Mr. Weissman

Eco-Friendly Practices

How to Prepare a Corporate Environmental Program

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

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.

Having a Standardized Transition Plan

Once the Corporate Green Team has finalized your brand's environmental policy, the next step will be for the corporate team members to develop a roll-out plan for the program across the company. Besides staggering the deadlines for when your various departments will be expected to be implementing the new policy, a helpful corporate plan can also segment the roll-out on a regional basis. This strategy can help to ensure that success of the program will not be dependent on the initiative of individual property managers. Conducting the transition on a regional basis will also allow you the flexibility of using both your corporate liaisons (Green Team members) and external auditors efficiently when planning on-site assessments, training programs, and other programmatic events. If possible, it's best to have 10-15 hotels actively adopting the program for every corporate liaison you have on your Green Team. A larger number of hotels may cause your managers to get frustrated and resent the program, and any fewer may make the cost of implementing your environmental initiatives prohibitive. Another component of your transition plan should include standardized reporting templates and marketing materials that property staff can quickly adopt when making the transition. These template packets should include contact information for corporate liaisons that the property staff can connect with when they have questions or concerns regarding template use or the new policy.

Engaging Your General Managers and Property Staff

With your new environmental policy, Corporate Green Team, and roll-out plan, it is time to win over your general managers and property staff! As on the corporate level, it is helpful if each property is able to establish its own green teams with representatives from each department. It's also helpful if each property is able to assign a team leader that can be present for on-site audits and coordinate the team's activities with corporate liaisons. To help general managers engage their staff members, you may want to provide the GM's with the industry trend information, case studies, or other corporate-specific environmental manual material that they can distribute to staff.

It would also help if corporate liaisons can individually meet regional groups of properties in quarterly question and answer sessions rather than have all the liaisons present the program all at once to property staff. Other options to help GMs and property staff adopt your policy are to:

  1. develop on-line tools and forums where they can learn from the experiences of other properties that have completed the transition, and

  2. establish inter-regional competition among hotels for the time it takes to complete the transition, completion of reporting, or achievement of property-level goals.

Monitoring, Tracking, and Continued Improvement

When the program is finally launched, and your GMs have been utilizing the reporting templates for a few months, bi-annual or tri-annual monitoring of data can begin. Beginning to analyze data just a few months into the program can help the Corporate Green Team correct glitches in the reporting protocols that have been established and also give you an opportunity to correct or modify the type of data being collected if the results appear inconclusive or inefficient in tracking desired environmental indicators. Another important aspect to tracking progress will be the development of a responsive and timely public feedback protocol for questions guests may have about your brand's environmental program. Also helpful would be interactive media tools they can utilize independently to learn and share in the reporting process.

When you start to see trends in the data you are receiving, make sure to acknowledge and reward regional accomplishments or individual property efforts that go above and beyond the targets set in your environmental policy. It is also helpful, on the property level, if the property green team can develop a reporting protocol document with a list of contacts on the corporate level in the event that employees are promoted, leave, or transfer to other properties.

Other longer-term environmental commitments include encouraging your GMs and other property staff to engage in an annual review process and refinement of responsible purchasing polices throughout their supply chains as well as participation in local environmental and social development initiatives.

The important thing to remember when implementing an environmental program for your brand is that if your employee's informational needs about the program are not addressed in a timely or responsive manner, there is very little, if any, chance that the program will achieve your goals or provide a reliable and transparent environmental commitment to your guests.

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.

(1)Park, Jeongdoo. The Relationship Between Top Managers Environmental Attitudes and Environmental Management in Hotel Companies. Digital Library and Archives: University Libraries. Virginia Tech, Web. 29 Sep 2009. http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-07242009-45711/unrestricted/Thesis_JDP.pdf.

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 as Vice President of Standards and Certification, becoming President and CEO in late 1996, and he served as founding Chair of the Global Ecolabelling Network from 1994 to 1997. He oversaw the development of Green Seal’s standard for lodging properties (GS-33) in 1999 and the certification of scores of properties to that standard since then. 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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