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Sustainability and “green” skills in hospitality – how to make a sexy concept work?

Long ago sustainability evolved from a trendy word to a real concept, applicable in any industry or activity. Sustainability in hospitality has been discussed in many details and contexts – special reports and studies explore the importance of sustainable development for accommodation establishments and other tourist companies (Higham & Miller, 2018). There are numerous practices, programmes, certifications, etc. (UNWTO; T4SDGS) that persuade managers and owners how vital sustainability is for their business and for the world as a whole.

Sustainable practices and activities are well known, as is their positive impact on the overall hotel performance. However, there is one question, which is rarely asked: what competencies and skills do hospitality employees (including managers) need, in order to properly apply the relevant “sustainable” actions?

The ultimate goal of the Next Tourism Generation (NTG) Alliance is exactly this – to identify the current and anticipated skills shortages in the tourism industry, which correspond to the integration and application of various sustainable activities. Apart from distinguishing the necessary green skills, the NTG Alliance goes further and aims to promote social and digital skills as well, since they have been recognized as increasingly important for the tourism and hospitality industry in the next decades.

In order to answer the above question, let’s first have a look at the particular environmentally friendly practices applied by hotels. The required knowledge and competencies, necessary to implement those practices will then lead us to the specific skills, named “green”.

Environmental practices implemented in hotels

In a study of sustainable practices applied by hotels in Bulgaria (one of the partner countries in the NTG Alliance), it was found that accommodation establishments integrate environmentally friendly routines regardless of their category, size and product (Ivanov, Ivanova and Iankova, 2014). The interesting fact that there are practices, applied by the hotel employees, and others, intended for the tourists/consumers (e.g. policy for energy saving, water cleaning and saving, use of bioproducts, etc.) implies that green education and training is necessary both for the workers and customers. Moreover, the new generation of tourists come with shifting environmental consciousness and seem to appreciate and even demand “green products” (Ivanov, Ivanova and Iankova, 2014).

Below is a list of the most common environmental practices, applied by Bulgarian accommodation establishments.

  • Waste separation
  • Contract with a company to buy / process separated waste
  • Waste composting
  • Solar panels for electricity
  • Policy for energy saving by the employees
  • Policy for energy saving by the tourists
  • Energy-saving electric bulbs
  • Movement detectors for controlling lights in common areas
  • Movement detectors for controlling lights in rooms
  • Use of energy-saving appliances (class А or higher)
  • Water cleaning (before being used by the tourists)
  • Water cleaning (after being used by the tourists)
  • Solar panels for warm water
  • Policy for water saving by the employees
  • Policy for water saving by the tourists
  • Water tap aerators
  • Water tap photocells for water consumption control
  • Thermo-insulation of the building
  • Hydro-insulation of the building
  • Clean towels upon request only
  • Own production of food products (e.g. milk, yoghurt, meat)
  • Use of bio/eco food products
  • Use of recycled paper for administrative purposes
  • Natural bath cosmetics
  • Cleaning with bio-degradable substances


(Ivanov, Ivanova and Iankova, 2014)


Some of these practices require installing different technologies and/or devices, and do not consider human involvement at all e.g. hydro- and thermal insulation of the building, water tap photocells, movement detectors, energy-saving appliances, solar panels, etc. Since these practices are implemented during the construction of a hotel, hospitality employees do not seem to be directly involved. Still, the above-mentioned practices would only be introduced in a property if the owner/manager has a “green” attitude and long-term vision about environmental protection.

On the other hand, waste management, energy consumption, efficient use of resources, efficient operations management, reasonable organization and all the other actions, demand conscientious efforts and definitely would not happen without the proactive behaviour of knowledgeable and skilful people. Such employees should not only be aware of the main ecological problems and issues but also should be able to propose certain solutions for the alleviation of those problems. The abilities to recognize an environmental issue, and to suggest a possible solution, or at least to conform to certain sustainable standards, constitute the so-called “green skills”. Hence, for a hospitality company heading its way to sustainable development, the employees should be trained to be proficient in “green skills”.

Green skills in the hospitality industry

Green skills do not necessarily require specialized ecological or chemical knowledge about substances and liquids used in a hospitality company. In fact, the hospitality industry does not recycle used materials, but rather participates in the process of preparation for recycling and cleaning, or in reducing the negative effects which appear in a hotel’s daily operations. In this regard, it would be more important to elaborate a proper approach towards nature, that would eventually grow into a holistic attitude and become part of the hotel’s corporate culture. The green skills by default include knowledge of the dangers and risks, inherent to any activity, combined with proactive behaviour to avoid or minimize the negative impacts on all concerned parties – the hotel, the guests, nature, the destination and other stakeholders. Below is a snapshot of exemplary green skills:

  •       Ability to minimize the use and maximize the efficiency of energy and water consumption      
  •       Ability to manage waste, sewage, recycling and composting      
  •       Conservation of biodiversity
  •       Promotion of sustainable forms of transport (e.g. public transport)      
  •       Promotion of environmentally friendly activities and products      
  •       Knowledge of climate change


(NTG Alliance, 2019)

How to integrate green skills in hotels?

Building a green attitude to a great extent overlaps with developing more efficient operations. When hotel employees endeavour to minimize the use of resources (energy, water, detergents etc.) without affecting the service quality, the outcome is the same – they alleviate pollution and protect nature. Therefore, conducting training on green skills in hospitality inevitably relates to better organization of work and more efficient operations.

Currently, the Next Tourism Generation Alliance is on its way to elaborate a Blueprint strategy for Skills Development in the Tourism and Hospitality Sectors, in order to support both business and educational institutions to find out the optimal way to fill the skill gaps in green, social and digital skills across the main 5 sectors of tourism – hospitality, F&B, destination management, travel agencies & tour operators and attractions.


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Higham, J., & Miller, G. (2018). Transforming societies and transforming tourism: Sustainable tourism in times of change. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 26(1), 1-8.

Ivanov, S. and Ivanova, M. and Iankova, K. (2014). Sustainable Tourism Practices of Accommodation Establishments in Bulgaria: An Exploratory Study. Tourismos, 9(2), 175-206.

NTG Alliance (2019) Next Tourism Generation Skills Survey. URL: https://nexttourismgeneration.eu

UNWTO (n.d.) Sustainable Development for Tourism. URL: http://sdt.unwto.org/

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