Carolyn Wincer, commercial director at sustainability label Travelife for Accommodation, explains why putting the work in now reduces risk and prepares businesses for upcoming legislative changes around the world.
Many businesses know that they need to do something about sustainability but just do not have the time to focus on it. Most of us are too busy chasing revenue and growth targets, all too often trying to do more with less, so it is hard to find the resources to spend on ensuring your business is operating responsibly.
Whilst some sectors such as healthcare, food distribution and food retail are struggling to keep pace during the COVID-19 pandemic, many others have more time than usual on their hands to take stock of where they are at and to plan for a post-COVID recovery. There are many reasons why organisations should spend this time ensuring that a good sustainability strategy is part of that planning.
"...the whole point of operating responsibly is to ensure that your business survives (and thrives) for years to come, leaving something that future generations can benefit from. "
It is important for businesses to understand what sustainability is and what it means to operate responsibly. The definitions of both have been hotly debated but essentially it means embedding a new way of doing business into your company culture so that you minimise your negative impact on people and places, whilst aiming to enhance your positive ones. And whilst it is true that a sustainable business approach covers environmental, social and economic factors, the whole point of operating responsibly is to ensure that your business survives (and thrives) for years to come, leaving something that future generations can benefit from.
A great example to illustrate this comes from plastic waste in tourism. If businesses do not work together to keep a beach free from plastic waste, then tourists no longer want to go there, ultimately costing profits and eventually leading to business closures. That makes keeping beaches clean a common goal for all businesses in the destination that benefit from tourism, as well as for the airlines and tour operators that send people there.
At Travelife we have conducted thousands of sustainability audits at hotels all over the world. Time and again we see evidence of the real business benefits a solid sustainability strategy can have on everything from customer satisfaction to staff loyalty to community relations. And while some sustainability initiatives take some up front investment, the ones that are well-planned and well-managed result in reduced operating costs over time, and there are many actions a business can take that cost little more than time such as educating your staff about how to save energy or irrigating your grounds at night to save water.
So why should sustainability be part of your plan going forward?
"Businesses that ignore the growing conversation around sustainability leave themselves open to reputational issues that may be hard to recover from in today’s online world."
Media coverage around sustainability issues has grown over the past few years and seems to be continuing during the pandemic; “When Covid-19 is behind us, we need to once again look outside ourselves and take individual action for the good of the planet. Just as coronavirus has forced our lives to slow down, we should consider a slower, more thoughtful approach to travel” writes Chloe Berge in a recent BBC article.
People around the world were already showing an increased interest in issues such as climate change, pollution and human rights. In the 2019 Travelife Member Survey, 94% of hotels said that sustainability issues are important to their staff and 93% said they are important to their guests. A recent survey by ABTA, the UK travel association, showed that 50% of UK travellers consider a company’s green credentials when booking their vacation and this number has increased by 30% since 2011.
Businesses that ignore the growing conversation around sustainability leave themselves open to reputational issues that may be hard to recover from in today’s online world.
Legislation is coming
Many countries around the world are planning to introduce legislation to address environmental issues and some already have. For example, many regions have implemented bans or restrictions on single-use plastics and some countries are planning to legislate carbon emission reductions. These new laws often go beyond environmental issues and can affect businesses where no legislation is being introduced. For example, the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires large companies to have policies and risk assessments in place that address forced labour and human trafficking in their supply chain, including the overseas companies they deal with.
And even without legislation, it is likely that many businesses will face increased pressure from investors to address sustainability in their business plans. In a Bloomberg article, Covid-19 May Change Corporate Sustainability as We Know It, Emily Chasan writes "While emissions have fallen around the world due to reduced economic activity, investors may still want to see companies have a long-term plan beyond any temporary reductions”.
By using this time to create a robust sustainability strategy that can be implemented sooner rather than later, companies can be ready for post-COVID operations where sustainability is looking more and more likely to be an essential part of successful business.
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Carolyn Wincer is the commercial director of Travelife for Accommodation, an internationally recognised accommodation sustainability certification programme.