Friday, September 24, 2010

Dow Jones Sustainability Index

After our class last night on the efforts of Passport Resorts to create a truly sustainable model for hotel development, I think all of us were in awe of Mike Freed's ability to create a sustainable model for resorts from the ground up.

I was amazed he was able to negotiate developing a solar array that his company will own later, by selling the power both to his resort and to the grid. I was really impressed that he was able to keep the Fort Baker complex in Sausalito so historically well preserved while winning a Gold Leed certification, creating what is now the incredibly beautiful Cavallo Point Lodge - a place I have enjoyed numerous times as part of my work at the Institute at the Golden Gate.

Peter Haase, the civil engineer with Fall Creek Engineering who works through many of the sustainability solutions for Passport, gave a thorough review of nuts and bolts solutions to water management, laundry, landscaping, sewage and waste. He stressed interdisciplinary team solutions. He made me think about how much the approach to creating and developing sustainable hotels is still in process. While we have celebrated the break throughs in ecolodge development for 15 years, we are still just beginning to create a thorough set of development procedures for hotel developers around the world to adopt. In fact, we still have not gotten far enough with this at all! The question is how to create standard procedures now that achieve the best results. I will review more of his thoughts in my next post.

This morning at breakfast, here in Boston, I was reviewing my notes from Faith Taylor's lecture and looked up the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. There is a very clear movement in the marketplace to reward sustainability procedures, not with seals or awards, but with encouraging more investment. The website is quite clear that sustainability as a principle for attracting investment is becoming increasingly important. It is a means of "driving shareholder value" and "managing risks from economic, social, and environmental development"

Interestingly, they rank companies in "supersectors" annually. For travel and leisure, Air France/KLM won the top kudos! They are rated on corporate governance, risk and crises management, reliability, brand management, environmental policy and management, air quality, fleet age, route network, talent attraction, standards for suppliers, noise, human capital development.

According to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index report,

"A growing number of investors is convinced that sustainability is a catalyst for enlightened and disciplined management, and, thus, a crucial success factor."

Let's hope so, as we continue to look at the triggers, and the hard work behind developing tourism more sustainably.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wyndham Hotels Green Program

Faith Taylor spoke last night about the Wyndham Hotels Green program. She is Worldwide Vice President for Sustainability and Innovation. Her warm and optimistic approach to converting the company to a holistic sustainability model was refreshing. She recently launched a global initiative to train Wyndham employees about the value of sustainability, she is actively undertaking the measurement of the corporation's green house gas emissions and setting reduction targets, and supporting the innovative ideas for building hotels around the world that are using fewer non-renewable resources.

I loved her story of introducing changes in the Wyndham supply chain, where her team worked with the uniform company that supplies hotel staff uniforms. This large supplier, was resistant to the idea of creating a uniform from recycled products, but ultimately styled a new front desk suit made from recycled PET bottles. They tested this "plastic suit" in a variety of locales, including Puerto Rico to make certain it was comfortable and breathable. The new uniform was a hit with staff across the world, and the company is now using this green product line for other hotels worldwide. Faith's idea of modifying the corporate supply chain and reducing environmental impacts using their hugely influential buying power, is right in line with research about the most effective approaches to improving the hospitality industry's ability to have positive impacts both economically and environmentally.

Faith lit up when she spoke of her own life decisions. She is clearly someone who is comfortable with innovation in business and has always been part of launching new product lines and brands. So her move to develop an innovative approach within the hospitality industry that is based on sustainability was natural for her. Asked by our students if she might move forward with her ideas in other corporate settings, she made it clear she is on a mission to see results from the groundwork she has laid at Wyndham and is looking forward to seeing the changes that take hold there over time.

She was extremely interested in the power of technology to facilitate change, and spoke quite passionately about using new technologies to track both corporate and individuals' carbon impacts. She understood that much of the world is still catching up on the idea of reducing environmental impacts. She was deeply supportive of the idea of working more in China and countries that will be the next leaders in corporate hotel development.

With 7000 hotels in the Wyndham family, from luxury to budget, she made it clear that globally firms like Wyndham can make a real difference in lowering carbon and environmental impacts.

I was impressed by Faith's "can do" fun-loving attitude toward her work, and I believe all of us were charmed by her willingness to constantly adapt and change to the latest challenges and make things happen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why is tourism not managed as carefully as other industries

In our course on environmental management, we are looking first at the types of responsibilities the various stakeholders have for the management of tourism around the world. We discussed the role of government in detail, and how government has frequently not sought to scrutinize the impacts of tourism as carefully as other industries.

My students sent in many questions as part of their assignment this week related to this. Why have governments not carefully scrutinized tourism?

My answer is the fact that tourism has no smokestacks. It appears to be a benign industry, and it is easy to show it has economic benefits. While Environmental Impact Statements (EIAs) have certainly been applied to large tourism complexes around the world, the overall effort to prevent sprawl and the impacts of population and growth of services and housing around tourism complexes has eluded government after government. The lens with which tourism is scrutinized is not wide enough.

Even if large scale resorts undertake environmental management systems, that seek to reduce impacts, what happens in the periphery of these complexes is frequently not considered. From their experiences in Cancun, Mexico; the Pacific coast of Costa Rica; and coastal beach resorts in the Dominican Republic, our students are now asking why the process of managing growth and development around tourism is not more carefully reviewed.

In our discussions, we are looking at the tools governments can apply to manage growth. These are not easy tools to implement. And we are discussing how and why they have not been implemented. Mostly, it requires stakeholder consensus that in fact regional planning is required - as a primary tool for making tourism sustainable.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Students taking the course

Our first class last Thursday was filled with exciting moments. We have launched our website which helps us manage information for students taking the course from around the world. Students are now introducing themselves, and they are a very interesting group.

I just read an introduction from an architect who is working in Dubai on a hotel next to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Another student, from Jamaica is getting her MBA at the Bainbridge Institute and trains on climate change as part of the team organized by Al Gore, she is photographer who focuses on sustainability and conflict areas. Another student recently returned from working at a safari lodge in Zambia. We have a hospitality student from Brazil, and someone working for an ecotourism company in Panama. There is a representative of a tourism foundation in Qatar.

All in all we have 68 students to date, and we are hustling to prepare the assignments for them. The program depends on all students working through a learning program on-line called Elluminate, where they meet weekly with our Teaching Assistants to prepare their projects.

The first week we focused on explaining the overview of how the tourism industry is structured and the types of environmental impacts caused by tourism.

I made it clear this is not an ecotourism class! This class intends to look at tourism worldwide as an industry, or system, which has complex and difficult impacts to manage. We will not seek to construct products for tourists at all. Rather, we will focus on understanding what approaches will be the most effective for managing environmental impacts of this enormous industry.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First Class

Beginning with the launch of The International Ecotourism Society, I have been researching how tourism affects environment, cultures, and economies for over 20 years.

After 12 years as an NGO leader and 8 years as an international consultant, I am bringing together the most ambitious project I have yet attempted to review the management of environmental impacts of tourism.

The course seeks to introduce all students to how the industry is structured first. The unique challenges of managing tourism’s supply chain will be a primary focus throughout the course. Tourism is an export industry, which brings the customer to the producer, almost unique in all forms of development. This fact makes tourism a highly unique product to manage from the environmental perspective. O

Harvard University Extension has provided the amazing venue to reach students around the world. My goal is to create a symposium that will help to define the challenges ahead, with many excellent speakers contributing.

My first class is tomorrow. I hope to document the experience of working with the students, my wonderful Teaching Assistants Alison and Mariah, and all of the guest lecturers.

I will update this blog throughout the semester. Course information is found here, and late registration is still possible!