Students take charge as hotel and tourism school wins first-of-its-kind international 'eco-campus' honour
Ecole d’Hôtellerie et de Tourisme (EHT) Paul Dubrule is set to become the first vocational school ever to receive the Green Flag award from the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), certifying the Siem Reap school as an Eco-Campus.
The idea of awarding this certification to a vocational school is so new that the development of the criteria directly resulted from EHT Paul Dubrule’s attempts to walk the walk on sustainability.
The Green Flag will be presented in a Monday morning ceremony at the school..
“We were telling our students that they should go to environmentally friendly or eco-tourism businesses, and encourage our partner hotels to certify and be responsible,” said François Schnoebelen, director of EHT Paul Dubrule. “Then I decided we would be more credible if we certified ourselves.”
When EHT Paul Dubrule first contacted FEE, the organisation only had certifications for high schools and colleges, and was forced to deny certification due to the school’s status as a vocational school. But Dubrule’s determination to implement the FEE eco-campus program ultimately won FEE over.
“A few weeks later they called us back and said, ‘Maybe we could set the standard together. You could be the pilot school’,” said Schnoebelen.
The FEE EcoCampus is an international environmental education program that requires participating schools to follow a seven-step methodology. A school first develops an Eco Committee representing all elements of the school’s community. This committee then conducts an environmental review of the school and develops an action plan to improve sustainability, both on the campus and through community outreach.
It is considered essential to maintain a transparent system of monitoring the programme’s progress and to actively involve everyone on campus and within the wider community. Once this system has been implemented, a green charter is drafted. Schools able to fully implement the methodology are awarded the green flag certification by FEE.
The whole process at EHT Paul Dubrule, from conceptualisation to implementation of the Action Plan, has been led by the student body.
“The students are in charge,” said Schnoebelen. “The chairwoman is a student, the vice chairman is a student. More than 50 percent of the steering committee is made of students elected by other students.”
This student-led initiative has inspired substantive changes at the school since the eco-campus push began. Single-use plastics have been entirely banned from campus and the school’s supply chain has been audited to ensure that its suppliers have green policies in place. EHT Paul DeBrulle is actively engaging with the surrounding community on sustainability, sourcing information practices in hotels where students intern and on plastics use in the local markets. Students have organised an open house to share the school’s environmental practices. They have even rewritten parts of the curriculum to ensure compliance with environmental standards.
“We organise workshops led by students where they read through all their modules,” said Schnoebelen. “And they go through the modules, saying that some paragraphs are not green enough, so we should change them. Or that we should remove them completely if they’re anti-green.”
The emphasis on student leadership poses a unique challenge at a vocational school. Whereas other students attend their college or high school for three to four years, providing continuity in leadership and opportunities for knowledge to be shared within the student body, vocational students are typically there for only a year or two. Although in many ways this requires EHT Paul Dubrule to start over every year, student leadership is too central to the school’s vision of the program for it to be diluted. Through the students’ ownership of the program, the school anticipates they will gain long-term benefits in a way that would otherwise be impossible.
“When they are in the position to have some impact, they will remember” what they learned through the eco-campus program, said Schnoebelen.
By pioneering this program, EHT Paul Dubrule has made the new certification system far more accessible for other schools training students in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
Schnoebelen has high hopes for the potential expansion of the eco-campus program amongst vocational schools. “Now that we have opened the way, I believe many more will follow,” he said.