Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Environmental Management Research Corps

I am traveling by bus again to Boston to teach my class tomorrow in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This seems to be one of the few times I can write my blog! It is certainly nice that our Greyhound buses now have Internet. It makes the time so much more productive.

During my journey, I prepared my lecture for tomorrow and am in the middle of providing input on student projects.

All of our 70 students have taken up the challenge of studying one specific type of environmental management problem for one sector of the tourism industry. We have asked them to focus on practical questions, using quantitative analysis to review the current problem and research on comparable sites to determine best approaches for mitigation.

They are reviewing the management of solid waste, waste water, air emissions, CO2 emissions, sensitive habitat destruction, and questions of water use, wildlife impacts, and runoff, sprawl and other types of regional planning problems, questions of preservation of key tourism destination assets for countries around the world, and the improvement of supply chains.

It is quite exciting to see the range of proposals. We suggested that a few local students look at Logan Airport in Boston and about 3 are going over questions of waste management and sourcing of more healthy, local foods for this local transport hub.

We have many international students. One is reviewing the question of water use in Mombasa, Kenya as global warming and rising seas create increasing problems for the city's water supply in this tourism dependent city. We have a review of how to improve the environmental design of the new luxury Sofitel in Dubai by one of its architects, after the project was put on hold due to the current economic downturn. One student is looking at increasingly problematic algae blooms in Lago Atitlan in Guatemala and what may be the factors causing it, with mitigation approaches based on his results. One student is looking at her home country of Jamaica and how to improve standards of sewage treatment for hotels operating on the island. Another is looking at the largest hotel chain in Colombia and how it can reduce its environmental impacts by creating a more well planned, lower impact supply chain for its many amenities, from terry robes to shampoo.

I am working with one student on the question of how the destruction of mangroves in Belize for more tourism development may be impacting its most important tourism asset - the Barrier Reef, and we have a review of Bonaire's management of tourism in its coral reef reserve.

There is one student looking at air emissions in Long Beach, California and how cruise lines will be affected by the strict California laws.

We have a number of students looking at how to lower the impacts of hotel chains, via a review of their policies, and several looking at domestic policies for tourism destinations, from Baltimore Harbor to Oklahoma City.

All in all, it is very satisfying to have the student environmental management research corps we have established by virtue of teaching this course looking at such a wide range of practical questions. It feels so cutting edge, as if we are in the vanguard here. While certainly tourism has received some scrutiny, there are vast gaps in the industry's efforts to manage even the most fundamental impacts. Perhaps even more overlooked is the role of municipalities and local authorities to manage tourism's impacts in ports, airports, and other tourism destinations where regulations are generally weak. It is well known that sewage still flows untreated from tourism destinations around the world, likely due to lack of regulation and enforcement of regulations. We know that a large majority of U.S. airports do not recycle, which seems remarkable in this day in age.

With our ad-hoc student environmental management research corps, we are likely to uncover a surprising number of positive, and "doable" solutions. We will be ascertaining costs, and looking to create economically feasible approaches. All students are being trained to look at the economic impacts of their approaches and many are talking directly with corporate,municipal, or protected area managers. In this way, we will not only quantify what is transpiring, we will be making proposals on improvements that are possible to adopt.

We are all excited to see these outcomes!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Alphabet Soup of Monitoring Bodies

I am preparing my next lecture today. We have heard some terrific talks on corporate approaches to environmental management from Sabre and Rock Resorts. This coming week we will hear from TUI.

I want to provide my students with context, and have been looking up all of the bodies particularly in Europe that help travel and tourism companies to manage reporting on the environment and carbon. The Global Reporting Initiative and the Carbon Disclosure Project are critical resources. I then look at the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, and I am trying to understand even myself, how to distinguish between the reporting initiatives and this effort to create global standards. I am searching the web for the new materials that make the connection for me and I am getting frustrated!

Obviously, this is an emerging field. And it is clear that the effort to consolidate the reporting process with so called "accreditation" is still on-going. As we look over all of the major hotel chains, we see that each is creating their own internal mechanisms as well. These are proprietary certainly, but trying to develop a fair presentation on the most practical and responsible approach is getting even more difficult than I imagined.

I have followed this field of reporting and certification now for almost 10 years. I continue to study it, but it is still a conundrum to me what is the right move for a company that seeks to manage its impacts in the most efficient way possible!

I am working on it.