Coming From Where I’ve Been: I Love Almonds & the Environment

Last September, I participated in a beach cleanup for International Coastal Cleanup Day. It had been quite some years since I’d done a beach cleanup and it really took me back to what were truly foundational and life-changing years of my life. Given the thoughts and feelings that arose because of the cleanup, I was inspired to write about those years. This may be my longest post to date. Indulge me. If it’s exhausting to read, imagine what it took to write! 😁

Early in 1999 I became the Environmental & Conservation Manager (ECM) for Almond Resorts Inc. (ARI), a publicly traded hotel company which at that time owned two hotels in Barbados and had a vision of expanding locally and across the Caribbean region. I was 25 years old and a young upstart. Prior to my appointment, the position of the Environmental & Conservation Manager did not exist. At the time of my appointment, I was one of two people in a similar position in Barbados and there were perhaps 4 or 5 of us in the English-speaking Caribbean. Without a doubt, we were ahead of our time. Indeed, the Caribbean, specifically Jamaica, as the location where the world’s first Green Globe hotels were certified, was certainly well ahead of the rest. I LOVED my job! Did I say I loved my job? I absolutely LOVED my job! 😊

By 1999 I had already been performing some of the duties of ECM for at least a year while I was a Management Trainee and the Chair of the company’s green team, but there was a brief lag between the end of my traineeship and the creation of the position, which caused me much frustration and anxiety. The fact that the ECM position was created at that point in time was testimony to several things. Its establishment spoke to our Chairman’s role within our regional hotel association and the need to reflect the changes that its Environmental Committee was pushing. It also encapsulated the need to be more responsive to our market, namely our European tour operators who wanted the hotels they booked to be more ‘environmentally friendly’ and to be able to respond to specific questions about such when asked. From a more practical perspective, there was also the company’s commitment to my management trainee cohort, to promote us from being trainees to junior managers once our two years of training had ended.

I call this ‘bald and loving it’ (Circa 2000/2001)

As with the creation of the position, I believe I was offered the job for a number of reasons, among which were that it was what I wanted to do and I was gaining experience in the area that buttressed my capacity to do the job. I further believe that there were other underlying reasons that at the time were not then readily apparent to me, chief among which was that I was to a significant degree trusted and respected.

I have drawn these conclusions because as ECM I was responsible for spearheading the company’s greening effort, training staff and management, establishing best practices, and being the public face of Almond’s greening initiative. Furthermore, I mainly reported to the Director of Hotel Operations (aka head honcho); I eventually had a budget of about BDS $20,000 annually which fortunately excluded my salary and capital projects, and recommended expenditures on the latter; I had access to information that was not generally shared outside of executive management; I participated in weekly management meetings; and my voice was always heard (even if my recommendations were not always taken on board). That trust and respect and the significant changes that were implemented under my guidance, meant that though I officially resigned from the company at the end of 2002, I continued to act and speak on its behalf until I left Barbados in July 2004 to pursue my PhD.

I grew up at Almond both personally and professionally (I was also spoiled by Almond 😉), but besides growing up, what did I do as Green Team chair and ECM? I ran the Environmental Unit, which had one staff. Guess who that was … Fortunately, I had the support of my Green Teams, especially champions like Rachael and Barbara and unofficial team members who were strong supporters like Heather, Nicole, and Shirley. Even people who weren’t on the team participated when needed.

Though rewarding, working to green our properties was sometimes very frustrating and I often felt like I was banging my head against a wall or that I should be banging someone’s head against a wall. The idea of ‘greening’ in our context was new and most people thought that it would increase their workload. Ideas that made complete sense to me were not as brilliant to others. Remember, I was a young upstart and didn’t always understand why the importance of greening wasn’t obvious to everyone (I still don’t quite understand. Am I now just a ‘less-young’ upstart?).

Raising awareness was challenging and I was constantly trying to show how focusing on sustainability would make our jobs better, make our hotels more efficient, and have a positive impact on our bottom line (important note in case I forget – at some point the company started reporting on our environmental programme in its annual shareholders’ report; this was a critical high point of my work with ARI 😊). For some the greening initiative was a very quick and easy change, others like my Director of Hotel Operations at the Village took a lot more convincing, but it eventually happened and once he was on board he was fully on board.

I don’t remember what initiatives I started with, but the following are some easy to recall elements from my 6-year, multi-role, stint greening Almond Resorts Inc.

Green Team

When our Green Team started I was not the chairwoman. I was in my first year as a Management Trainee so I was simply notified that I was appointed to the team. I recall it clearly. Our company chairman had recently attended a Caribbean Hotel Association executive committee (and possibly environmental committee) meeting; the creation of our Green Team was a direct result. I couldn’t complain about the appointment because it was right in line with my interests. After the first chairwoman left I assumed the role.

The Green Team comprised representatives from most departments (e.g. maintenance & engineering, housekeeping, F&B, golf, Kids Club, guest services, purchasing) and worked together to brainstorm and implement actions we could take to ‘green’ our properties. Each member was also responsible for working in their department to share information, generate ideas and implement agreed upon actions. Sometimes all of those things happened; sometimes they did not. Nevertheless, I had a good team at each property, so I only complained a little (publicly). To Nic, Rach, Heaths and Barbara I know I complained a helluva lot! Our Green Teams deserved a lot of credit for what we were able to change at Almond Beach Village and Almond Beach Club.

Consumption Data

Many companies (hotels and others) during that period and I’m sure still today, reviewed and paid utility bills with their focus on the total dollar amount without analyzing consumption. While the cost is important, it is only part of the story. I reviewed years’ worth of resource consumption for both hotels – electricity (kwh), natural gas (cubic meters), and water (cubic meters). I then pulled occupancy data and developed our baseline guest night consumption. We used this information to set annual targets for improvement. Once the initial baseline was set, I worked with the maintenance & engineering department to read our meters regularly so we had a good idea of our consumption before our utility bills came in. We were also better able to detect problems as they arose. Again, sometimes this happened according to plan, sometimes it did not, but monitoring our consumption gave us a better handle on reducing it.

I also compiled data on waste generation and disposal (tried to implement a waste haulers programme to ensure proper disposal but that never took off), chemical use and consumption, and more. The more we knew, the better we could do our jobs and improve our operations.

Environmental Management System (EMS)

A major initiative was to develop and implement an EMS for each property. So I took the consumption data, worked with each department to review the tasks they performed and evaluated our impact on the natural environment and the community. We then set targets and objectives and created an annual action plan for each department. Throughout the year we tracked our actions and measured our achievements against our targets. The culmination of these efforts resulted in Green Globe certification for each property for several consecutive years.

Training

As a management trainee and then ECM, I benefited from a range of training, some because of greening projects we participated in and others because I tried to take advantage of any opportunity to broaden my knowledge and expand my skills. I had several opportunities to attend conferences and workshops in other countries (as close as St. Lucia and as far as New Zealand) in addition to local ones. ARI’s support of on-the job and other kinds of training was commendable and another way in which it was ahead of its local counterparts.

Training wasn’t just for me. Members of my Green Teams participated in various workshops and I ran many workshops for management and staff on our properties. The workshops weren’t always full and sometimes it was the same people attending each session, but workshops were very seldom cancelled and we usually had at least one scheduled each month. Our sessions covered topics such as water and energy conservation, waste management, proper chemical use and management, composting, coastal awareness and the coral reef ecosystem, making organic household cleaners, health & safety, fire safety, hurricane preparedness, and more.

Our Green Team and staff were encouraged to attend workshops off-property to improve skills specific to their jobs and where available, relevant to greening. One year I was also able to host off-site training for our Green Team at a hotel on the south coast. Usually we did our team meetings and training at one of our hotels, but this was a special retreat for the team. We also had members who were recognized for their hard work as green champions and rewarded with all-expenses paid trips to attend a green conference in Jamaica.

Disaster & Emergency Preparedness

I took disaster preparedness very seriously (I wanted hurricane info in guestrooms from June to November) while others thought it was important but not always a front burner issue (so no info in guestrooms unless a hurricane was eminent). However, I had free reign to develop an emergency management plan that a significant expansion of the hurricane plan already in place when I started my job. The expanded emergency plan covered hurricanes, Kick-em Jenny the underwater volcano, fires, chemical spills, and other kinds of emergencies.

We periodically trained on our hurricane plan and increased our meetings when it got closer to the hurricane season. We operated from the perspective that public emergency shelters were for residents first, so if our guests couldn’t leave the island we had to be able to shelter them in place. To this end, our plan was so comprehensive that we identified safe rooms on property, assigned blocks of rooms to each designated safe room, and had an emergency storeroom stocked with supplies that we inspected and replenished annually. I don’t know how many hotels in Barbados or in the region did emergency planning at this scale; I would guess very few at that time.

Green Almond Newsletter

Writing has forever been one of my joys. Whether it was my small college newspaper or the Green Almond Newsletter. I started the Green Almond as another strategy to raise awareness about our greening efforts – to share the same information with everyone, remind us of upcoming events, recognize individuals and departments, call for volunteers, etc.. I even ran competitions through the newsletter and awarded good prizes to winners. Since most of the time I was the environmental unit (there was a short period when my friend Rohan worked with me), it took a lot of effort to put the newsletter together, print it, and distribute it. There were times when I worked on property from 7 am or 8 am (yes me) until 11 pm at night, because I had other responsibilities like being the Manager on Duty, but it was worth it.

Earth Day the Almond Way & World Environment Day Exhibition

There were two events on our annual calendar of which I was especially proud: Earth Day the Almond Way and our World Environmental Day Exhibition. Earth Day the Almond Way (EDTAW) was whatever the Green Team designated in a given year to celebrate Earth Day on April 22. It could’ve been a hike, a beach cleanup at our adopted beach, a dive clean up with our dive shop and community partners or something else. These activities always involved staff, guests and community partners.

The WED Exhibition was another opportunity to help our internal and external community members increase their understanding of environmental impacts and what we could all do to improve them. Held on June 5th, it was hosted at the Almond Beach Village and promoted internally and in our wider community. Attendees were employees and guests from both properties, residents from our surrounding neighbourhoods, primary and secondary school children, other tourism stakeholders, friends and family. Exhibitors over several years included Barbados Gully Project, Barbados Sea Turtles Project, Central Emergency Relief Organisation (CERO), ‘Earth Force’ Eco Club from the secondary school nearby, Coastal Zone Management Unit, Springvale Indigenous Folk Museum, Sun Power (solar water heaters) and Treading Lightly. After the inaugural year, the exhibition was featured on the national calendar of events to celebrate environment month each June.

Community Service

Greening tourism is as much about positive community impacts as it is about natural resource protection and conservation. ARI performed a range of community service from donations and sponsorships to adopting schools and hosting a weekly craft fair at each hotel. Three community initiatives that were driven by the Environmental programme were the annual beach and dive cleanups, hikes for staff and guests, and the adopted beach. We adopted Bath Beach in St. John where the hotels hosted a weekly picnic for guests. Adopting the beach meant that we ensured it was regularly cleaned, we repainted the benches and fencing as needed and we installed signage. This was beneficial for both ARI and the public because Bath was a popular beach.

Some Other Best Practices Implemented

  • Replaced incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones throughout both properties
  • Installed aerators on faucets and low flow showerheads
  • Installed of foot pedals on sinks in the kitchens
  • Conducted periodic leak detection (using echo sounding on underground pipes) throughout the properties and repaired leaks as needed
  • Conducted regular meter reading for electricity and water
  • Labelled plants on property
  • Created a nature trail with brochure for ABV
  • Created best practices booklets for all departments
  • Created informational placecards for guestrooms
  • Created posters for watersports shops
  • Implemented small composting programme
  • Conducted clean-ups outside our properties
  • Used vinegar and baking soda for some cleaning
  • Implemented a voluntary linen and towel reuse programme for guests
  • ARI’s environmental programme presented during new employee orientation
  • ARI’s environmental programme presented during guest orientation
  • Added green tips to Guest Services daily newsgram
  • Incorporated green SOPs into various jobs
  • Increased recycling of glass, plastics, paper, and cardboard
  • Posted water and energy conservation signage throughout the properties as appropriate
  • Provided polo shirts and badges for green team members so we were easily recognized
  • Awarded employee prizes for various competitions/achievements e.g. gift baskets, composting machine, dinner for two on property or at local restaurant, weekend for 2 at local well-known green hotel, water and energy conservation packages, trip to Jamaica for green conference.
  • Established annual Environmental Achievement Award to recognize an employee at each hotel

So those are a few of the things I did as Environmental & Conservation Manager and Green Team leader for Almond Resorts Inc. 😊.

Reflections

As I was transiting in Miami International Airport last month, I ran into a friend whom I consulted with on a regional project around 2003-05. We hadn’t seen each other in several years and spent some time catching up. We reminisced about how far ahead the Caribbean was in greening tourism and how much more we should have accomplished since 1998. But as I reflected and considered the resources available to us from 1997ish until 2004, I’m satisfied that certainly at ARI we achieved much more than it appeared to me while I was enmeshed in the work. In fact, as I wrote this post I kept shaking my head in wonder as I thought about what we were able to change and achieve.

I hope that those of us who learned from the many projects we implemented continue to benefit from the knowledge we gained and in the years since have sought greater knowledge and taken actions accordingly. I hope that we have shared and will continue to share our knowledge with others.

Give Jack his Jacket

I would not be the person that I am now without the experience I gained through Almond Resorts, Inc. between 1996 and 2004. I built great friendships and networks that are still very important to me today. I met two of my mentors – Hugh and Colin – because of my role with ARI.

Since leaving ARI, I’ve consulted on projects for the Caribbean Hotel Association, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, the Bahamas Hotel Association and more. I became a Fulbright/OAS Scholar and completed my PhD, which led to a new professional chapter in tertiary education in 2008. I’ve since progressed through the ranks from Assistant Professor to Professor at a well-respected public university in California and I’m doing considerable work that I love in that role. I still use examples from ARI; as recently as yesterday for a guest lecture I did for a graduate class at UWI Cave Hill!

My family raised me to believe that it is important to give credit where it is due (give Jack his jacket) and so I must. My experiences with ARI helped to make many of my accomplishments possible and I will always be grateful to that company and the many people there who took care of, inspired and supported me. I’ve already mentioned a few by name and I’ll add one more here – Monty Cumberbatch – who supported many, many of the initiatives I proposed. I cannot adequately express how much that support meant then and still means to this ‘less-young’ upstart 😊.

4 thoughts on “Coming From Where I’ve Been: I Love Almonds & the Environment

  1. You were—and still are—so diligent and passionate in all you do!! You’re a true trailblazer. I wonder if your projects are still being used at those hotels today. Every time I read your blogs……….🤯 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was truly a hard start Mech, but we pulled through; and Almond was green certified. Thanks to your hard work and persistence! Missed those days!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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