Inside Environmental Stewardship: Making Your Clubhouse Part of the Green Team

Water conservation. Wildlife habitat protection. Energy conservation. Waste minimization. Recycling. Green purchasing. Phrases like this were once the exception—now they’re the rule in business. “What are you doing to protect the environment?,” is an all-too-common question organizations are being asked, including clubs. The ones doing the asking are no longer just environmentalists or government agencies. It’s your staff, your club members, the wives and kids of your members and people in your community. Now more than ever, the answer to that question matters to so many more people in contact with the club.
In recent years, the answer has focused mainly on the golf course operations for those clubs that have them. After all, lots of significant, and potentially visible, environmental impacts reside in the maintenance facility, on and around the course, and with the inputs used to maintain turf. The golf course superintendent has served as the lead environmental champion at many clubs. This has made sense, but the times are changing. Many clubs are seeing the benefit of also bringing the natural environment indoors, making environmental improvements to clubhouse and pro shop operations as well. In addition, the city clubs, yacht clubs and others without the golf course amenity, are not being ignored in the environmental stewardship discussion. So, what do club managers need to do to bring the environmental movement inside effectively?

Bringing the Environment Movement Inside the Club
Start simple. It all comes down to a few simple questions to ask:
1.    What do we know?  What don’t we know?
2.    Who’s on board and who needs to be on board?
3.    How can we fit potential environmental strategies and improvements within the broader club business strategy?
4.    What are the three or four easy projects we can launch to get a quick win?
5.    Where are the potential roadblocks?
6.    Are there cases, tools or other resources readily available to make things easier?
“Indoor” environmental management isn’t much different than the more common, and visibly-appealing, nest boxes and landscape beautification projects that one finds on many leading golf courses. We’re still talking about reducing the amount and harm, related to inputs (resources) and outputs (waste). In some ways there are even more opportunities to take manmade structures and bring the overall footprint “down to earth.”  This is especially true for older structures where the ROI on window, heating, insulation and lighting upgrades will make most club members smile wide.
The first thing to know is what the club’s impacts are, and ideally how those impacts have changed over time or even as compared to similar clubs in the area. Is electricity usage steadily climbing over time? Why? What is the appliance or piece of equipment that’s causing the change? Also, what are all of the impacts and potential impacts to the environment (and health impacts to your staff or club members) due to the clubhouse and other building’s operations? (Previous blogs have touched on the importance of conducting a thorough internal environmental audit and risk assessment. This applies to the entire facility, not just golf course operations.)
Club staff—people—are key to success. Plans are great, but people make plans go. Most club managers know who the leaders are (even if not by title) of staff power politics, and which staff will be good champions of efforts to make environmental management improvements. Make sure they’re included in the early conversations. Let them tell you where the “show pony” projects can be found—i.e., environmental improvement projects that’ll succeed, be higher profile and generate some monetary savings as well. (Remember the ROI.)  As a litmus test, would the project make for a good story at an upcoming Board meeting? Over dinner with members? In a member newsletter? Start with those projects first, if at all possible. Small victories and public success make subsequent projects or changes in operational practices easier to sell.
Anticipate roadblocks, obstacles, and club members you know will be skeptical of any extra investment of time or resources on the “eco-friendly” stuff. As with any change management effort, there’s a need to understand the personal and political landscape you’re operating in, and most managers have negotiated that landscape already. You know that Bob might scoff at any projects labeled “environmental,” so talk about cost savings, innovation, and upgrading the club to meet new member desires. The environmental results can tag along quietly for Bob.

Parting Thoughts—Start with a Self-Assessment
Whether you are managing a complex country club, with golf, tennis, a pool, clubhouse and host of amenities (i.e., potential areas for environmental improvement and cost savings), or a three-story city club, the opportunities are the same. With limits on nature based on the consumption and use patterns of people, we all have ways to lighten our collective ecological footprint on the planet through more sustainable natural resource management. Often some of the greatest areas for improvement and protection of the great outdoors, hide indoors.

Again, the very first step is self-examination, and identifying where improvements can be made in your clubhouse operations. For a comprehensive clubhouse Environmental Audit checklist to help identify ways your Club can make environmental improvements that also lead to business value, contact e-par USA at, or feel free to email the author directly.

Fletcher Kevin PixKevin A. Fletcher, Ph.D., is President & CEO of e-par USA, Inc., an environmental business strategy advisory firm helping golf facilities & clubs, sports facilities, and park and recreation facilities.  In 2010, he was included among Golf Magazine’s “Top 40 Most Influential People Under 40” for his work on sustainability in golf.   He can be reached at