Sustainability and Unlocking True Leadership



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There are many individuals who manage companies that we identify as leaders, but only those that realise that it is not about themselves, but putting themselves to the service of others is what defines true leadership. These are the ‘true leaders’ of today and they are warm, thoughtful and caring human beings that have a high standard of ethics, integrity, social consciousness and fairness.

Onno Poortier and I met many leaders at the April 30th Window to the Future Summit at Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne where I participated in a micro-tank on Taking Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) To The Next Level, and at the 2018 Preferred Global Conference held in San Diego where we had a platform to speak about sustainability and true leadership.

At this most urgent of times, many hotel and tourism companies have leaders that recognise the importance of social responsibility to hotel guests, but there is still confusion on the difference between CSR and sustainability. Many different definitions exist of CSR and they are as diversified as the activities that claim to be part of it. Both CSR and sustainability understand that the context of community and environment in which a business operates is integral to business’ success. Sustainability goes a step further and takes into account the needs of future generations.

In terms of vision, CSR looks backwards, reporting on what a business has done to making a contribution to society, typically in the last 12 months. Sustainability looks forward, planning the changes a business might make to secure its future (reducing waste, assuring supply chains, developing new markets, building its brand). 

CSR in business is becoming about compliance, while Sustainability in business use the triple bottom line model – profit, people and planet – in every strategy of the operations.

CSR is driven by the need to protect reputations in developed markets. Sustainability is driven by the need to create opportunities in emerging markets. Sustainability investment is rewarded by the market and society. Companies seriously committed to sustainability significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance.

Travellers and employees

The term sustainability was coined in the late 80s when the U.N. published OUR COMMON FUTURE, a report which described the concept of sustainable development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability with the aim to promote harmony among human beings and between humanity and nature.

Thirty years later, many in the hospitality industry did excellent work by launching green initiatives and CSR campaigns, but many also just ‘sat on the fence’ or greenwashed … and it’s been easy to do this while it is voluntary and unregulated. Most companies understand that they will have to be part of the solution, but often the focus is still on occasional CSR, rather than fully embedding sustainability into the business model and working in partnership with others to drive transformational change.

For hotels, the nonsense about sustainability performance starts in the rooms. Today, many responsible travellers call it GREENWASH when a hotel puts out a sign suggesting guests reuse towels and bed sheets to save water, and at the same time provide water and bathroom amenities in plastic bottles or tubes with wasteful packaging, many from far off locations, and switch ON the TV and lights long before the guest arrives. 

For decades, hotels have promoted their properties and services and offers by highlighting luxury, perfection, unparalleled service, indulgent experiences that carry big time bragging rights and being the ‘Best in the World’. But this is no longer enough or impressive to conscious consumers and to the biggest generation of travellers and employees who are skeptical of most marketing messages and scrutinise the values of a company in comparison to what they deliver. Expectations to be accountable and transparent around sustainability with no greenwash allowed and concerns about the planet we are leaving for future generations are increasing.

Sustainability is about being “the Best For Our World”. There is a lot of talk about sustainability and it is our biggest hope that from a moral and humanity point of view, businesses people will increasingly realise that it’s the right thing to do and it is good for business. Today, there are properties that do more by committing to rigorous sustainability programmes with independent audits, but many still hesitate to be boldly transparent in communicating the full picture of their sustainability performance and activities to their stakeholders. Hotels are in a unique position to influence their customers’ choices on sustainability, that luxury need not be wasteful and the highest standards of luxury can be delivered in a sustainable way, but not many are transparent or “walking the talk”.

At NOW, we are seeing true leadership with courage, purpose and passion in the hotel industry and they are stepping up to join the NOW Force for Good Alliance. Some are driven by moral reasons and a firm belief in the role of business as a force for good. Others are driven by the economics as the cost of inaction in many areas starts to exceed the cost of action. And others join because they understand that we now live in the age of transparency where there are few places to hide and irresponsible behaviour is quickly detected and can significantly affect reputation and market value.

Hotel Huis Ter Duin

NOW informs, inspires and empowers travellers to make smarter choices and use their spending power to help change our world when they travel with the new NOW Sustainability tool. We boldly urge you to only support truly sustainable hotels, resorts, lodges and cruise-liners that are accountable and transparent around sustainability with no greenwash allowed. They care about the needs of people and planet today, and they go further to ensure their operations do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

This month, we feature Paul Polman in Movers & Mavericks. In a past interview with Bloomberg, Paul Polman said “It’s important to be purpose driven … it’s your only beacon … your own true north in this increasingly volatile environment. Most in leadership positions today belong to a small % of the population that is educated with comfortable jobs and they have the choice to work, live and travel in places where they want. This not true for the other 98%. The moment you realise that it’s not about yourself but about working for the common good and helping the other 98%, that’s the moment you unlock the true leader inside yourself.”

Blog Author
Alexa Poortier
Founder –

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