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When surgeons and plane pilots help hotels be more sustainable – the power of checklists

Who knows that the most proficient people in the world, from surgeons to sports stars, pilots and artists, use simple checklists to get ahead?

In order to make it to the top, we need a way of remembering all the things we have to get done. This in turn helps us instigate the changes we seek in the long run.

Checklists have become the cornerstone of reliability and discipline in high-risk, high pressure environments and adopting checklists has led for instance to huge improvements in post-surgery recovery and lowered hospital incidents in the last decade. By simply providing a way to double-check every step before and after a surgery, doctors have been able to deliver consistently high-quality services to their patients.

This is how planes keep flying too – because everyone from mechanics to pilots follows a list of actions to ensure they are doing things correctly. Checklists offer the certainty that all necessary steps have been covered, and they do not simply rely on a system as inconsistent as our own memories.

The best part? A checklist is nothing fancy or high-tech - it can start with a simple pencil and a piece of paper.

Wait, why would I need a checklist, you might ask.

Let’s face it – we live in a world of constant disruptions. Keeping your attention on one thing has never been so difficult. You might check your Facebook feed or your email at least once while reading this (not long!) article, assuming you actually finish reading it at all…

A checklist, a short list of bullet points that are easily actionable, is a perfect means of easing your overloaded mind and those of your employees. Even when bombarded by messages, you can still master enough attention to read through a concise list of things to do. It’s the ultimate safeguard against loss of focus, and it keeps the quality of service extremely high at all times. Like a brain surgeon or plane pilot, you can focus on the important things to run your business while knowing that the details of making it greener are taken care of.

For environmental purposes, and especially for you, running an hotel or restaurant, we developed a series of checklists that you can find at the end of this article. Some of them are for your staff, some others are to help you as a manager remember all the things you need to do or delegate in order to run your hotel or restaurant to the highest environmental performance possible.


These are tools you can download and modify to your needs. The most important part is to use the checklists repeatedly every day and every week and improve them again and again to better match your needs – because it's the small steps we take every day that cause the big changes in the future.

Look – let’s craft one in order to learn about it:

  • Read this article until the end
  • Download the documents attached to the bottom of this article and read one of them
  • Open the file in Word / PowerPoint or in text editor
  • Adapt anything you need to make it the best tool possible for your business
  • Print one copy on paper
  • Distribute to one employee and ask him/her for feedback after using it
  • Modify it with him/her
  • Print multiple copies and distribute them to the whole team
  • Ask everyone to use the checklist every day for one week
  • Get feedback and correct if needed.

You now have a system in place to consistently provide high-quality service while reducing the costs of water and energy in your hotel or restaurant.

By requesting that everyone abide by the same system consistently every day and by encouraging your employees to tell you if any of the points aren't practical enough, you're using a method that multi-million dollar hotels have adopted. It’s not flying a plane, but it’s very close to it. You can save hundreds or thousands of euros with this simple method.

Why can’t we rely on our memory?

David Allen, the world-known specialist in productivity techniques, has repeatedly said that your brain is the worst place to store information. Use your brain wisely – process information, think, decide, but never rely on memorising too many things.

You might remember some tasks without the need to put them on any list but you will never have a clear vision of all the things you know when you need it. You simply don’t have access to all the things you store in your brain at every moment and the ideas and tasks will come back at you in the worst possible moments, like when you are taking a shower, trying to sleep or buying bread on a nice Sunday morning. You need a system in place that you can trust, a system that will always be there and that can support both your daily work and that of those around you. This is where you can help your employees, your providers and yourself to adopt the best possible actions as soon as possible.

When properly trained and organised performing a surgery is not more difficult than turning a medium size hotel in a sustainability champion. Both are possible but require brain power and acuity. So if you adopt what already works for surgery, you can reap the same benefits.

Start by downloading the documents below and opening them on your computer. You will see that this is only the first step on the road to huge transformations – and we are here to help.

Interested in other green practices? Have a look at the best practices section