February 14, 2023 •

6 min reading

Implementing sustainability training sessions for hotel personnel

Written by

What can be gained by offering your operational staff a course that explains the theory and foundation of your hotel's sustainability agenda? The answer: many things! From engagement to concrete KPIs, implementing sustainability training sessions for hotel personnel can help move hotel businesses from just focussing on the single bottom line. 

Becoming more sustainable means going beyond the single bottom line

Triple bottom Line-1

Since the declaration of the Brundtland Report in 1987 and John Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line framework in 1994 (figure on the right), heaps of research and business articles have been published, and many global and local decisions have been made about sustainable development. One of them is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022 Report that urges immediate and tangible actions to tackle the reality of climate change. The IPCC report contributes to the long list of studies with one of the most critical questions of the sustainable agenda emphasized by both private and public sectors: the environmental aspect of the business and our adaptation and resilience to face challenges such as climate change, pollution, waste, energy, among others.

The hospitality industry experienced a historical recession during and after the COVID losing 1 billion international travelers worldwide in 2020. Yet, despite its promising recovery in early 2023, John Elkington’s auto-critique to his triple bottom line can still be considered accurate. Businesses have been focusing principally on a single bottom line, the economic aspect, by often ignoring the other two.

This is particularly relevant in the post-crises period, where the mere survival of companies happens on financial foundations. Hence, limited economic resources are allocated to environmental and social sustainability. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serve as a framework to guide companies to become more sustainable in their operations, however, the hospitality industry still has a long way to go.


Improving a hotel's sustainability KPIs

Generally, hotel companies seek to get engaged with the SDGs, but it is a fact that hospitality is behind other industries in achieving meaningful sustainability results. Although, more and more hotels have started to engrave sustainability reports to prove their commitment, a large portion of those actions and promises lack accountability and transparency (Jones et al., 2016).

A concrete and cost-effective solution to enhance sustainability engagement and tangible outcomes at hotels’ daily operations could be implementing an SDG-oriented training sessions for the operational personnel. A hotel's environmental objectives can cause stress to the operational personnel since they seldom have the occasion of assisting workshops on topics such as the foundations of sustainability, including the SDGs, and generally lack access to the rationale behind the sustainable initiatives.

Bachelor in International Hospitality Management  See business through customers’ eyes. Enter the job market with a leader’s  perspective.  Discover how we train our students to put customers first.  Discover

It is probable that operational personnel are missing a solid introduction and have not been included in explicit discussions about the theoretical perspective of the sustainable agenda. In brief, while sustainability as a concept is omnipresent in today’s hospitality businesses and employees are expected to practice it in their daily operations, the link between sustainability theory and practice, at times, can be inexistent.

Therefore, having a sustainability-trained hotel personnel seems to be proactive and also crucial for businesses to improve their sustainable KPIs. Employees should see clearly why sustainable efforts exist at the hotel, or how unsustainable practices could be improved.


Frequently discussed SDGs

To support this point of view, the present article is founded on an applied sustainability-oriented study that examined how Swiss hotels incorporate SDG-focused training for operational personnel. Out of 64 hotels that responded to an online survey, it is thought-provoking to note that only less than 25% of the hotels offer such a training for operational staff.

Among those hotels where a sustainability-focused training program exists, it is mostly delivered internally, primarily by someone from the Human Resources’ department. Although these HR employees may have a deep understanding of the SDGs, the authors of this article might ask the question about the content and depth of such trainings.

It’s an interesting fact that the SDGs that were most debated in those workshops, in relation to hospitality, are; SDG 3, Good health and well-being; SDG 9, Industry, innovation and infrastructure; SDG 12, Responsible consumption and production, and SDG 13, Climate action.


Urgent hotel challenges to be considered

While 75% of the responding Swiss hotels in the study do not offer any SDG-related training for operational employees, hotels, in general, do believe that such an initiative could be valuable for them. Hence, hotels seem to be interested in finding innovative solutions for sustainability challenges by offering SDG-related training for employees.

The study detected that the most urgent subjects and challenges that should be considered, and possibly delivered by an external expert, are: sustainable water and energy use, and recycling and waste management. These last results are rather logical because due to the current energy-related crisis, 14% of the surveyed Swiss hotels would like to have some theoretical and practical workshops that tackle the topic of sustainable energy.

Another burning area for hotels today is waste and recycling. The study showed that a similar percentage of the hotels seek concrete results (14%) in this field, too. Hotels would also like to improve employee’s engagement and wellbeing (12%) where training sessions are considered as an option. On the other hand, interestingly, SDG-related challenges such as gender diversity, condition of work/social protection and employment relationships are not considered by hotels as the most important and urgent challenges today.


The theory behind sustainable actions

As a follow-up of these results, a short 2-hour workshop was developed and tested at a Swiss hotel. The SDG-oriented workshop was designed to stimulate a dynamic discussion between operational employees and management with the sole purpose of enhancing awareness and understanding sustainability foundations in the context of day-to-day operations at the hotel.

The training allowed participants to link sustainable actions and the reasons behind them. The question of ‘Why do we do these sustainable actions at the hotel?’ was addressed from a more historical, and when suitable, a more theoretical perspective. Topics that were elaborated during such a training were: the history of SDGs; current global/local challenges in hospitality/tourism; also, some solutions and innovative ideas for hotel specific challenges.

In addition, scientific theories from the fields of behavioral economics, psychology, and even cultural anthropology were vulgarized and correlated to daily operations with the goal of building a solid awareness of the sustainable agenda among participants. The test workshop was highly appreciated by the participants.


The benefits of sustainability training

We believe that such a short SDG-focused workshop for operational employees should be considered by hotels because it may contribute to the following results:

  • Highlighting the missing link between theory and practice, hence employees may be more proactive in the future concerning sustainability efforts.
  • Contributing to better employee engagement to sustainability.
  • Concrete KPIs, such as operational costs, can be measured as an outcome.
  • The SDG training becoming part of the company's sustainability/CSR report.
Written by

Assistant professor at EHL Hospitality Business School

Julneth Rogenhofer
Written by
Julneth Rogenhofer

EHL Visiting Lecturer

Want to study in Switzerland and get to know a new culture?

Switzerland offers students from all over the world a friendly culture and many fun activities. Learn more about our study programs and download the brochure.