‘Going Green’ is still a top issue for hotels and guests but it is not without its challenges. And despite the associated costs, the industry is committed to sustainability, looking at the longer term and recognizing the cost- and resource-saving benefits. Among the challenges are training an informed work force. Donald Gasper discusses the issues with some leading hospitality professionals.

The question of whether to go green or not is no longer an argument in the hospitality industry. With society as a whole more concerned and aware of its carbon footprint, both green-conscious guests and staff have made their opinions heard and actions felt. As a result, hotels which go green stand to benefit financially: A worldwide study of 7,000 guests commissioned by AccorHotels in 2016 confirmed that two-thirds of visitors would be ready to pay extra for a hotel engaging in green practices.

Other research indicates that it pays for hotels to be genuine in their efforts. The International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management reported in 2015 that consumers became skeptical when they felt a hotel was “greenwashing”. This refers to cases where hospitality businesses tout cost-saving or profit-making practices as green initiatives.

Fake initiatives can backfire. For example, where a hotel offers a scheme to reuse linen, ostensibly to help the environment, but still offers disposable toiletries without any recycling options, the consumer is less likely to trust the programme and participate, or to revisit the property.

Apart from the placard common in guest rooms asking if a guest wants to help the environment by reusing the linen today, industry feedback is that more efforts can and should be made.

What could be done then? Some hotels are looking to add herb gardens, conduct ‘plant-a tree’ programmes, or offer food menus based on sustainable sourcing. Other initiatives see the limiting use of consumable plastics such as the drinking straw and some hotels also have stopped offering disposable amenities such as toothbrushes, combs, bath sponges, etc., preferring them to be on an upon-request basis.

Meanwhile, energy systems such as solar panels, heat/energy recapture systems, water-limiting technology, are some other means to reach the green sustainability goal through design.

Travel metasearch engine Kayak has an “eco-friendly” filter and, according to Jason Yeung, the company’s head of marketing and PR for Asia-Pacific, hotels falling into that category include those that save water and energy through optional, non-daily linen refreshment, serve locally sourced food, offer bikes for transport and make efforts to reduce waste, electricity usage and carbon footprints.  

Certification

To keep the goal in focus, green hotel certification programmes are more commonplace and more mainstream these days. Whether it is LEED certification, Earthcheck, Greenkey, or another programme, several options are available for hoteliers to choose what fits their property and speaks to their green aspirations.

However, according to Green Hotel World, a non-profit organisation, Asia is the worst performing continent as regards green certification, with only 0.9 per cent of its hotels certified by a third party as “green”.

Japan’s Green House Group, a contract food service business is in this minority. It has obtained ISO 14001, which created an organisational framework for green management in the company.

The group began by preparing meals for students at Keio University in the aftermath of the second world war. It now manages a number of hotels, restaurants and delicatessens. It also operates cafeterias in various offices, factories, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and a nursery school.

Human resources

Regarding hotel human resources, research has been done showing that by adopting eco-friendly strategies, hotels stand not only to offer better services but also to reduce staff turnover, says Darryl Agon, managing director of Agon Hotels and Resorts. “From the very beginning to hiring people with good green awareness, to providing staff training on green practices throughout the property, to creating incentive programmes to encourage staff to participate in and improve their environmental knowledge and upgrade their skills, to further ensuring staff are willing to keep implementing new green policies, each step is playing an important role in operating a sustainable green hotel. Meanwhile, such green efforts do not go unnoticed by staff who feel in turn their employers are responsible contributors to their own health and well-being, and society in general.”

“Human resources development is vital to offer hospitality that fulfills customers’ needs,” agrees Takanori Fukuda, general manager of the Planning Division of Green House Group.

“The training of human resources is a must in order to deliver the kind of hospitality that our customers want,” he says. “To realise this, we put a great deal of effort into education and training of human resources and train staff to place a high value on hospitality. We are enhancing development of human resources in order to become the best quality hospitality company in Asia.”