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Over the past decade a quiet revolution has been taking hold within the international hotel industry. Around the world many hotels have begun to change the way they view and manage their operations and adopt more environmentally and socially responsible business practices International Hotel Environmental Initiative, 2002.
The hotel industry is one of the largest industries in the world and is hence one of the world's largest employers (Olsen et al, 2000). Due to the high amount of consumption of resources like water, energy, fuel, and consumables the environmental footprints left by a hotel is much larger than most of the buildings in the area of a similar size (Rada, 1996).
Successful implementation of proactive environmental practices by firms requires the inclusion of environmental criteria in managerial decision-making. Performance on the chosen environmental criteria needs to be measured monitored and reported (Gladwin et al., 1995). However, managers face multiple strategic choices and have to bear the opportunity costs of devoting resources on environmental practices such as waste reduction, recycling, energy efficiency and renewable energy versus others such as new product development, new market entry and cost reduction initiatives. There are costs associated with developing and deploying processes and routines to undertake one practice relative to developing and deploying other processes and routines for undertaking a different organizational practice at a particular point of time (Zott, 2002).
There are tremendous market opportunities for hotels who adopt the 'green brand' strategy'. Companies improve their environmental practices by advertising their environmental practices and also by participating in voluntary environmental practices that requires the hotels to participate in these events by self monitoring their environmental practices and then publicly report their environmental performance. In return they get third party certifications which will give the hotels a better impression and will hence attract more customers and will improve business for the hotel (Darnall and Carmin, 2005).
The initiation of individual practices has been encouraged by and international initiative to support good environmental practices within the industry. Executives of major hotel chains including Accor, Forte PLC, Hilton International, Holiday Inn Worldwide, Intercontinental group, Marriott Lodging Group, Ramada International Group of Hotels and Resorts, and ITT Sheraton were the charter signatories of the International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI) that binds signatories to the promotion of high standards of environmental practices (Hart, 1993).
Intercontinental first laid down its own environmental commitment 'Environmental Manual' which won the company the first ever 'Greening of Business Tourism Award'. The Environmental Manual was actually the basis of the formation of the IHEI and a modified version of the manual was adopted by the IHEI for the use of other hotels and regional travel organizations worldwide. The 200 page manual provides directives for better hotel operations and includes a 134 point checklist to evaluate and improve waste management and water and energy conservation. The practices also included the placing of vegetable based bathroom amenities in recyclable packaging made from recycled material and printed with water or vegetable based biodegradable dyes (Hart, 1993).
The Westin group of Hotels and Resorts has come up with an even better environmental initiative i.e. 'Environmentally Friendly Guest Rooms'. These rooms provide pump dispensers for soap, shampoo, and lotion which eliminate the need to recycle thousands of miniature plastic bottles in which the products were formerly dispensed. The Westin Bayshore has refitted 75 of its 517 guest rooms to meet its energy and water conservation target initiatives. These initiatives in Westin have been met with popular support by the guests who stayed in the hotel which was a very positive sign for the hotels environmental initiatives. In addition to the soap dispensers the refitted rooms include energy saving lighting, water restrictors in the shower panels and toilet tank and an option for towels to be laundered less frequently than daily. These were practices Westin started implementing in 1991. Other practices include the use of citrus-based or lead free cleaners, stationery printed on recyclable paper and minimal packaging. Even all the wet and dry waste of this hotel is segregated and by recycling all the waste the hotel has eliminated its need to visit the landfill (Hart, 1993).
Being environmentally friendly increases employee satisfaction or more importantly failing to be environmentally responsible raises employee concerns. This is a chief finding of a survey conducted among about 2000 employees across 20 U.S lodging properties. Nearly 92% of the employees surveyed wanted the hotel to improve its environmental program. Even more surprising was that over 93% of the employees were willing to change their own work routine to assist in the property improving environmentally. Over half of the employees surveyed were willing to volunteer in helping the hotel improve environmentally. In addition to 'doing the right thing' some employees also noted that some of the guests also appreciate strong environmental programs. When asked which type of environmental program they wished to be strengthened, they chose recycling first (35%), then employee education in environmental practices (30%), and then energy and water conservation (17%, and 15% respectively) (Withiam, 1997).
Recently corporate buyers, leading hoteliers, government representatives and environmental agencies all gathered together in Atlanta to initiate a collaborative environmental friendly project. This is the first time in the history of the hospitality industry that both the buyers and suppliers of the lodging got the together on a common forum to discuss environmental initiatives. This symposium attracted leading corporate companies like Ford Motor Company, Nike, Bas Hotels, Starwood Hotels, and Swissotels. Also attending the forum were the U.S Environmental Agency, Cornell University of Hotel Administration, Green Seal and Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This symposium was convened by CERES, a network of environmentally friendly organizations. Hoteliers and Green Hotel Advocates viewed the gathering as a wake up call for the hotel industry. Many participants also noted the increase in demand for the hotel based environmental initiatives (Conner, 2000).
The 'Harmony' Resort is a 12 unit eco lodge in St John, Virgin Islands. This organization is viewed as a model for the ecological properties around the world. It was the winner of the Conde Nast Traveler Ecotourism Award in 1995, Popular Science Best of What's New Award in 1994, and the British Airways Tourism of Tomorrow Award in 1994. It is a property in which the walls are made out of recycled paper and gypsum, red floor tiles are made out of scrap clay, counter and table tops are made of recycled glass. The girders beneath the floors in the hip rafters in the roof are made of reprocessed wood and from farm trees in which no arsenic or chromium has been used to preserve the lumber. The nails holding the boards in place are made from re-melted steel. Even the doormats outside the front door are made from recycled rubber tires, the bathroom shower tiles made from crushed glass, and the lush bathroom carpeting is made from recycled plastic, and the list goes on and on. They not only use recycled material but the toilets are low flow, and they use solar panels and wind generated electricity and also most importantly an active environmental education effort (Stipanuk, & Ninemeier, 1996).
In most cases as expected the hospitality industry has implemented practices only in areas of financial gain for example energy management and waste management or where there is a compulsion of a legislative requirement. Since research has indicated that customers normally don't like paying extra for environmental management in hotels this is probably a sensible approach to the problem. But organizations must also focus on effects on the local community and their public image which if improved will give them a marketing advantage and this will probably make them less focused on just the financial benefits (Kirk, 1995).
The costs incurred by hotels to implement the environment conservation programs will inevitably be high. But at the same time hotels must also focus on the long term viability of implementing these practices which are maintaining the environment, the community surrounding the hotel, conserving our natural resources, and in general making this world a better place to live in and letting the future generations experience what this planet has to offer us.
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