a Wyndham employee and you casually toss a plastic bottle into
the recycling bin marked “plastic.” A colleague comes up behind you and
yells, “Caught green-handed!” You get a certificate and recognition.
Consider that scenario as evidence of a lesson learned by hoteliers as
the green revolution has emerged: a hotel is only as green as its
grassroots—employees on the ground. Without associates getting on board
the sustainability train, say human resources and other executives
responsible for green initiatives, hotels are limited in how much they
can accomplish with top-down policies.
That’s the thinking behind Wyndham’s “Caught Green Handed!”
program—where peers recognize peers when they’re doing good green work.
The program is designed to combine creativity and fun with the goals of
efficiency and corporate responsibility.
The good news for hoteliers is, as David Jerome, senior vice president
at IHG, says, “It’s not like you’re pushing against a closed door;
employees start with an inclination to being green.”
“We’re finding that we don’t necessarily need to get employees on board
or have to place significant effort toward encouraging the mindset
because there are already great things happening and our job is to
merchandise the work in progress, which further motivates associates
and makes them want to be part of the bigger picture,” adds Sandy
Swider, vice president of global citizenship for Starwood Hotels &
And, while the concept of a “green team”—a group dedicated to a hotel’s
environmental initiatives—has become ubiquitous, managers have become
more creative in ensuring employee buy-in. “Nearly half our hotels
participated in Earth Hour this year,” Swider says, “whether it was
coordinating live acoustic concerts or hosting cocktail hours by
From The Ground Up
When it comes to environmental initiatives, much of the energy is
generated by employees on the ground. “When it comes to something like
recycling, it’s housekeepers who understand the importance because they
are the ones seeing the end results,” Sarah Dayboll, manager of
environmental affairs at Fairmont Raffles Hotels, says.
What frequently happens, according to Dayboll, is that, “A hotel will
take a corporate initiative and spin it in a new way—and that in turn
becomes corporate policy.”
Even if they are not totally responsible for an environmental program,
employees can be quickly motivated if a program combines fun and a
feeling of doing something good. At Denihan Hospitality Group, Thomas
Martin, director of brand integration and communication, learned that
bottle caps are made of a type of plastic that could not be easily
recycled. He initiated a competition among associates to collect the
caps, which are recycled in one of the few places that can do it. So
far, the company has collected more than 65,000 caps, with 99 percent
of associates donating them. Each corporate office team now has a “cap
leader” who motivates teams to collect more caps.
“It’s an interesting lesson,” Martin says, “It was something that was
meant to be a short-term contest and has become a habit.”
At Wyndham, employees were involved in creating a new headquarters that
is on track to becoming a LEED Silver-certified building. According to
Mary Falvey, executive vice president and chief human resources
officer, “Because of all their input, we have a building with lots of
natural light, lower partitions between cubicles so everybody can enjoy
that light, and locally grown and organic foods in the cafeteria.”
The new Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte (built for LEED Gold certification)
kicked off its staff motivation early, bringing in Laura Turner Seydel,
Ted Turner’s daughter and a leading environmentalist, to speak to new
hires. She brought an array of eco-friendly household items and
explained what could be saved by using them. She provided every
employee with a printed (on post-consumer waste) takeaway piece
Green as an Incentive
While employees may already be on board, providing
incentives—recognition and money—is commonplace to keep sustainability
top of mind.
At Fairmont, Dayboll says, “Each quarter we announce two teams that
have won for their green efforts. There are winners in two
categories—Evergreen and Seedling. Evergreen is for a property that has
been in the portfolio for some time while Seedling is for a newer
property.” Winners, Dayboll says, earn “sustainable rewards” such as
water bottles, organic tee shirts, or a bamboo photo frame.
At the end of the year, Hotels of the Year are announced in both
categories, and they each receive a trophy and $1,000 donated to a
charity of their choice; in addition each member of the wining team
gets a $100 gift certificate. Finally, one individual is named as
EnviroStar, earning a $1,000 donation to a charity, a personal plaque,
and a $500 prize.
Other incentives are more profound. “Employees come to realize that
unless they get on board with this, their very livelihoods might be
affected, especially in places where the environment is most
endangered,” Dayboll says. “If those places are threatened, the tourism
industry will suffer.”
And even one’s immediate environment is at issue. “Being green creates
a more productive environment—the paint and carpet are not toxic; it
smells better,” Kathleen Chiechi Flores, executive vice president of
human resources at Wyndham, says. “People feel better about being at
Some incentives are less tangible. “For 2010, we are starting to
compost our waste, filling bins in the back of the hotel with food
scraps,” Brian Hatchitt, convention services manager at the Embassy
Suites Albuquerque Hotel & Spa, says. “We have also started a
cardboard recycling program. And while these are not always
money-saving programs, and might even cost a little, in the end it’s
worth it. At a time of wage and hiring freezes, these types of things
make people feel good. It provides a sense of responsibility for the
company’s and the community’s well being; they buy into your belief
At Ritz-Carlton, according to Denise Naguib, director of environmental
programs, “One REACT (Ritz-Carlton Environmental Action Conservation
Team) leader calculated how much a person would save by turning off a
fan for the 10 hours they are at work. They related that back to the
number of hours that person would have to work just to pay for the fan
running all day for no reason. Then those same principles are applied
to leaving the exhaust on in the restaurant kitchen or the lights on in
guest rooms. This helps to make a correlation that is easily understood
by all and thereby easy to execute.
“Additionally, by connecting the cost savings of these initiatives to
the bottom line of the hotel, it is also easy to connect to jobs and
job security. The more money saved, the less likely jobs are at risk.”
With the foundation laid at many hotels, executives say it’s time to
make sure plans in place are working, while always seeking new ways to
foster sustainability. As Jerome says, “At this point, it’s execution,
execution, execution. We want our tools to be easy to use and so we are
always improving, refining and growing—all based on employee feedback.
Feedback is a most welcome gift.”
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