Sustainability Training for Hospitality and Tourism Employees

Case Study: Effective Sustainability Training for Hospitality and Tourism Industry Professionals

(Updated Aug 9th, 2022) TrainingAid case study on sustainability training for tourism and hospitality employees, published as part of "Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry: Principles of sustainable operations".

Expert Team at TrainingAid

For the 4th edition of Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry: Principles of sustainable operations (published by Routledge), TrainingAid has contributed a case study on “Effective Management of Sustainability Training for Tourism and Hospitality Employees”. Based on our experience developing and providing sustainability training for tourism professionals, this case study discusses the Why, Who, and How of sustainability training for tourism and hospitality employees.

Co-authored by Willy Legrand (IUBH School of Business and Management), Philip Sloan (IUBH School of Business and Management), and Joseph S. Chen (Indiana University), Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry is a reference publication for universities across the globe from Cambridge to Cornell,  from Peru to China. The TrainingAid case study in the 4th edition will be part of the updated section on lifelong education, focused on employee training and empowerment in the hospitality sector.

Below is an excerpt of the case study.

Why sustainability training for employees? Benefits and opportunities

It is no secret that an increasing number of stakeholders – from investors to consumers – are interested in and concerned about sustainability. As such, becoming more sustainable is not just about making business operations more efficient and effective, but also about staying relevant in the ever-evolving and competitive market, and being well-positioned to respond to current and future market demands.

There are a number of reasons why sustainability training for employees can benefit not only those that receive it, but also their team and the organization as a whole. Here are just a few such reasons, frequently highlighted by industry professionals.

  • Strengthening company culture: For many workers, purpose (oftentimes even more than paychecks) is what makes work rewarding. Demonstrating the business’ commitment to sustainability is a great way of enhancing employees’ awareness that their work is creating positive impact. Helping employees up-skill in sustainability, therefore, can help build and grow an engaged team of employees motivated by their sense of purpose.
  • Improving staff retention: The more empowered employees feel about their ability to make a difference, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their work and thus more likely to stay longer with the organization.
  • Strengthening sustainability communication: Staff members who are equipped with knowledge and skills in sustainability will be more effective in communicating with external stakeholders (such as customers) and engaging them in discussions around sustainability.

You want to make your business more sustainable. Who will make that happen?

Having a “champion” who carries forward the vision of sustainability for the whole business is important. Strong leadership by a dedicated “green team” or “sustainability committee” is helpful. However, one of the key factors ensuring successful implementation of business sustainability practices is organization-wide staff engagement.   

This is because sustainability is not an isolated “issue”. It needs to be an integrated part of the overall business strategy in order for the sustainability efforts to produce outcome and benefits relevant to key business priorities. So, the short answer to the question, “who should be trained in sustainability?”, is (ideally) everyone.

Best practices: 3 steps to implement effective sustainability training for employees

1 - Before you start training your employees:
  • Start with the Why. Sustainability training (or anything you do in sustainability, for that matter) cannot be a standalone program for your “looking like we’re doing something on sustainability” checklist. Make sure your intention for investing in sustainability skills is a reflection of your genuine commitment to improving your practices.  
2 - In delivering sustainability training for employees:
  • Make it relevant and fun. If your employees are not interested and engaged in the training, it’s not going to be effective. They should be able to relate to and find emotional connection with the topics and issues they are learning about. And the training needs to be delivered in a way that is relevant to the social and cultural context of the learners, which means careful considerations about the style of the content presented, the ‘tone of voice’ used in the training, and the potential barrier to engaging in the training in terms of both physical (e.g. technology, availability) and psychological (e.g. inclusive and welcoming learning environment) barriers.   
  • Make it accessible and flexible. Just as the way we work is rapidly changing (flexible working, virtual meetings and hybrid events), the way we learn should reflect the evolving nature of employee expectations, business models and perceptions of what it means to work in hospitality – today and tomorrow.
3 - What happens after the training is just as important as the training itself:
  • Encourage employees to help others by sharing their knowledge. Organizations can strengthen team performance by facilitating opportunities for staff members to exchange ideas, share knowledge and collaborate with each other to help fill any skill gaps they may have. This could be achieved, for example, through educational opportunities in informal setting (e.g. sustainability tips by staff members shared in team emails) or an internal mentoring program connecting those with advanced sustainability skills with new employees without sustainability background.