Bottom up greening

February 12, 2009 : General Team Building

I was recently invited to run a workshop at the Hospitality Industry Trust’s annual Emerging Talent Conference in Glasgow on the 11thFebruary.  Given the bulk of the audience is “emerging” into their careers, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to assess the generational difference in approach to sustainability.

I have for some time felt strongly that the majority of organisations who wave the green flag have done so by simply driving through energy and resource efficiencies with the principle objective of saving cost.  This is then “dressed” as environmental good practice delivered through systems and process imposed on the organisation by senior management.  The positive by-product of these efficiencies and cost reductions is a reduced carbon footprint which is clearly to be commended.  But I suspect that many of these “green flag” waving organisations are not engaging all their people with a values led proposition which supports behavioural and attitudinal change to sustainability.  Whilst the senior management are proficient at creating objectives supported by measurement and reporting systems, the younger members of organisations can surely take the lead with the behaviours to support those same objectives.

So for my Emerging Talent workshops, I wanted to explore this further by dividing the group into Baby Boomers (born between ’46 and ’64), X Generation (’65 – ’80) and Y Generation (81 – 01).  To see how the workshops ran and the ideas generated by the different generations, please download this document:

HIT Emerging Talent Conference, workshop results

Headline conclusions that I have drawn from the workshops:


Whilst many of the ideas produced by all groups in both sessions reflected the conventional wisdom around environmental management best practice, certain patterns and themes emerged from the workshops.  The main conclusions are:


  • The Y Generation were more disposed than the X Generation to overcome the inconvenience of RRR (reduce, reuse, recycle) through a fundamental belief that it was the right thing to do.  The X Generation required convenience for them to embrace and implement the RRR at home and at work.
  • Ideas produced fell into two camps: Firstly easy to implement, low cost, quick wins which required a degree of behaviour change. And secondly, those ideas that required a high degree of capital and human investment but would deliver a higher impact for the organisation.  When challenged about what organisations were currently doing, all groups agreed that low cost / low impact initiatives were well embedded within their organisations while high cost / high impact solutions had not been progressed.
  • The Y Generation seemed more interested in the impact people and their behaviour could have on delivering the benefits of a sustainable initiative and produced ideas around training, recruitment and induction of staff to ensure that those who represented a green organisation were authentic ambassadors for the green credentials and helped support them. 
  • The Y Generation understood the importance of incentivising a change in the customer’s behaviour as the customer’s perception and expectation of service did not always match the green service.  For example, at a five star hotel a customer will expect bottled water and daily linen and towel changes.  Could a green five star hotel challenge this expectation without compromising the quality of service by engaging better with the customer before they arrive?
  • The X Generation are more comfortable with ideas that would require systems and process to implement, ie a top down management approach.


Post Script

 In my workshop, I talked about the Gaia Theory as created by the highly regarded environmental scientist James Lovelock. I reflected on how he more recently advocated the widespread global use of nuclear power, which in his view was the only proven technology which was scalable quickly enough to meaningfully reduce green house gas emissions and slow global warming.  The Sunday Times (15th Feb) published an extract from his forthcoming book which you can download:


Sunday Times 15 Feb 09, James Lovelock

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