by selecting vendors that use minimal packaging or provide take-back programs for larger packaging, you can help reduce the environmental impact of your properties from transporting goods and services. Sourcing locally can also benefit your operation by increasing the positive local publicity of your facilities and by making your customers' experiences more memorable by incorporating local flavor into their visit. When comparing products and services, you should pay attention to claims made on their labels or literature, the products' expected durability, and potential hazards to air, soil, and water quality when used or if used incorrectly. By purchasing products that are certified by a reputable third-party organization such as Green Seal, you can reduce your property's(ies') environmental footprint while creating a healthier environment for your guests. Purchasing products with minimal packaging (or partnering with a supplier who provides container take-back services) also reduces the amount of time and labor of your staff in processing the extra material. Reducing this clutter can also make back-of-the-house areas safer and healthier for your staff.

In the area of housekeeping, you should try to develop environmentally responsible goals that cover the guest room amenities and maintenance, laundering services, and common area cleaning policies and procedures. It's important that efficient procedures for each of these internal services be documented, read, and frequently reviewed by your staff. Popular and easily adoptable initiatives can include:

  • pre-programmed temperature settings for cleaning and laundering equipment,
  • proper use of dilution control systems for amenities as well as cleaning solutions, and
  • monitoring consumption of amenities and cleaning products. .

Adoption of these simple initiatives can help minimize undue chemical exposure for both guests and staff, reduce the amount of disposable waste generated by cleaning product and amenity consumption, and help trim your energy and water costs. When possible, your property's or chain's environmental impact can also be reduced by upgrading housekeeping equipment to energy/ water-efficient models that operate with very little if any noise pollution. Another area that is often overlooked but is critical to successful implementation of green housekeeping practices is training. Having the right chemical products and cleaning equipment does not ensure that they will be used properly; only training and communication can do that. So don't shortchange the training of housekeeping staff. (One of our pet peeves is towel and linen reuse programs that are not really implemented as advertised, largely because staff are not trained to follow a guest's instructions.)

While providing food services is a secondary service for most hotel properties and chains, it is still an area where significant inroads have been made by hoteliers to minimize their environmental impact. Initiatives that have been undertaken by food-service providers include:

  • purchase of seasonal produce (from local sources) and purchase of consumables in bulk rather than single-use packages;

  • Implementation of kitchen procedures and polices that minimize unnecessary chemical exposure, waste generation, excess water consumption, and food waste, and encourage proper use of equipment (for food preparation, cooking, refrigeration, and cleaning); and

  • purchase of durable, recyclable, and hygienic dinner ware vs. disposable items.

By incorporating some or all of these purchasing and procedural considerations into the delivery of food and catering services in addition to other lodging services, hotel and restaurant managers can strengthen the environmental and sustainability commitments expressed by their individual brands.

The final aspect of hospitality management, staff engagement and outreach, is likely the most difficult and most rewarding part of developing a solid environmental policy for your chain or property. The main components of an environmental policy integrated with your human resource needs include:

  • Establishment and frequent meeting of an environmental leadership team within your company;

  • Employee training (by sector) on polices, tracking tools, and customer inquires directly related to the achievement of your environmental goals;

  • Establishment of participatory programs for your employees to make environmentally responsible decisions for your company, themselves, and for guests; and

  • Endorsement of employee engagement with local environmental or sustainability causes.

By providing some or all of these opportunities to your staff to be involved in the realization of your environmental program, you are essentially training them to become ambassadors of your environmental commitment not only at the workplace, but also at home and in the communities which extend beyond your property line. Having a dynamic and interactive team of employees available throughout your property who can address environmental inquiries can also provide a much more engaging and memorable experience for your guests that goes beyond place cards or a brochure at the desk.

While this article has only briefly covered a few general areas of hospitality management where property managers and owners can integrate a practical sustainability ethic into their operations, the possibilities out there for managers and owners to refine their brands through environmental commitment are unlimited. Yet, as environmental responsibility becomes more and more the norm for individual hotels and the lodging industry in general, it would benefit any manager or owner to start greening their operations with a few or all of the initiatives we've covered and then expand and grow your program as industry standards and innovations broaden as well.

Preliminary research for this article was done by Rani A. Bhattacharyya, Research Assistant to the CEO, Green Seal, Inc. She holds an M.S. in Recreation Parks and Tourism Management from Western Illinois University and has assisted rural communities in the United States and internationally with tourism development projects.

Arthur B. Weissman, Ph.D., is an environmental professional with over thirty-five years of experience. As President and CEO of Green Seal, he has led the organization both as a force to promote the green economy and as the premier nonprofit certifier of green products and services in the United States. Dr. Weissman joined Green Seal in 1993, Becoming President and CEO in late 1996. Prior to joining Green Seal, he was responsible for developing national policy and guidance for the Superfund program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He also served as a Congressional Science Fellow and worked for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. Mr. Weissman can be contacted at 202-872-6400 or aweissman@greenseal.org Extended Bio...

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