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Greening the Staff

Jim Hollister, GM of FireSky Resort & Spa in Arizona, has trained rank-and-file employees to take pride in an award-winning recycling program.

Thursday, March 17, 2011
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Virtually all hoteliers are talking about or racing to implement green initiatives today, explains Jim Hollister, general manager of the 204-key FireSky Resort & Spa in Scottsdale. But, he says, too few are taking the time to train their staffs in how to maximize such an effort. Over the past five years, Hollister has labored long and hard to rally the support of his 225 employees. Last year, the hotel became the first Green Seal-certified property in Arizona and Hollister earned the “Best Green Tourism Award” from the Arizona Governor’s Office on Tourism.
He recently spoke with Buyer Interactive about his success and how peers can emulate it.

HI: How did you develop your green training program?
JH: We developed it since the day I started here five years ago. And we’re still developing it. I was very careful in how we rolled it out.

What were the key issues involved in creating a successful program?
We had to make sure it was easy and practical. You also have to understand what it’s about. It’s not just a matter of recycling paper or soda cans. There is so much more to it than that. You can put a trash can in a room and say you recycle. But how it goes from the room to the housekeeper’s cart to the trash bin – and where it’s is disbursed from there – is what’s critical. And you have to own that process, from start to finish.

What are some of the key practical considerations in training a staff?
For example, we use Waste Management as our recycling company. And they give us reports. And one of those reports will say of the X tons of material you’ve given us for recycling, X percent of it was “dirty trash.” So, you have to teach your employees what dirty trash is and that it can’t be recycled. And that takes a lot of time.

What is dirty trash?
For example, a clean pizza box can be recycled. A dirty pizza box cannot. You can recycle an empty soda can. You can’t recycle a soda can with any soda left in it. And then the issue becomes one of time. If you have a housekeeper who’s cleaning 16 rooms a day, the question is whether she will have time to look at a pizza box to make sure it’s clean.

But you were able to do that?
Yes, but it was a struggle. It took a good year of sustained effort. And it’s still an every-day process. One of the reasons we’re extremely good at this is that we made the effort to integrate it into line-up’s in the morning, monthly departmental meetings and quarterly all-employee meetings. I also have a committee that works with me to teach, practice, motivate and reward employees for doing the right thing.

What are the foundational elements of the training program?
It’s overseen by the committee, which is chaired by my Assistant General Manager. And it also includes my director of engineering and several rank-and-file employees. And the committee is the entity directly responsible for overseeing and sustaining the program.

Is there any formalized recognition or reward component to it?
The committee picks a “department of the quarter.” And they will say, “The banquet
department was fantastic this month. We composted 30 tons of food this month.” And they were rewarded with a pizza party. We also gave them chips from a rewards program called Kimpton Moments, which they can use to buy like TVs and other stuff online.

What have been the keys to the program’s sustainability?
Training and recognition. And doing those things consistently.

What are the practical benefits of doing this as a hotelier?
Number-one, I think it’s a matter of the pride that I see in our employees. They are extremely proud that we have taken the initiative and accomplished so much in an extremely old hotel, built in 1962. But there are also business and brand benefits. For example, in our customer surveys a few years ago, we found that about 12 percent of our guests were staying with us because of our eco-friendly practices. Then that rolled up to the high teens. Now, on average, from 25 to 30 percent of our guests who complete surveys tell us they stay with us because of our green initiative. But most important, it’s made me and my employees better people. It has improved our lives.

What’s your practical advice to your peers on how to do it right?
Take your time. It doesn’t have to be done in a week. Or even a year, for that matter. To have a successful program that can be sustained over time, you must gain the confidence of your employees and get their support.
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