The Sustainable Job? New Careers for the Sustainable Hotel
By Emily Williams-Knight, President, Kendall College
Sustainability is no doubt a familiar word to those in the hospitality industry.
It is a word that in the past some may have perceived as immeasurable, a fad or irrelevant to their business. It has now become if not the norm, something pretty close to it. While certainly not a new concept to the hospitality industry, the industry is seeing an emergence of jobs that cater directly to this sector as more hotels are adopting sustainable practices.
People have long been requesting green practices at hotels, from the reuse of towels to energy efficient appliances, building infrastructure and more. The idea of staying at a sustainable hotel or taking a “green” trip is something that more people are demanding of their travel experiences. A 2010 survey of business travelers by Deloitte reported that 95 percent of respondents believe the hotel industry should be undertaking green initiatives.
The report also states that while the majority of consumers may not make a hotel’s sustainability the top factor in deciding where to stay (price and location still trump all), there is a growing preference for brands that are perceived as environmentally responsible, along with a movement away from those that aren’t.(1)
What does it all mean? From luxury spots to family friendly destinations, there is surge of sustainable-focused careers in hotels.
A History of Hotel Sustainability
In order to understand the importance of careers focused on sustainability, it’s helpful to understand why and where the trend came from. The hotel industry is continually evolving, but it may come as a surprise that the hotel industry was among the early adopters of sustainability. In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which included the Prince of Wales and chief executives of 11 major international hotel chains, founded the International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI), dedicated to promoting high environmental standards. Now known as the International Tourism Partnership and including representatives from Accor, Forte PLC, Hilton International, Holiday Inn Worldwide, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Marriott Lodging Group, Ramada International Hotels and Resorts and ITT Sherton, the organization focuses on best practices for carbon reduction, water conservation, human trafficking, sustainable supply chain, and demand for sustainability in the hospitality industry.(2)
Staggering facts about the impact that the travel industry makes on the environment and additional facts on how the industry could reduce water use, waste and more while being cost-effective helped push the movement. In the U.S. alone, hotels represent more than five billion square feet of space, nearly five million guest rooms and close to $4 billion in annual energy use, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Needless to say, that’s a lot of space and energy. The council has also documented that green buildings use on average 26 percent less energy, emit 33 percent less carbon dioxide, use 30 percent less indoor water, and send 50 to 75 percent less solid waste to landfills and incinerators.(3) Clearly, hotels have recognized that energy-, water- and waste-related sustainability programs can generate substantial return on investment, even during times of tight operating margins throughout the years.
The Case for Sustainable
In addition to the clear environmental benefits, there are several reasons why hotels pursue sustainability, such as gaining market share and generating positive PR, along with the potential to increase profits by cutting costs and increasing operational efficiencies.
- Cost Savings: It’s no surprise that energy efficiency and water conservation top the list of hotel sustainability initiatives. Hotels could also be affected by the growing scarcity of water resources in many parts of the world. According to a recent McKinsey report, in two decades' time, global demand for water will be 40 percent more than current supplies can meet.(4)
- Competitive Advantage: There continues to be an opportunity to position hotels with environmentally conscious business travelers and tourists. In the business-to-business market, an increasing number of corporate travel departments, association meeting planners and government purchasers are expecting hotels (especially those that serve as meeting and event venues) to be able to report environmental performance and are including environmental criteria in RFPs.1 Thus, while hotel greening may not directly translate to a premium price and higher occupancy rates, the lack of a documented sustainability program can constitute a competitive disadvantage that can impact the bottom line as this trend continues to evolve.
- Employee Performance: Employee involvement in the development of sustainable practices has recently proved an important element in business’ environmental responsiveness, with environmental performance improvements, such as waste minimization, resulting directly from employee involvement. In their study, “Best Hotel Environmental Practices,” Cathy Enz and Judy Siguaw found that good environmental practices have a positive impact on employees satisfaction and loyalty, boosting employee morale and enhancing the staff’s pride in the hotel.(5)
- Customer Satisfaction: What every hotel aims for. With customers seeking hotels that promote sustainability there has certainly been a correlation between environmental practices and customer satisfaction, which leads to customer loyalty and hopefully impacts hotel operations and performance.
The Sustainable Standard
The surge in standards, certifications and requirements for hotels in terms of sustainability has greatly impacted the availability of careers within this sector at hotels. In recent years, the industry has seen the development of organizations like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism evolve.
GSTC specifically is focused on increasing knowledge and understanding of sustainable tourism practices, promoting the adoption of universal principles and building the demand for sustainable travel, in addition to creating an accreditation and recognition process. The accreditation process requires that tourism operations conduct their business without having an adverse impact on a destinations habitats, local communities or cultural heritage, and requirements are specifically established by a local organization or government based on certain local or regional specifics.(6)
With the World Travel & Tourism Council sharing that the travel industry is projected to grow by an average of four percent annually throughout the next 10 years (equating to 10 percent of global GDP or $10 trillion US dollars by 2022)(7), there have certainly been concerns about waste management, habitat degradation, over-consumption and pollution. Early adapters have paved the way on what sustainable standards can be and how to easily adopt them, such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts with its Green Partnership Program focused on improvements in waste management, energy and water conservation while connecting with the local community; Kimpton Hotels with the “EarthCare” program aimed at adopting eco-practices like recycling, energy and water conservation, green cleaning, green printing, linen/towel reuse and sustainable food; and Marriot which launched the “Sprit to Preserve” initiative to reduce the environmental impact of its more than 3,000 hotels and to lower its carbon footprint.
Learning from these hotels, and keeping in mind the recently developed standards for recognition and accreditation, hotels have been quick to jump on the trend and make easier changes, such as inserting “towel and linen reuse” cards in hotel rooms. The website ECOnomically Sound reports that a 150-room hotel can conserve 72,000 gallons of water and 480 gallons of laundry soap every year by placing the card in guest rooms.(8) With measures like this drastically impacting cost and customer satisfaction, it’s no surprise jobs solely dedicated to researching and implementing these strategies to gain accreditation and public awareness are becoming more prominent.
Where are the Jobs?
Both full-time and part-time positions related to hotel sustainability are rapidly emerging. Almost all major hotel chains have established ongoing sustainability programs and these are usually overseen by a director of sustainability, corporate social responsibility or a similar executive position. Most professionals in these roles have a combination of training and experience in sustainability, along with background in the unique challenges of hospitality. Some hotels have sizable staffs that help assess, plan, coordinate, measure and report on sustainability initiatives for numerous brands, business units and properties around the world.
While these positions aren’t new, they are growing in popularity at some of the most well-known hotels in the U.S. There are also roles for sustainability professionals emerging at the local or property level. These are sometimes dedicated positions, but can also be an aspect or feature of another position within the hotel – management, marketing, operations, purchasing, etc. These individuals need expertise in planning, analysis, measurement and implementation of sustainability initiatives in order to set up, manage and maintain these programs.
As this trend continues to shift the demands of the industry, colleges and hospitality schools are adapting to ensure that graduates are prepared to take positions at hotels and position themselves as a valuable contribution. For example, Kendall College in Chicago, Ill., offers concentrations focused on sustainability, such as the Sustainable Management in Hospitality and Tourism, and aims to embed the basic understanding of sustainability and its impact within other concentrations. It will remain important for students to focus on key areas of employability – event management and planning, operations, marketing, etc. – while showing that they are up-to-date on the latest standards and can bring a green mind to the position. Basically, it’s becoming essential for students within this market to know how to apply sustainable concepts, and within the next few years will surely become a fixed concentration and element of any hospitality program.
A Green Future?
Today, it’s rare to find a hotel that hasn’t taken some steps toward sustainability, including employing individuals who are knowledgeable about these practices. A survey of 3,600 hotels conducted by the website “ECOnomically Sound” said that nearly 85 percent reportedly participate in some type of “green” program. (8)
Understanding this, there will be and has been a need for hospitality professionals with the leadership skills to put together and work with cross-functional teams to achieve sustainability goals, as well as people who have the ability to motivate others to reach for higher levels of performance. Given the growing emphasis on standards and certifications, there will also be a demand for people who have analytical and technical capabilities to handle the data management and reporting requirements associated with sustainability.
Clearly, the future is green for hotels.
Deborah Popely, Kendall College Lecturer and Lead Faculty for the Sustainable Management in Hospitality and Tourism concentration contributed to this article.
- (1) Deloitte “Hospitality 2015: Game Changers and Spectators” (June 2010)
- (2) International Tourism Partnership
- (3) U.S. Green Building Council “Hospitality”
- (4) McKinsey and Company “Charting Our Water Future” (November 2009)
- (5) Cathy A. Enz and Judy A. Siguaw for Cornell University “Best Hotel Environmental Practices”
- (6) Global Sustainable Tourism Council
- (7) World Travel & Tourism Council “Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2012” (2012 Yearly Report)
- (8) http://www.economicallysound.com/
Emily Williams Knight was named president of Kendall College by the board of directors in January 2012. Prior to that, Ms. Knight had served as a vice president at Laureate Education, Inc., where she was responsible for globally expanding access to the company’s hospitality management, culinary arts, and art and design programs. Prior to joining Laureate she was CEO of New England University LLC, where she was responsible for expanding marketing and strategic initiatives as well as growth into Latin America for the New England College of Business and Finance. Ms. Williams-Knight can be contacted at email@example.com Extended Bio...
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