The Social and Environmental Conscience of a hotel group is in charge of the day-to-day management and implementation of responsible business practices in all their properties. At Soneva, Arnfinn Oines has this vital role and he has been involved in establishing and implementing the Soneva Carbon Calculator, Total Impact Assessment, Clean Water Projects, Soneva Forest Restoration Project, Myanmar Stoves Campaign, the Soneva Foundation, the SLOW LIFE Symposium and the group’s Social & Environmental policy and procedures. Soneva has received numerous environmental recognitions including two prestigious awards from the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow.
Why did you choose to focus your professional career on sustainability in hotels?
It was by accident. I was doing my Master of Business Administration and saw a notice on the university board from a hotel looking for someone to help them with their eco certification. I got in touch and as they were looking for someone part time it was perfect for me to combine this with my studies. I enjoyed the work, and the company liked my work, so when I finished my MBA I move in full-time with the company focusing on sustainability.
Which is your favourite part of your job and which is the part that you enjoy the least?
Knowing that I can make a difference is a great satisfaction for me. I love starting new projects and continuing existing projects that I know have a positive impact. Furthermore, I enjoy measuring these impacts in order to be able to know what the true impact is. Of things I do not really enjoy is to stop motivated employees from doing something. I do not like to be a party-pooper, but sometimes I need to do this if an activity leads to negative impacts.
On December 2017, the One Planet Summit in Paris opened with the bleak assessment that “We are loosing the battle and we are not moving fast enough.” Does our planet have a chance?
I am a firm believer that we do have a chance. It may look quite doomed and we cannot continue with business as usual. We do need to act fast and when we do I believe we can prosper in a sustainable way. It is about realizing that sustainability is not about limiting growth, it is about growing within boundaries. The Planetary Boundaries explains this beautifully. The planet has a set budget and if we stay within these bounderies there are no limitations to growth. We just need to be creative and act swiftly.
The word sustainability was coined in the late 80s and it has since been voluntary in the travel industry. Should it be made mandatory and why?
It should be mandatory. Sustainability makes business sense and thus it is those that embrace it NOW that will prosper in the future. It would however be helpful if legislation made it harder for those who are not sustainable. That would lead to a quicker shift, and again, it will be those who are already embracing it that would prosper the most.
With the crisis of trust in our world today, why are most hotels still hesitant to be visibly accountable and transparent around sustainability with no greenwash allowed?
When a property or the operator does not believe in sustainability and/or do little about it, they are not likely be transparent about their practices. Some may recognize that it may result in bad publicity, especially in today’s age of social media, thus hotels may want to cover over the lack of responsible practices with one or two social initiative that they promote highly. They do not do it because they believe in sustainability, but because they feel forced to. These hotel properties simply do not believe sustainability is good for business.
Which individual hotel and hotel group has been an inspiration in protecting the environment and supporting communities apart from your hotel group?
There are many hotels that do good work. Wilderness Safaris for instance does some amazing work with regards to conservation. Chumbe Island is another example of a company that works with the local community and local government to conserve the environment.
Three bits of advice for readers eager to travel sustainably.
Check if the company follows sustainable practices. Of particular importance are energy, water and waste practices and if they are not transparent in their website, ask them. Check if the company has any interesting activities that follow sustainable practices. Look for recommendations for the particular property in question.
More hotels today say they are sustainable without being accountable and transparent. Is this the new greenwash?
The most important thing is that hotels operate sustainable. Whether or not it is promoted is secondary. Unfortunately, some claim they do a lot or make big fuss about one small thing they do to sound like they are doing a lot. This would be greenwash if they use that to cover other unsustainable practices. It is important to be transparent. You do not have to be perfect to do well. Sustainability is a journey. It is not something hotels should be competing about. Share experiences and learn from each other.
Is the travel industry acting fast enough? OR is there a fallacy of incremental change?
No, the travel industry is not acting fast enough. On a positive note, there has been a shift in the focus on sustainability which is a tremendous step for the industry and its great that big hotel companies are meeting to discuss sustainability. However, the change is not happening at a fast enough pace. This is partly explained by the nature of the hospitality business with a lot of existing and old infrastructure, which is harder to change than new builds. But it also had to do with lack of knowledge. There are always things a hotel property can do better and they obviously want to tackle the larger issues first. It is very positive that there is change and focus on sustainability, but it is time to focus more on improving and accelerating the change.
Sustainability is not a competition. What must happen NOW to galvanise more ‘competing’ hotel companies to work together to safeguard people and planet?
It must be NOW that more hotel companies should collaborate on sustainability, share best practices by showcasing good case studies and lead by example.