At some point over the past 11 years, we have all heard of the IMVELO competition recognising the efforts of hospitality enterprises in embarking on the path of sustainability. The articles on the IMVELO praise the environmental management systems of the regular entrants and certainly inspire us readers to investigate our own commitment to sustainable business practices. The IMVELO is creating significant awareness of environmental management issues in the industry. Some of us are motivated by the extent of the green engagement of the finalist in this competition. Others might feel intrigued and a little overwhelmed.  What does it actually mean to be “green”? Where would one even start within a hospitality business? What does it entail to take action and reduce environmental impacts associated with day to day operations?  In short, what is it that makes a hospitality business truly green?

We could assume that a guest house, hotel or restaurant is termed green when it is managed with as small an ecological footprint as possible. This includes minimal impact upstream (before resources enter the facility) and downstream (after resources have left the facility). This minimal impact on our environment in all operations can be achieved through numerous things such as using renewable energy and conscious procurement; the main one however is efficiency.

Efficiency is the production of a desired effect with a minimum amount of effort pollution or waste, it is using less to achieve the same result.  When “greenness” is being stripped to its core, it means elimination of squandering wastage: Less water, less electricity, less fuel, less non-biodegradable consumables, less contaminants, less waste. But being green means not that we offer barely lit rooms, that we ask guests to shower less, that the hotel is cold and unheated … No, it means we offer what we normally offer but with less resources. In other words we utilise the same amount of light using less electricity, we run a swimming pool using less water, we offer a warm restaurant causing less pollution. Overall this means that we have to be less wasteful in all actions relating to the business operation. That’s it: efficiency.

Efficiency can be achieved through measuring and improving the environmental performance of an entire operation and is categorized into 4 areas: Water, energy, waste and contaminants. For day to day operations it would mean one looks at every single corner, every single device, every single water outlet, every single purchase. Basically anything in the facility, which could possibly have an ecological impact. Once inefficiencies in these areas have been identified, appropriate efficiency measures and mechanisms have to be chosen and implemented. The opportunities to be greener are seemingly endless yet do not always suit every business, budget or circumstances.

A general resource management process leading to greater efficiency would look as follows:

Resource efficiency management process

Everybody can benefit from seeking better efficiency. Regardless of whether one wants to make small, incremental improvements, or grandiose, world-shaking changes, one does need to sacrifice the quality of the establishment. Yet most importantly, staff and management need to become skilled at greening the day to day operations and at setting up as well as maintaining efficiency. And this is the key: training and education. One cannot expect to solve problems with the same knowledge that has created them. We need to learn about efficiency and how to use less whilst achieving the same.

There are environmental training courses designed to facilitate changes in the hospitality environment. These impart knowledge on how to save water and energy and reduce pollution and waste effectively.  In an eco-consulting or resource management course, participants are trained to thoroughly inspect a hotel/guest house as well as associated offices and to analyse resource consumption and detect inefficiency.  Professional training will demonstrate how to establish a detailed strategy and choose appropriate measures to take this particular guest house small hotel and its customer’s lifestyle to a more efficient level. Methods to maintain sustainability and changes are imparted leading to an understanding of green business practice in the context of a hospitality environment. Comparing historical resource consumption and monitoring financial savings each year form an integral skill. The result will be the ability to champion the journey complete with a comprehensive plan to establish a long lasting environmental performance, which benefits many: the business, the stakeholders, the guests, the community and our planet.

I think it is time to walk the talk of the hospitality industry. Let’s all move on from environmental awareness to implementation and thereby create a green hospitality industry that is true and evident. For hospitality businesses of any size it would be irresponsible to operate without an environmental management and resource plan. Sustainability is a journey we have to take – yet one needs to know where one is going – and that can be learnt. So, when it comes to the IMVELO awards, I would like to see independent hotels, small guest houses and trendy restaurants all being winners!