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Meet Nikos Sofianopoulos, a Travelife Approved Auditor

Each month we feature an interview with a Travelife Approved Auditor. We have around 50 independently contracted auditors based around the world that must undergo an intensive training programme before they can audit with us. To continue carrying out audits for Travelife they must complete annual refresher training and a yearly performance review. Click here to find out more about our requirements for auditors. 

Location: Athens, Greece

Languages: Greek, English, French (upper intermediate), Italian (beginner)

Total auditing experience: 9 years

Travelife auditing experience: 8 years

Specialisations: Sustainability, GRI assurance, carbon footprint accounting, climate change vulnerability and risk assessment

Auditing fields: Accommodation, tour operators, destination management organisations

Nikos was motivated to change his career in 2012 as a result of growing concern about how we were treating the environment and recklessly wasting energy. He was an economist at the time and could see the potential fallout from these practices, so decided he wanted to be part of the solution.

Since then, he has completed a postgraduate MSc Environmental Entrepreneurship with distinction from the University of Strathclyde. As part of his master’s thesis, he researched the recognisability of several tourism eco-labels by travellers, along with the applicability of this concept to the hospitality sector and its great potential to generate benefit for all stakeholders and the natural environment. It was through this that he first learned about Travelife, eventually training to be a Travelife auditor. He recently completed another postgraduate programme, this time in tourism management so that he could better understand the sector. Nikos says that he likes every part of auditing work, but particularly enjoys the interaction with hotel staff at different levels of the hospitality hierarchy. This offers him a practical perspective on both the opportunities and challenges hotels face, ultimately making him a better auditor. He believes that the role of a sustainability auditor should enable the transfer of knowledge in both directions between the auditor and the auditees, because both parties can benefit.

“After almost every audit I feel that I have learned something new, and I am very satisfied when I get the impression that my visit was beneficial for the hotel too. This sense of contribution towards a better more sustainable future is very fulfilling.”

Nikos shared some good practices and innovations he has seen hotels adopt, such as the ‘Authentic Experiences’ programme offered by Attitude Hotels in Mauritius. These are a collection of activities that guests can engage with that helps them learn more about local life whilst supporting the economy. He also mentioned Sani Resort that has been using 100% renewable energy since 2019, becoming Greece’s first carbon neutral resort in 2020 along with Neptune Hotels Resort Convention Centre & Spa in Kos who have been focused on more sustainable food service, increasing the volume of local produce purchased from under 50% to 80% in 3 years. This property won Travelife’s hotel of the month in June 2021 for their sustainable food efforts and you can read more about what they have done here

Finally, we asked Nikos what advice he would give to a business who is interested in operating more responsibly. He said that it is important to remember that sustainability is, by definition, a continuous effort towards environmental, societal and economic responsibility. We can always find ways to carry out tasks and processes in a more sustainable manner but to do this we must not only be open to change, but welcome it. That means getting out of our comfort zone and being innovative.

“It is time to go beyond catchphrases like ‘save the planet’. It is not the planet at risk, but the entire wellbeing of future generations. Sustainability needs to be the new normal if we want the planet to continue providing us with clean air, water, food and biodiversity, all the things that make life on Earth possible.”

He goes on to say that having a clear vision and senior management commitment are critical elements in success. Once these are in place then a relevant strategy must be developed that includes ambitious but achievable goals, that have been allocated the necessary human and financial resources. He says that sustainability audits should be considered as an opportunity to put your plans and procedures to the test, a way to learn and improve. It is OK to have setbacks as long as time is taken to understand why and to learn from these. Moreover, be honest with your stakeholders about any setbacks with regular, transparent sustainability reporting being the best tool to avoid greenwashing, an issue that is recognised more and more widely, especially amongst younger travellers.

Top tips from Nikos for sustainable living

Consume less and reuse what you have as much as possible in order to reduce the contents of your recycling bins because sorting, cleaning, processing and transforming recyclables into new products uses a lot of energy.

Adopt the 4R’s in daily behaviour – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. This can extend the life cycle of the things we use and will help us choose the most sustainable option when we buy new, e.g. higher energy efficiency rating, less packaging, fewer meat and dairy products, certified with credible eco-labels.

Make a small difference whenever you get the chance. For example, pick up some litter during a walk in the park; walk or cycle instead of taking the car; choose a vegan meal instead of meat.

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