3p correspondent Leon Kaye recently interviewed Eric Ricuarte, principal of Greenview LLC, a sustainability consultancy that focuses on the hospitality industry.
Eric has helped several global hospitality companies with sustainability reporting and measurement, in addition to his 10 years of experience in operations and consulting in diverse nature and cultural tourism projects throughout Latin America. A graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration and MS candidate in Tourism Management from New York University, Eric is a frequent speaker, organizer, and writer in the topic of sustainability measurement within the hotel industry.
His work includes the first hotel property Global Reporting Initiative sustainability report in and the first hotel report following the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Cornell University Center for Hospitality Research, where he is working with several global hotel companies to develop a framework that allows the sustainability performance of a hotel stay to be measured and compared across brands and segments at property and corporate levels.
3p: How did you become involved with advising hotels on sustainability/CSR issues?
ER: I come from a hotel background having majored in hotel administration and worked in hotels and with tourism. Most of my work was on the ground in fragile natural and cultural environments in Latin America, places such as Costa Rica, the Mexican Caribbean, and Northeastern Brazil.
Many of the day-to-day issues were directly involved with sustainability. This was wide-ranging, including engaging local communities; working to improve the wellbeing of employees that came from poverty and dealing with resource, biodiversity, and land use issues. In these scenarios the elements of guest experience and consumer awareness were directly part of the business model, as natural and cultural heritage had tangible and direct value. Much of my work also dealt with putting together performance measurement systems for small and medium enterprises as part of their organizational growth. So when the hotel industry started embracing performance measurement and reporting for sustainability, it was a natural fit.
3p: When we think of hotels, water and energy immediately come to mind–but what are other ways in which hotels can mitigate their impact on the planet?
ER: This is the service industry, and the people factor is huge. Hotels often provide work for immigrants as their stepping stone into a new culture. Hotels can pay living wages that are otherwise unobtainable in lesser developed areas. Aside from the salaries, the educational opportunities hotels can provide their employees for personal growth are immense. At a basic level hotels pay close attention to hygiene and sanitation, and can influence employees to do so as well. Also many people have risen from line-level workers to supervisors and even general managers. There are several skillful careers all within one hotel property. Outside their doors, hotels have a great opportunity to stimulate local economies. Hotels use hundreds and even thousands of suppliers in every area imaginable for daily operations. Much of this need can be met by local suppliers.
Furthermore, hotels serve millions of guest every year. There is an immense opportunity for hotels to help educate guests to become more socially and environmentally responsible. Hotels can promote practices and products that consumers then replicate in their own lives. Hotels can be incubators for product innovation and environmental design. At the highest level, hotels can inspire leisure guests with transformational experiences.
3p: What’s your greatest success story?
ER: The smaller day-to-day wins are more important, but one big win was our creation of a medical services program in a nearby community. I hired a doctor to be present part-time onsite to attend to guests, and for the rest of the time we set up a small clinic in the nearby town where most of the employees lived. Working from the clinic, he was the only doctor in town. So residents could see him first instead of having to spend a half a day going to the next town, and the doctor charged a lower check-up fee. We also provided free consultation to our employees while at work. Absenteeism for medical consultation decreased, the community got a doctor, and guests received high quality care. It was a great solution that encompassed the concepts of value creation.
3p: What are some of the challenges you face within the hospitality industry?
ER: One of the big challenges within the industry today is the difficulty in rolling out a program corporate-wide to hundreds or thousands of hotels. Changing lightbulbs sounds easy in theory, but it gets convoluted with issues of procurement, hotel management, and brand standards. The industry is highly fragmented among hotel owners, management, and brands. In one hotel the three can be all the same or be three separate companies. Hotel companies have the challenge of ensuring consistent quality while at the same time innovating their brands in a fragmented industry. Sustainability, in this sense, is no different from overall hotel industry nuances.