Sustainable practitioner updates: Hospitality

Posted on December 5, 2008


Here’s Katie Ellwood’s round-up of how hospitality is working towards sustainable practioners:

Implementing sustainable practice both operationally and in the curriculum undoubtedly poses challenges for any school or department within the Polytechnic. The School of Hospitality is addressing their particular set of challenges head-on, and can boast significant progress in many areas.

Hands-on hospitality training, be it cookery lessons in the kitchens or service experience in Mellor’s or Café Brie, may appear on the surface to lend itself easily to the kind of sustainability initiatives that have been in place in our own homes for some time.  However, in the commercial sector, things can often take much longer. 

While kerbside recycling has been in place in Dunedin for domestic residences for some time, when the School first approached the concept for their Tennyson St location, the solution proved far too expensive. Composting food waste in an urban environment presented challenges. The increased cost of purchasing ecologically-sound cleaning products and detergents for use in a large operation could have proven prohibitive.

Purchasing Officer/Technician Chrystal Armstrong, a self-confessed ‘tree-hugger’ has been wrangling with such issues on behalf of the School of Hospitality for several years. She is now confident that the training establishments have made about as much progress as is achievable within their current premises and within their current contracts.

“We are trialling large Bokashi composting bins (along with a vineyard/resort on Waiheke Island) for Bokashi NZ and have managed to implement the equivalent of kerbside recycling” she explains. “This means we’ve reduced the amount of waste to landfill from seven wheelie bins per day to three – mostly comprised of non-recyclables and non-food waste that cannot be returned to suppliers.”  Students keep small bins on their workbenches for recycling food waste, however leftover vegetables can be used to make stocks or ‘sold’ to  other courses. The compost that is generated by the Bokashi system has previously been sent to a farmer at Smaill’s Beach. The three or four 120 litre bins generated fortnightly are now earmarked for donation to the Port Chalmers Community Gardens.

Chrystal has also been looking carefully at where produce can be sourced from. The School currently uses an organic grower from the Otago Farmer’s Market for some specific produce such as garlic and herbs. They have also been able to reduce laundry consumption considerably by ceasing the use of tablecloths and overlays in Mellor’s Restaurant. 

The relocation of the hospitality training establishments to the Student’s Centre in 2009 is also seen as an opportunity to implement sustainability initiatives. There will be opportunities to look at purchasing large appliances such as ovens with gas reduction, implementing new hot water heating solutions and reviewing contracts for the supply of items such as chemicals and detergents. The larger population on the main campus will also allow more student product to be sold in the food outlets.

From a curriculum perspective, preparing sustainable practitioners for industry still presents issues to be overcome. In 2007, Programme Manager for Hospitality Management Dion Hyde re-wrote his programme documents and incorporated a clear vision for a ‘sustainable practitioner’ into his graduate profiles. 

The profile now emphasises priorities such as “a continuing commitment to best practice through stressing those hospitality methodologies that have been found to be most efficient and productive for example reducing power outputs, using seasonal products, composting waste and reducing washable linen usage” and “Encouraging ownership and responsibility … social sustainability is the result of everyone’s actions, and each of us must consider the impact we are having” amongst other skills.

However, linking these priorities to learning outcomes remains challenging when those learning outcomes are set outside of the organisation by the HSI (Hospitality Standards Institute).

While resolution of this issue remains a work in progress, the team have been able to incorporate an awareness of sustainability into their standard teaching programmes. 

Tutors teach the ‘three Rs’ – reduce, reuse and recycle. A current example in practice is ice from non-plumbed ice bins being used on plants when melted. Courses such as accommodation include investigation of eco-friendly products such as shampoos and detergents. Students are also asked to consider a ‘zone’, maybe within 200km of their location, within which to source products. 

“Students do not react to this material differently from anything else they’re taught because it’s embedded within the standard programme. We hope that when they go out into industry that one day these skills and information will be used”. 

“Currently ‘doing the right thing’ could cost 10-20% more, which may make it less attractive to industry. But having said that, look at operations such as the Seresin Winery in Marlborough – they’ve chosen to position themselves at the cutting edge of sustainability technology.”