Ten year study shows skills and resource gaps for carbon reduction in hospitality and tourism firms

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Auditing carbon requires firms to keep comprehensive records
Owners must be self motivated and prepared to spend time going through their records
You must have dynamic principled community leaders

Members of the Green Kangaroo Programme continue to show leadership as responsible destination stakeholders as they celebrate ten years of calculating their carbon emissions. I devised the Green Kangaroo programme in 2007 with Steve Gale of Hatch Consulting, at a time when we perhaps a little naively talked of becoming a Carbon Neutral destination. Now in February 2018, I am again working with individual tourism firms in Kangaroo Valley (Australia) for their third audit. This makes the Green Kangaroo programme one of the longest-running carbon reduction initiatives in tourism. Its purpose is to assist firms (and households) to measure and monitor their environmental footprint and to take action to reduce it. What have we discovered over this time?

 

  1. Reducing carbon emissions is far more complex than governments and NGOs may realise. Firms can quite easily reach a “Green Ceiling” where eco-efficient technologies cut resource use to a lower level. Then firms become challenged by the complex variety of factors like extreme weather, limited budget, and clarity of energy bills. Most importantly people do not have the know-how to reconstruct their operations, using sustainable triple line foundations, to make big strides forward to a net zero emission targets. 
  2. Government resources are far too limited to undertake a site visit, then mentoring or coaching at an individual firm level. Yet this is what committed responsible operators at an operational level required to achieve sustainable outcomes. 
  3. Politics can open doors or build barriers at a local level. It is essential to find community leaders prepared to support new ideas which can be confronting for many members of local organisations. This puts pressure on their role and requires them to tactfully defend ideas like the Green Kangaroo. Therefore, such leaders need far more support from local government, emergency services, and organisations such as national parks, by first recognising their efforts and endorsing them, then offering training and access to resources. 
  4. Carbon emissions from transport are very significant for rural-based firms and households. Individual firms can make multiple trips per week for supplies and services that leave them crisscrossing the countryside. This escalates their overall footprint, increases traffic congestion and noise, and wastes precious time. We need government transport policy which promotes community shared transport solutions. A solution might be to establish a rota with each firm undertaking a single trip on behalf of multiple firms on a rotational basis. 
  5. Hospitality firms are not confident in talking with customers about their sustainability policies. This is for several reasons, including not having sufficient personal knowledge, low confidence in expressing their message, not believing the customers are interested, and not sure how they should achieve their own sustainability aspirations with a tangible difference in service delivery. Hospitality NGOs need to share new ideas in more detail much more frequently. 

 

In general, customer impacts are ignored because hosts feel overwhelmed with the challenge of changing customer behaviour, or they are not aware of the scale of certain customer behaviours, or do not provide sufficient pro-environmental amenities and the advice for visitors to use them. Firms are also not sufficiently aware of how their own operational procedures might be wasteful and carbon emission intensive.

A solution would be to acknowledge more often that tourism is a service industry and that customer-centred sustainable solutions can instigate responsible choices at the time of consumption. Redesigning how the firm operates to deliver those better customer centred experiences would also provide the opportunity for improving internal systems and reducing emissions. This requires firms to be more focused on customer participation, to help achieve sustainable consumption solutions, with the consequential change in their operations. Such an undertaking would be a huge innovative undertaking for small firms, requiring significant government and destination management support.

The Green Kangaroo programme’s ten-year longitudinal results show that until such resource commitments are made, small firms will not be able to achieve the Paris Agreements Targets.