Considering the scale, scope and pressing nature of the major sustainability challenges at hand:

1. Are incremental improvements of business models and processes a safe bet and sufficient to achieve substantial and required change? (with supporting examples)

Incremental improvements are indeed a safe bet, but they can only be sufficient if they are part of a larger more holistic plan. The industry is at odds with its time. We struggle to entice younger generations to study hospitality and work for our companies because purpose and sustainability have never been part of our DNA.

For a lot of other industries, purpose and sustainability (or at least Climate Change mitigation), has made its way to morning briefings, weekly forecast meetings, monthly financial reviews, quarterly performance reviews and yearly reporting with relatable and relevant CSR KPIs that everyone in the company, no matter the responsibility level can comprehend and follow. Not only that, but KPI objectives and actions to reach them are planned ahead and made clear to the whole company, with incentives/ bonuses attached, at least in part to reaching these objectives.

We do great things in hospitality, as we did in my previous experiences. We work with a local organic farm, we grow a fruits and vegetables garden, we implement plant forward menus, we repurpose food waste or turn it into compost, we even launch very successful food technology products. And while this is truly compelling for the market, I see two main issues.

  1. These initiatives, while fantastic actions to take, are mostly unplanned and ad hoc. They are not driven by a final goal to reach.
  2. We have no measurables, no data. We have no way of calculating our impact before the initiatives and after their implementation. So while our efforts are exciting, we have no data driven outcome to share.

In order for incremental improvements to have the desired impact, we must ensure sustainability becomes as important as financial returns. This means, putting in place relevant and data driven CSR KPIs, hotel specific objectives to be reached with incentives attached. Actions/ initiatives, however small, should be planned, executed and measured in line with the said objectives.

2. What do you think is/are the radical change(s) necessary in the tourism and hospitality sectors to effectively deal with major sustainability challenges? (with supporting examples)

A lot of Hospitality professionals spend time working on their MBA during their career, as it is not often that we have the opportunity prior to entering the worklife. We tend to start working only after completing a bachelor's degree.

One of the things I learned from the MBA holders is the Pareto Principle or 80-20 rule. In short, 80% results (output) for 20% efforts (input). This has become almost a motto in hospitality. My thought was how we could transpose this principle to the way we deal with sustainability and more specifically climate change mitigation in our industry.

What is the one thing that is ubiquitous in our industry and that has the highest impact on our planet?

Simply put, FOOD.

In our world, the food we buy and eat is responsible for up to 37% of the global greenhouse gas emissions[1]. And “by 2030, the food and beverage industry will collectively demand 45% more energy and 30% more water for agriculture”[2] mainly due to the rise in population.

Applying the Pareto Principle to the food we purchase and serve to our guests seems like the most impactful change we can make to reduce our impact on the environment. In a nutshell, by swapping existing ingredients with low impact ingredients in our recipes we can significantly reduce our impact on the environment.

For example:

if a chef has an apple tartelette recipe with 365g of raw ingredients before preparation that includes:

Puff pastry
Creme Fraiche
Ground Almonds
& Butter

He can very easily swap:

The puff pastry for a dairy free puff pastry
The ground almonds for ground hazelnuts
And the butter for margarine

These small changes in such an easy recipe reduced the carbon footprint from 1.068kg CO2e to 0.571kg CO2e, or a reduction of 47%.

The same thing goes for water consumption, reducing it from a whopping 3.204 m3 to 1.131 m3, or a 65% reduction.

Let’s imagine that this tartelette is served on the banquet daily coffee breaks with a production of 1000 per week (about 200 per weekday).

By making the above changes, over the course of a year, the hotel would be reducing its carbon footprint by close to 26 tons of CO2e and water footprint by close to 108,000 m3.

The added benefit is the fact that apart from reducing environmental impact, making such changes to our recipes also helps to reduce cost. In our example, costing would be reduced by 7%. Which would mean a total of $13,000 saved over the course of a year.

Focusing on food is the easiest and most radical way to significantly reduce environmental impact in our industry. A perfect way to use the Pareto Principle we love so much. And if it comes with the opportunity to decrease cost, thus increasing profit margin, the adoption of such practice seems to be a no brainer.

Shaping the Future of Hospitality: Continuous Improvements or Radical Changes?— Photo by WiseFinsShaping the Future of Hospitality: Continuous Improvements or Radical Changes?— Photo by WiseFins
Shaping the Future of Hospitality: Continuous Improvements or Radical Changes?— Photo by WiseFins
Shaping the Future of Hospitality: Continuous Improvements or Radical Changes?— Photo by WiseFinsShaping the Future of Hospitality: Continuous Improvements or Radical Changes?— Photo by WiseFins
Shaping the Future of Hospitality: Continuous Improvements or Radical Changes?— Photo by WiseFins

[1] Mbow, C. et al. Food Security in Climate Change and Land: an IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems (IPCC, 2019). Rosenzweig, C., Mbow, C., Barioni, L. G., Benton, T. G., Herrero, M., Krishnapillai, M., ... & Portugal-Pereira, J. (2020). UAAAAA:T8paSD mWlNgFo3K-H9n6lkvV6BJqsDBGU2PIHeZEt4i0SPJKNbYIjS4WfUs78Bdvj2xGqYsXRaqAZbsRL38" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Climate change responses benefit from a global food system approach. Nature Food, 1(2), 94-97.

[2] Decarbonizing the food and beverages industry: A critical and systematic review of developments, sociotechnical systems and policy options Benjamin K. Sovacool a b, Morgan Bazilian c, Steve Griffiths d, Jinsoo Kim e, Aoife Foley f g, David Rooney h