Is there room for environmental management in hospitality?

Karmen Lužar

Environmental management is usually associated with industries that pose a substantial risk to the environment, such as mining. However, tourism, as the biggest industry in the world also has a valid reason to consider its implementation. Not only from the perspective of expected impacts, but also as a tool to raise profits.

In alignment with environmental responsibility, smart hotels and resorts are increasingly recognising the need to implement environmental and sustainability initiatives that rise beyond legal conformity. From the owner/manager perspective ensuring that the business stays strong and vibrant long-term requires staying commercially astute whilst running the business in a way that delivers value to all stakeholders. The British Research Foundation, EIRIS, a leading global provider of responsible investment research found that almost all companies that exhibit improved environmental performance have a good environmental management system in place. Similarly, the International Centre for Ecotourism found in their Australian-based research that ‘what gets measured, gets improved.’ In reality, however, most environmental and sustainability initiatives in hospitality sector are predominantly occasional, unsystematic and poorly communicated. Without a properly developed strategy, owners of tourism venues often plunge into high investment costs for environmentally friendly design. The variety of choice and lack of sage advice about a systematic continuous approach add to financial frustration, which eventually trumps the potential intent for implementing environmental management at a venue in full capacity. Consequently, sustainability as a core business strategy and a brand standard is still a rare occasion, despite existing case studies, which show that business innovation of such kind is a way to successfully defend position on the competitive market.

Systematic environmental management in the hospitality sector comprises of several larger components, including sustainable design to increase the efficient use of resources and lower the costs, optimisation of supply chains, training of staff about environmental initiatives and their part in organisation’s environmental responsibility, as well as communicating environmental efforts to all stakeholders. All of these components need to be taken into consideration when looking at environmental investments. There is, however, no ‘one size fits all’ approach to it. For improved environmental performance, it is imperative that all of these components are tailor-made developed and implemented with a full-cycle in mind. For example, efficient building design cannot succeed without monitoring and analysis systems in place, and stakeholders’ communication cannot be well received without targeted marketing and promotion. This last part, in particular, is often neglected in environmental management, or even more commonly replaced by ‘green-wash’ publicity. The encouraging outlook, however, lies in the increasing demand for evidence from the public and guests. Environmental management is a dynamic strategy that requires active linkage between all of these components.

There lies a great opportunity in making the room for environmental management in hospitality, the kind that brings profits and the positive evidence-based reputation. However, first and foremost, owners and managers need to be informed about the proper way to go about it, i.e. what a full environmental management system comprises of. It is of fundamental importance to know that the return on investment (ROI) in environmental management in hospitality sector is not related only to a green design, it is a multi-faceted approach that requires a balance between development, conservation and promotion. Secondly, initial investment needs to be made in employing an environmental manager, who is properly trained to provide leadership and coordination of these departments, rather than randomly dispersing sustainability related tasks onto other staff positions. And thirdly, we all need to know that environmental management is a journey not a destination; for it to be a successful hospitality business innovation and investment it requires continuous attention, from tourism providers, as well as the rest of us – consumers.