The inaugural cohort of Executive Master of Natural Resources students from the college’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability in the National Capital Region traveled to China in March where they designed a sustainability strategy for a top hotel in the rural Upper Mekong River watershed. In June, Dean Paul Winistorfer, Center Director Michael Mortimer, and Associate Director David Robertson presented the students’ final report to the hotel’s officials.

The Linden Centre is a Chinese historic landmark owned and meticulously restored by an American couple to serve as a boutique hotel for guests to immerse themselves in traditional Chinese culture, and as an anchor point for heritage tourism in the village of Xizhou.

“Life-changing” is how student project leader Joe Tannery described his experience while working with Linden Centre owners and staff to enhance sustainability. Although the Centre already composts, donates food scraps to local farmers as animal feed, and transports guests’ luggage through town on horse-drawn carts, the owners sought assistance in becoming even more sustainable.

“Sustainability is an organizing framework to help balance decision making and accounts for economic, social, and environmental impacts — oftentimes referred to as the triple bottom line,” said student Kate Fritz. In its drive for modernization and developing tourism for rural economies, China is realizing it must also consider the sustainable management of resources and communities, especially in mountainous regions such as where the Linden Centre is located.

Accompanied by Robertson and Mortimer, the students sought to assess the Linden Centre’s progress using the Green Globe international hotel certification standards. They evaluated the hotel’s practices in four major areas: sustainable management, social/economic, cultural heritage, and environmental. “Documentation provides a way for the Linden Centre to see if its practices are working and is an area of opportunity,” said student Glenn ReDavid.

Among their findings, the students recommended that a secondary sewage treatment system be built to remove potential harmful bacteria from the waste stream and applauded the Centre on its commitment to historic preservation and cultural sensitivity.

As China’s top-rated hotel by the travel website TripAdvisor, the Linden Centre holds considerable influence upon the hotel industry. “The leadership provided by the Linden Centre is helping redefine the standard for sustainable tourism in China and beyond,” Robertson said. “We’ve recently begun calling it the Linden Standard.”

“Our chance to collaborate with this cohort of professionals gave us a holistic look at the values of various sustainable practices and practical steps to execution,” said Michael Keefrider, Linden Centre marketing and business development director. “Their recommendations have given us a strategic road map for implementation over the next several years. We now have more information and confidence in putting a sustainability plan into action.”

“It was a transformational project for our students as well as a business enhancement for the client,” Robertson said.