Monday, April 26, 2010

Golf’s Drive Towards Sustainability

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

The way I understand it, “Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

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In our industry of golf course management can the GCSAA take the role of leadership in an industry-wide initiative such as this? I’d like to elaborate on this and present sustainability leadership as an evolutionary practice for GCSAA, as most other industry stand-alone organizations soon realized from their experiences. As individual courses develop sustainability competencies, most will go through a series of phases, and the individual style that is appropriate for each phase needs to evolve as well, as we have learned. The apparent phases are: Learning, Alignment and Intrenchment.

Learning Phase
The majority of courses will be drawn into sustainability by both internal and external pressures. Ironically, competition is an important element. The more one golf course or club embraces sustainability the more other golf courses will become focused on the processes of sustainability. Most golf courses will therefore face an early stage where the club’s understanding of sustainability is limited; wherein both the superintendent and the entire host of course employees are learning about sustainability and what it means for the company by way of public awareness and recognition in the communities as well as any possible savings of resources. An early indicator that a golf course is entering the sustainability arena is when industry leaders and superintendents begin to talk and share information about sustainability at their local meetings and with peers in presentations. Public statements by the general manager and superintendent help signal to employees that sustainability is important, but it is organizational changes that facilitate broader learning at an individual course application

A typical, and often best change, is the creation of “sustainability” or “eco” teams that bring together employees from across the club organization. Since sustainability is a cross-functional and cross-organizational challenge the development of eco teams makes sense. All of the golf course’s business units (golf course, golf shop, restaurant and building maintenance) and functions need to explore the meaning of sustainability for their specific situations and how their actions impact other functions (synergy).

Leadership in the learning phase is organic, with sustainability champions emerging in the various club’s business units. Savvy leaders will engage and motivate employees by focusing on sustainability issues that align with employee values. The volunteer rates for green teams should be high because many employees want to feel that their work is contributing to not just the bottom line, but also a better world.

Alignment Phase
Self-starting green teams and voluntary sustainability programs like recycling, waste reduction, etc., are an early outcome from the learning phase. But at some point, the approach reaches its limits. By this time, the club has gained substantial understanding of sustainability in general and the specific sustainability issues facing the industry and the club specifically. Employees have probably also improved their workplace practices keeping a watchful eye on cleanliness and order in the workplace. However, further advanced sustainability requires coordinated action and alignment in the unique club’s ultimate goals.

To move the club forward, leaders must articulate a clear sustainability mission and vision for the whole organization. A good sustainability mission states what value the club brings to society and a commitment to address valid concerns about the environmental and social impacts created by the entire club. Many golf course properties will also officially recognize the sustainability champions from the previous phase and add specific sustainability roles to their existing functional duties.

For example, all operations at the Island Golf Club near Baton Rouge, Louisiana require a significant budget and like many golf facilities, efficient, sustainable and economical operations at the club are important. A plan to install an array of solar panels on the cart storage building that would power the cart building, main clubhouse, and golf shop as well as the tennis and pool clubhouse.

The second project entails a geothermal unit for the main clubhouse, which incorporated a second solar unit for the groundwater pump associated with the geo-thermal unit. As of November 15, 2009 the Island Golf Club’s solar system had generated more than 50,000 kWh with more than 63,000 pounds of CO2 emission offset.

The geothermal and solar projects are a significant change for the Island Golf Club and are intended to improve operational expense, sustainability as well as environmental stewardship. As of November 2009 there has been an estimated 54% reduction in utility costs at the club house. That is approximately $5,000 per month. The investment for these projects was approximately $252,000 for the solar projects and $90,000 for the geothermal unit project. Federal tax incentives exist for energy saving - sustainable projects like these. The Island Golf Club was able to use a federal tax incentive of 30% for both projects.

This type of leadership is like diplomacy, working to align partners and stakeholders toward common sustainability goals. GCSAA can act as a Sustainability Officer becoming a leading source for sharing industry wide sustainability Best Management Practices (BMPs), goals, policies, information and campaigns.

Leadership in this phase is often more difficult because it requires moving beyond the association’s gates into the field more often. GCSAA has a golden opportunity to work with golf courses, superintendents, general managers and other stakeholders to establish themselves as leaders in the field of Golf’s Drive for Sustainability.

Intrenchment Phase
The final phase of Sustainability is the very practices that are intrenched and engrained in the fabric of the club’s mission. Even today, very few companies have reached the final phase where sustainability practices become top-of-mind in the company culture, processes and systems. This, however, should be the end game – the pinnacle achievement – for all businesses. As mentioned in the opening, “Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Ultimately, solving our sustainability problems will depend on inspirational ideas and innovative leadership that can change ways we do business. Let’s concentrate on finding and fostering the inspiration and start acting on it. GCSAA has in it’s hands a once in a generation opportunity to foster great change and align it’s membership for even greater recognition; lets hope their up to the task.

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