Industry Update
Opinion Article21 May 2020

What's Stopping Us From Going 100% Sustainable?

By Jan Peter Bergkvist

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The traditional marketing advantage of adhering to one or more sustainable practices and apart from them, along with business as usual is quickly changing to a powerful disadvantage of "being left behind" and seen as the hotel or hotel operator of yesterday.

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Steve Howard, former chief sustainability officer at IKEA said once that "100 percent sustainable is an easier goal than 80 percent or 50 percent, because once you set your mind to an ambitious goal, everyone gets on board and does what needs to be done. Plus, you no longer have to spend time and resources investing in an out-of-date paradigm that will eventually be phased out anyway." and this is more true than ever today.

But let's face it, we do not like change!

Despite the quotes we all learned in management courses, stating that "change is the normal of today's business world" or the sentences we were advised to add to our CV's like "I am adaptive and flexible and love change! - We still DO NOT like change!

Some scientists talk about The Fresh start effect i.e. that we are much more motivated to "reboot" our habits and take action towards a goal after temporal landmarks that represent new beginnings. Perhaps the global turmoil during the current COVID-19 crisis can serve as such a "temporal landmark" from which we can start all over again, but this time with 100% sustainable practices as the ultimate objective.

We do not lack the resources of sustainability knowledge, nor the products or practices. On the contrary, in numerous HotelExecutive articles alone, you can find thousands of tips on sustainable ways to run a hotel and the resources are endless.

It is simply a matter of changing our minds and always looking at all our daily decisions, big or small, through the sustainability lens. Like we do with all the other lenses we use almost automatically; economy, legislation, guest expectation etc.

During the recent months and the COVID-19 crisis we have seen voices raised that call on "a comprehensive recovery plan" once the urgent state of the pandemic has changed to more normal. The European Commission states that all recovery initiatives and investments must lead to "sustainable growth and integrate the green transition and the digital transformation, drawing all lessons from the crisis."

In a letter to the presidents of EU institutions, WWF and other environmental groups recently called for the recovery plan to be future-proof and drawn up in a transparent way, "these stimulus packages must support future-proofing companies through a rapid shift of their business models towards sustainability".

The International Energy Agency's (IEA) Executive Director underlines in a recent commentary that "as governments respond to the crises, they must not lose sight of a major challenge of our time: clean energy transitions. This is why governments need to make sure they keep clean energy transitions front of mind as they respond to the fast-evolving COVID-19 crisis."

When phasing out fossil fuels, we also improve the air quality in our societies and we know that air-pollution is very likely to worsen the effects of diseases like COVID-19 and similar virus borne respiratory diseases. In fact, over 8 million heart and lung related deaths yearly are said to be caused by bad air quality in the world.

Now during the crisis, it is all about saving lives and securing the survival for our companies if possible. But during the second half of 2020 it is likely that we will experience an unprecedented opportunity to start a new beginning. - A sustainable way to run our businesses and societies.

I am confident that many of the world's nations and small and big companies will grab this opportunity. However, whichever road our national leaders decide to choose, there is nothing stopping us as individuals and as leaders (with the power to decide in our sphere of influence) to reboot our organizations and go for 100% sustainability, once the immediate crisis is over.

Is there a connection between unsustainability and the corona pandemic? Scientists know that the widespread deforestation combined with climate related severe droughts and flooding, force animals to live closer to our societies. This in turn raises the risk for more "zoonoses" (a zoonotic disease is a disease that spreads from animals to humans) such as Ebola, SARS and most recently COVID-19.

One of the very few good things this pandemic has brought forward so far, is to show the enormous power of mankind when we decide to get together and make change. In just a couple of days politicians in almost all countries have come up with economic packages representing billions of dollars to fight this emergency. Volunteer work has exploded across the globe. This is a power that we will have to use to solve the looming crisis of unsustainability and climate in the future. So why not start to plan for a sustainable future right away?

Where And How Do I Start?

Understanding the basic principles of running a planet is key and as soon as you have that knowledge and share it with your team an exciting and fun journey begins. Based on science the sustainability principles were developed in the early nineties. Based on the laws of nature and thermodynamics and used and tested by companies and municipalities around the globe they constitute a unique tool ready to be used.

In short the principles read as follows:

In an ecologically sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing…

  1. Concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust
  2. Concentrations of substances produced by society
  3. Degradation by physical means.

And people are not subject to structural obstacles to…

  1. Health
  2. Influence
  3. Competence
  4. Impartiality
  5. Meaning-making

This means in plain language that we must efficiently use renewable energy (non-fossil), metals and minerals widely available in nature, bio-degradable chemicals and resources from well-managed land, oceans and forests.

As a result, our activities will no longer hinder the planet's capacity to provide us with new resources and maintain life in all its forms.

We will also ensure that we inspire diversity, equality and contribute to health, empowerment, learning, and a fair and meaningful life for all - locally and globally.

When our entire team is guided by these principles in our daily long and short term decisions we will ensure that our activities become part of the solution rather than part the problems of our planet and society.

In planning with your team the concept of backcasting from success has proven to be far more successful than traditional forecasting, once you have robust principles for success like the ones above.

Now, this approach is a bit different in that all of the traditional checklists that we normally ask for when starting up a sustainability program or work are the same, but far more efficient.

Why? Because when suddenly everyone on the team has an understanding of how to run a planet and a society, based on robust science, the ingenuity and creativity will see no boundaries. The personal commitment and engagement of all team members makes the leadership easier and the leverage greater. In short you establish a culture of sustainability within the organization and start to build your brand by sharing a value stronger than most. The goal to contribute to a common sustainable future for all! Suddenly the old thinking of seeing sustainability as a part of marketing or a CSR activity becomes absurd and the journey towards full sustainability becomes the obvious goal for all.

But what about financial sustainability, we are first and foremost a company and a company's number one goal is profitability, right?

The approach often referred to as Triple Bottom Line (3BL) is of course far better than the old way of totally neglecting nature and society in a business strategy. However, financial sustainability is a condition for social and ecological sustainability, but it should not be a goal in its own right. Rather, it is an important and crucial resource to ensure your success.

Now is the right time to plan for the post-COVID-19 business. Rebooting your business and starting all over as a sustainably run hotel is a fantastic possibility.

When planning for the time post-COVID-19, it is also likely to think that the newly acquired IT skills and -habits of our guests will offer new business opportunities such as transforming traditional meeting rooms to virtual meeting hubs.

By partnering with local IT specialists a product that facilitates the guest in delivering a smooth and well-functioning virtual meeting can easily be created. After participating in so many meetings with varying technical quality during the crisis, such a product will be an attractive offer to guests used to meeting on-line but still feeling insecure in taking the full technical responsibility.

Well conducted businesses contribute to financial sustainability through employment opportunities, export revenues, tax revenue etc. and what we are likely to see is how businesses that become part of the solution will enjoy lower costs thanks to smart waste handling, efficient energy use, stronger brand, more loyal customers and team members and so much more. When this crisis is over a sustainable society must be our common goal!

What's stopping you from planning for 100% sustainability?

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com
Related Viewpoint

COVID-19: A stress test for sustainable development in hospitality?

"Covid-19 is climate change on warp speed" (Wagner, Mar.10, 2020). The current pandemic has catastrophic consequences on the hospitality sector. The ways the industry currently deals with the crisis (for example, see: COVID-19 - Survival Guide for the Hospitality Industry) offers a glimpse into the crisis management endeavors in building a business case for disaster and climate resiliency.
View Viewpoint

Jan Peter Bergkvist

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