The successful implementation of an environmental management system in a hotel depends on the “support and involvement” of its employees.

Although there is some evidence that staff morale may be improved by the implementation of an environmental programme, employees may be resistant to changes in their “routine and habitual operations”, especially if such changes mean they are also required to undertake additional tasks. Hotels thus need to ensure that staff members are willing to support the introduction of such programmes, yet little is known about how this can best be achieved.

The findings of a recent study by Dr Eric Chan, Dr Alice Hon and Dr Wilco Chan of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University suggests that someone is more likely to “buy an eco-washer after acknowledging the meaning of its green label and benefits”. Providing employees with information about the effects of green practices that as recycling, saving water and turning off lights should thus promote more positive attitudes towards that behaviour, and this in turn should motivate them to participate in more “ecologically or environmentally responsible behaviour”.

A person with greater environmental awareness is more conscious of how problems such as global warming affect them and understands that “he or she may eventually suffer from the consequences”. Consequently, those who are more ecologically aware are more likely to “purchase products with eco labels, consume organic foods, and participate in recycling programmes”.

The researchers conducted a survey at ten international tourist hotels in Hong Kong, eight of which were 4 or 5-star hotels and two of which were 3-star hotels. Hotel employees at various levels were asked about their environmental knowledge, awareness and concern, ecological behaviour and demographic characteristics.

Among the respondents, 58% were female, 41% were aged 20-29, 36% were aged 30-49 and the rest were aged over 49. Less than half had a Bachelor’s degree or higher-level education and worked in a managerial or supervisory-level position. Almost half of the respondents had worked in their current company for 5 years or more.

The survey results revealed that employees with higher levels of environmental knowledge also showed greater environmental awareness and concern, and were more likely to implement green practices. For instance, such employees tended to agree with statements like “As the last person to leave a room in the hotel, I switch off the lights”. Although environmental knowledge directly influenced ecological behaviour, it had the greatest effect among those who also showed high environmental awareness and concern, thus confirming that knowledge alone may not always be sufficient to change people’s habits.

The researchers suggest some implications that may help hotels to success in going greens such as ;

  • Providing “daily briefings” and staff meetings to exchange the latest environmental information.
  • Training : it is important that training should raise employees’ awareness and concern about environmental issues, particularly those that are relevant to the hospitality and tourism industry like the “carbon footprint of travellers” and the problems caused by food waste in hotels. Training should be regular and provided to “all levels of hotel employees”
  • Employees should be encouraged to come up with new ideas about how to reduce the effects of environmental problems by organising discussion sessions and providing a “suggestion box only for possible green practices”
  • Incentives could be offered to “employees or teams who implement green practices that result in noticeable cost savings”

Hotels are increasingly expected to have effective environmental programmes to build and maintain a good reputation and ensure their profitability. By following the researchers’ suggestions, hotels should find it easier to provide the right training to ensure employees at all levels are informed and aware of how ecological behaviour can help their hotel, the environment and themselves, and provide appropriate incentives to motivate them to participate.