Governments around the world are taking steps to slow the pace of global warming. In the report titled Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2030+, a 70 per cent reduction in carbon intensity by the year 2030 was set. Achieving this ambitious target will require a major change in behaviour at both the corporate and individual levels.
Tourism is one of Hong Kong’s pillar industries, and the 280-plus hotels play an important role in Hong Kong’s success, both as an international business and tourism hub, and as a regional leader in green hospitality.
To assess how ready the industry is for a future green economy, The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) conducted a research study from 2016 to 2018, involving 21 hotels and two guesthouses. Dr Margarita Pavlova, Associate Professor at the Department of International Education and project leader, said the study also examined the level of “green skills” among the workforce, which is often forgotten in policy blueprints, and the partnerships that are needed for change.
The research found that staff induction programmes rarely included environmental training. Only one hotel offered a 30-minute environmental literacy class. The lack of relevant training exacerbates barriers to adopting green practices. However, some progress is being made, especially in establishing management systems for sustainability, many of them led by international hotel chains implementing corporate policies. There are also creative solutions; Dr Pavlova cited one hotel which has an aquaponics system for growing herbs.
Joining hands to scale up sustainability
Through interviews, the research revealed areas in which the Government could work with the industry, such as developing hotel-specific green standards and guidelines, and a system for measuring sustainability. Other agencies, such as the Hong Kong Tourism Board, could create a “green travel advisor” and green awards, while the Environment Protection Department could increase recycling, building on the success of the Glass Container Recycling Programme for the Hotel Sector.
Internally, hotels need to adopt more systemic approaches for identifying and implementing a green pathway. This involves embracing technology and new management systems, as well as training. Best practices involve leadership and bottom-up engagement, supported by instruments such as green self-assessment and quality training materials for staff; and activities to promote a green culture. Dr Pavlova suggested that training should be provided at all levels of hotel operations. Interviewees also affirmed that the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) sector and higher education sector could be active partners.
While managers need to address day-to-day issues, such as waste management and energy efficiency, they should also prepare for a green future. Partnerships with external parties could provide much-needed impetus, and if the Government aims to reach its targets, it needs to be proactive in facilitating this transition.
Activities identified for the education sector to support:
• Providing training programmes and teaching materials for developing green skills
• Supporting applied research on sustainable operations and procurement
• Promoting innovation through spin-off companies that support the green economy
• Working creatively with the local community to recycle hotel consumables and to cultivate environmental awareness
• Piloting green hotel operations and developing a model green hotel
• Developing publicity for a “green guest experience in Hong Kong”