Carolyn Wincer, commercial director at sustainability label Travelife for Accommodation, shares their experience about what the best sustainability management systems look like.
The best responsible businesses have good sustainability management practices embedded in their day-to-day operations and these start at board level. At Travelife for Accommodation we conduct on-site audits every 2-years at our Member properties and over time we have learned a lot about what makes up an excellent sustainability management system. We are very happy to share it with you here and we believe that it works for any sized business in any sector.
Start at the top
It is essential to have senior management supporting sustainability, with at least one senior person willing to champion it at board level. Without that buy-in success will be elusive.
Resource it properly
Whilst allocating budget funds is important, it is more critical that at least one staff member has the time and experience to work on creating, implementing and monitoring your sustainability plan. They will need to lead other teams, be given enough autonomy to get on with the work and have access to senior management.
Start with research and discussion
Your business needs to establish what the specific sustainability concerns and opportunities are for your industry as well as your customers, suppliers, staff and community. The most successful strategies are relevant and specific, with measurable goals and targets. That means spending time listening to your stakeholders and learning more about all aspects of responsible business and how you can improve your impact on each one of them. You will need to gain a good understanding of how your business influences the environment and people.
"It is essential to have senior management supporting sustainability, with at least one senior person willing to champion it at board level. Without that buy-in success will be elusive."
Benchmark where you are at
In order to measure your progress, you will need to have documented an honest assessment of how well you are currently doing across all areas. Some of these will be straight forward measurements of things like energy use, waste production and pay equality, others will be more subjective such as how well you have done on community relations. Some of these might be difficult to do at first, such as assessing your supply chain risks in terms of things like human trafficking and animal welfare, so those can be transferred to the goals and targets you will address over the next year or so.
Create public policies, goals and targets
Some businesses have different policies for different aspects of their sustainability work and others have one policy that encompasses everything. Regardless of which route you choose, your policies must include written statements of commitment covering the environment, fair labour practices, human rights and community support.
Your policies should also outline the measurable goals and targets your business has set to ensure you meet your commitments.
Set up ways to regularly measure and monitor your progress
These could be spreadsheets where energy and water consumption are recorded, feedback from customers, staff training records and other measurements that allow you to track your progress against your benchmarks and your goals.
"...the people who work on this plan should have their tasks included in their annual performance objectives as a means of ensuring your sustainability work becomes embedded in company culture."
Create an improvement plan
Write down the improvements you want to make in a plan that has specific deadlines and assigns work to specific people. Ideally, the people who work on this plan should have their tasks included in their annual performance objectives as a means of ensuring your sustainability work becomes embedded in company culture.
Schedule regular internal reporting
To ensure you stay on track, you should be creating monthly or quarterly sustainability reports where you assess your progress against your goals and targets. To have the best chance of success, you should ensure that a review of these reports is a standing agenda item at senior management meetings.
Publish an annual sustainability report
This is an essential part of ensuring your sustainability work is credible and that you remain accountable. Your report should show how you performed against your goals and targets, and how well you met your commitments. You should use this as a public place to set your new priorities for the coming year, thus ensuring that sustainability is part of a continuous improvement cycle for your business that your customers and other stakeholders can clearly see.
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